The very best cherry picks for the Rainy River District

Cherries are classified as either sweet or sour. Sweet cherries are the cherries that as a consumer we cannot wait to find in late spring to early summer in our local grocery store. Sweet cherries from the western United States and Canada (for example: Bing and Ranier) are appreciated for their deep, rich, plum-like flavour fresh from the hand. Unfortunately, the flavour of sweet cherries is largely lost upon heating. Sour cherries, on the other hand, are rarely ever seen sold fresh in the consumer the market but you will find them in a processed form. The true, wonderful cherry flavour that we associate with cherry candies and various commercial preparations is not found in the sweet cherries. But the sour cherries burst with it, when provided with a little heat and enhancement with sugar. It is sour cherries that you need if you want to become famous for your pies and jams. Sour cherries are also called tart or pie cherries.

Wild sour cherries are common in our District. Pin, choke and black cherries grow quite abundantly. Many residents make jams and jellies from any of these cherries. Yes, the black cherry does grow wild in the Rainy River District and is often mistaken for choke cherry. Unfortunately in our area, the black cherry will never grow into the prized tree form, like in Southern Ontario, but will thrive as a large shrub like tree with an abundance of cherry crops year after year. On my former property in Fort Frances I had a very productive black cherry tree that produced fantastic fruit.

Now this article is not about wild cherry trees but about the newer hybrid cherry trees that will grow very well in our area (Zone 4) and produce and abundance of fruit each year. Unfortunately, we are not able to grow western North American cherries in our area but I will tell you over the last ten years there have been some huge gains in the hybridization of cherries that will survive and produce tasty fruit in our zone. I am recommending the following four varieties in order of preference for eating fresh as top priority.

SK Carmine Jewel
This is a newer hybrid developed in Saskatchewan and is hardy to zone 2B. Not only will it survive an thrive in our zone but also has early-ripening, very dark red fruit high in sugar, recommended for juice and wine but also eating out of hand. Although classified as a sour cherry the developers claim the word “sour” really does a disservice to these cherries. This cultivar has been developed as a dwarf tree maxing out at about 6.5 feet in height which allows for easier control of the growth and harvesting. This tree is self pollinating so you only need to buy one. Claims that after being established five years it can produce up to twenty kilograms of fruit.

Montmorency – This century-old cultivar is by far the easiest to find on the market, providing spectacular bloom in very early spring, and an abundant crop of red-skinned, yellow-fleshed, pink-juiced fruit in July, outstanding for cooking and pie-making. The tree grows about seven metres tall.

North Star
The tree grows to half the size of ‘Montmorency,’ to about three and a half metres. The fruit is red-juiced, excellent for pies and cobblers and can be eaten fresh when fully ripe. 

This is the top selling cherry tree in Canada because of its tremendous yields. The Evans cherry is a phenomenal producer of large bright red cherries, with small pits and very juicy. In early spring the Evans cherry features beautiful white flowers and then produces showy fruit. The tree is self-pollinating, so a second variety is not required for fruit production. Compact in nature this tree is easy to control and harvest fruit from it. You can also now find it as a shrub at many nurseries. If you want a cherry that tastes great right out of hand the Evans cherry is the one for you.

These are just a few of the great cultivars available for us to plant. I also suggest that you research and or look for members form the Romance series of dwarf sour cherries. These varieties are from the University of Saskatchewan in and have been on the market since 2004. The Cupid Cherry, one of the varieties from the Romance series, produces the largest fruit of all the sour cherries which is dark/red fruit and perfect for fresh eating.

It is very exciting producing your own fruit and I know one of my favourite fruits to grow is the sour cherry. I plan to add some additional varieties to my property next spring.