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Sour cherries aren't for eating out-of-hand, but they make great fillings for pies and other pastries.

Cherries are a fruit that can range from sweet to sour, but are always a treat. Can they be grown in the Midwest? Absolutely. Different climates support different types of trees but if you select the correct tree, you'll be fine.

Here are some questions with answers from horticulturists at Iowa State University Extension. To have additional questions answered, contact the ISU Hortline at 515-294-3108 or

Q: What is a good planting site for cherry trees?

A: Cherries perform best in moist, well-drained, fertile soils. Avoid wet, poorly drained sites because cherries are susceptible to root rots in these conditions.  Trees should also receive full sun, at least six hours of direct sun each day.

Sweet cherries bloom earlier than sour cherries. As a result, the flowers on sweet cherries are more susceptible to damage from late spring frosts. When selecting a planting site for sweet cherries, avoid planting in low spots where cold air settles on calm nights. Also, avoid southern and western exposures that encourage early bloom.

Q: Which sour (tart) cherry varieties perform well in the Midwest?

‘Northstar’ and ‘Meteor’ are two of the best performing sour cherry cultivars. Both were introduced by the University of Minnesota and possess excellent cold hardiness.

‘Northstar’ is a dwarf tree that commonly grows 8 to 10 feet tall. Its fruit have a mahogany red skin, red flesh and are .75 inch in diameter.

‘Meteor’ is a semi-dwarf tree. Trees may eventually reach a height of 10 to 14 feet. The fruit of ‘Meteor’ are slightly larger than ‘Northstar’ and have a bright red skin and yellow flesh.

‘Mesabi’ is another good choice. ‘Mesabi’ is a cross between a sweet and tart cherry. Its red-fleshed fruit are sweeter than ‘Northstar’ and ‘Meteor.’

Sour or tart cherries are self-fruitful. Only one sour cherry tree needs to be planted for pollination and fruit set.

Q: Can sweet cherries be successfully grown in the Midwest?

A: 'Gold,' BlackGold and WhiteGold are sweet cherry cultivars that can be successfully grown in the southern two-thirds of Iowa and Illinois. ‘Gold’ has golden yellow skin. It is self-unfruitful. Another late blooming sweet cherry cultivar must be planted for pollination and fruit set.

BlackGold and WhiteGold are self-fruitful, mid to late blooming cultivars from Cornell University in New York. BlackGold has dark red skin, while WhiteGold is light yellow with a reddish blush.

Other possibilities for southeastern Iowa and southwestern Illinois include ‘Hedelfingen’ (self-unfruitful, red fruit), ‘Kristin’ (self-unfruitful, purplish black fruit), ‘Sam’ (self-unfruitful, dark red fruit), and ‘Van’ (self-unfruitful, reddish black fruit).

Q: Can bush cherries be grown in the Midwest?

A: Bush cherries are very cold hardy and can be grown throughout both Iowa and Illinois. Bush cherries include Nanking cherry (Prunus tomentosa), Hansen’s bush cherry (Prunus besseyi ‘Hansen’s), and several cherry hybrids. Their fruit can be used in pies, jellies and jams. The white flowering shrubs also make good ornamentals. Plants can be placed in mixed shrub borders or grown as hedges. Their basic requirements are full sun and a well-drained soil.

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