I must admit that I didn’t know it was possible to grow cherries in Edmonton until I was an adult. Sure, I had seen some nanking cherries around, but these were small fruit on shrubs bushes, not full sized cherries on trees. Yes, you can have an actual cherry tree with full sized cherries in our northern climate. Although they may not come to mind as fast as crabapples, raspberries, saskatoons, or rhubarb; sour cherries are becoming more common as more hardy varieties become available.
I’ve come to love sour cherries. They hold true to their name, and have a tart flavour that is a bit different than the fresh cherries most people are used to. In addition to being tart, I also find that sour cherries have more flavour than the sweet varieties and I actually prefer them! Their flavour also means they work great when processed. I’ve used them to make some great cocktail “maraschino” style cherries, and they are also great in baking. And of course they also add great flavour (and colour) to cider.
Types of Sour Cherries
Currently there are basically two type of sour cherries that grow on the prairies. The Evans sour cherry is the oldest, and has been growing in the Edmonton area since 1920s. Evans sour cherry trees can grow to be 3-4 m tall (12-14 ft). If you need a ladder to reach a good portion of the fruit – the hardy sour cherry tree you are dealing with is probably an Evans.
The other type is actually a bunch of cultivars that are a sort of family of trees. The University of Saskatchewan has developed a bunch of dwarf sour cherry trees that also thrive in the prairie climate. As their name suggests, these are “dwarf” trees, and unlike the Evans, will rarely grow taller than 2 m (6-7 ft). These trees are called “The Romance Series” an all have themed names such as “Valentine” or “Juliet”.
How to Tell if Sour Cherries are Ripe
We know that fruit is much tastier if harvested when they are ripe. This is especially true of sour cherries, as they will get sweeter as they ripen. Almost all of the prairie sour cherries should be dark red, almost black before they are picked. The only exceptions that I’m aware of are Evans and Valentine – which will be ripe when bright red. This is especially important because unlike apples and some other fruit, cherries won’t continue to ripen after they are picked.
Different Trees Grow Differently
In my experience almost all sour cherry varieties tend to sucker. This means they will oftem produce new sprouts growing up from the roots. In most cases this isn’t a big deal, and you can can just remove the suckers as they come up. However, even though we call them “trees”, some of the dwarf sour cherries actually prefer to grow more like shrubs. If your sour cherry seems to sending out a crazy amount of sprouts from the ground instead of growing up, it may just been one of the varieties that would rather grow like a shrub. I’ve found it’s easier to work with the plant rather than against it. If you know what type of cherry you have, it is probably worth doing a bit of research doing a bit of research on how it will grow best.