Nanking cherries, also known as Dwarf Sour Cherries, are a small, tart berry that can be found in the northern parts of North America. In addition to being sweet and delicious, these cherries are highly nutritious and have numerous health benefits.
Fortunately, these edible landscaping plants are also remarkably easy to grow. Here’s how to do it!
Nanking cherry is a tart, winter-hardy, deciduous fruit tree native to Japan, Korea and China. Belonging to the rose family, it produces small round fruits that are reddish in color with a slightly sweet flavor.
Its edible parts can be consumed both in raw or cooked form and with its nutritious content many choose to make jams, pies and other preserved foods as well as wines out of it.
Interestingly, they take only three months to ripen once they have blossomed which makes them an incredibly easy variety of cherries to grow!
While it may look and taste like a conventional cherry, Nanking cherry is actually categorized as a type of wild Rosaceae instead. Even so, this lovely berry has appealed to gardeners for years due to its sweet flavor that can be used to make pies, jellies and juices.
Nanking cherry bushes are typically easy to care for, and they are even relatively winter hardy when planted in the right environment.
Benefits of Nanking Cherries
Nanking cherries are an incredibly versatile, nutrient-packed fruit that boasts a range of impressive health benefits. Remarkably, they rival many common fruits when it comes to their antioxidant content, promoting healthy aging and even protecting cells from damage due to everyday stressors.
Nanking cherries are also rich in various minerals that can contribute to better brain functioning and improved heart health, as well as naturally occurring compounds with anti-inflammatory properties.
Despite their small size and bright red hue, these delicate little fruits pack a flavor punch! A perfect balance of sweet and tart, they have a delightful rich cherry-like taste with just a hint of almond essence in the background.
They are soft and juicy when ripe, making them ideal for jams and jellies or just snacking on right out of hand. Many find that their flavor is comparable to the classic Bing cherry but much more intense.
These deliciously sour fruits do have pits, similar to other pitted fruits such as peaches and plums. So whether you’re looking to enjoy them directly from the bush or freeze & bake them — just make sure you check for those pesky stones when cooking with them!
The Nanking cherry tree offers so much more than just its fruit. These trees are among the hardiest of their species, making them a reliable year-round source of natural beauty.
The deep green leaves can provide wonderful shading from the summer sun, while sprays of fragrant white flowers bring light and color to any landscape.
Even after winter descends and its green foliage withers away, Nanking cherries maintain their appeal with warm red bark that adds a touch of vibrancy against the snow.
If given proper care, these trees can also make for fantastic landmarks in yard or park—their slow growth rate allows them to reach impressive heights over long periods of time.
Before you begin planting your Nanking cherry tree, you will need to decide on the location where it will be planted. It is important to choose a spot that receives at least six hours of direct sunlight each day. The soil should be well-drained and slightly acidic with a pH between 6.0 and 7.0.
Avoid areas with heavy clay or wet soils as these can cause waterlogging of the roots which can lead to root rot or other diseases. Make sure there is plenty of room for the tree to grow without being overcrowded by other plants or structures.
Once you have chosen your location, it is time to plant your tree!
Start by digging a hole twice as wide as the root ball of your tree but only deep enough so that the top of the root ball is level with the ground surface when placed in the hole.
Place your tree into the hole and fill in around it with some compost or soil mixture before gently tamping down around the roots with your hands or feet.
Water thoroughly after planting and mulch around the base of your tree with 2-3 inches of organic material such as shredded bark or wood chips. This will help keep moisture in and weeds out while also providing nutrients for your soil over time!
Growing Nanking cherries can be an enjoyable experience for any gardener, but it’s important to get the spacing right. These small shrubs typically reach 4 to 5 feet tall and wide, so at least 8 to 10 feet of space should be kept between them.
Luckily, they’re easy growers and crop fairly quickly, so you can be rewarded with a stunning orchard of white blossoms in a very short period.
For those looking for a challenge though, dwarf varieties are available that stay around 2 feet in size, meaning you can create an eye-catching hedge of these beauties even in smaller plots. However much hardship you’re willing to take on, the result will be worth it.
Not only are Nanking cherries visually appealing, but their dense growth also makes them excellent for privacy hedging.
These small trees are fast-growing and low maintenance, meaning that they don’t require a lot of pruning or special care in order to reach their full potential. In addition, the shrubs’ bright red berries provide year-round color and create a delightful snack for local birds.
If you’re looking to add something special and eye-catching to your outdoor space, consider using Nanking cherries as a hedging option.
Nanking cherry trees require very little maintenance once they are established but there are still some things you can do to ensure its health and vigor throughout its life span.
Proper hydration is essential for keeping your Nanking cherry trees healthy and productive. During the spring and summer months, the soil should be kept moist but not saturated with water.
When watering your trees, make sure that you do so evenly around the root zone and avoid flooding or over-watering. In addition, during periods of drought it is important to provide supplemental irrigation in order to keep your trees hydrated.
Regular fertilizing is also key when caring for Nanking cherry trees. It is recommended that you fertilize in early spring with a balanced fertilizer such as 10-10-10 or 8-8-8 at a rate of 1 pound per 100 square feet of soil surface area.
You may also need to apply additional fertilizer throughout the growing season depending on the needs of your particular tree(s).
Mulch can help keep moisture in the soil around your Nanking cherry trees while also providing them with much needed nutrients.
A layer of mulch 2-4 inches thick should be applied around each tree every year in fall or early spring before new growth begins. This will help protect the roots from extreme temperature fluctuations as well as insulate them from mechanical damage caused by foot traffic or other activities nearby.
Unfortunately, like any other type of fruit tree, Nanking cherries are susceptible to certain diseases and pests that must be managed if you want a successful harvest each year.
Common diseases include blight and leaf curl virus, both of which can be treated with fungicides or preventive sprays if necessary. Additionally, it is important to monitor your trees regularly for pests such as aphids and scale insects which can cause damage if left unchecked.
Another important aspect of caring for Nanking cherry trees is companion planting – growing two different types of plants together in order to maximize their potential benefits from one another’s presence in terms of pest control, nutrient uptake, etc.
For example, planting garlic near young saplings can help deter pests; planting legumes in between rows can provide nitrogen fixation; and planting herbs near mature trees can attract beneficial pollinators like bees which will improve fruit production come harvest time!
Nanking Cherry Trees are known to be no stranger to pests and it is important for owners of these trees to pay close attention for signs of infestation. Common examples include sawfly, aphids, Japanese beetles and tent caterpillars.
Sawflies lay their eggs in the new growth of a Nanking Cherry Tree, often resulting in distorted or disfigured leaves. Aphids make it difficult for the tree to obtain the necessary nutrients from soil due to their ability to suck out sap from small branches.
Japanese Beetles tend to lay their eggs where other plants near the Nanking Cherry Tree further enable an infestation while tent caterpillars love nothing more than a good meal made out of Nanking Cherries foliage.
If left ignored, all four of these common pests can eventually cause significant damage if not taken care of in a timely manner.
Keeping these pests away is critical for keeping your Nanking cherry trees in tip-top shape and also to prevent from accidentally introducing pest species into your local environment. It’s important to check your trees regularly for infestations and intervene quickly as soon as signs of pests appear.
This can include hand-picking worms or insect larvae from the foliage, trimming away infested branches, or using natural insecticides.
Home gardeners will be interested to know that not only do Nanking cherries provide a tasty treat but they are also deer-resistant.
These fast-growing members of the rose family are surprisingly resilient, making them an attractive and appetizing choice for any landscape benefiting from additional color, foliage, and fruit. Many gardeners have had success planting Nanking cherry trees year after year without any problems with deer browsing!
Ready to start making your own purchases so you can begin growing these plants?
The best place to find these plants for sale is at a local nursery or garden center as they usually carry a variety of different tree varieties and cultivars.
You can also check out the local farmers market if there’s one nearby as you may find someone selling Nanking cherry plants there too.
You can also peruse online nurseries or gardening websites where they offer various types of trees, but be sure to read all the fine print before purchasing as warranties and delivery times vary greatly from each outlet.
Nanking cherries ripen from July to September, usually in mid-August. Once harvested, they should be stored in a cool place for up to two weeks.
When harvesting them, it is important to be mindful of their delicate nature so as not to damage or bruise the fruit. Make sure you wear gloves when picking the cherries, as the stems can be very prickly. Also keep an eye out for birds and other animals who may already have gotten a taste!
The uses for Nanking cherries are virtually endless! They can be used in jams and jellies, syrups and preserves, pies and tarts, wines and ciders–the list goes on!
They make a great addition to salads or smoothies for added flavor and nutrition. You can also dry them for later use in teas or other beverages. Or just enjoy them fresh off the bush!
The best ways to preserve Nanking Cherries are to freeze or can them. To freeze them, simply wash them thoroughly and spread out on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper before placing it into the freezer until frozen solid (about one to two hours).
Once frozen solid, transfer the cherries into an airtight container or bag before returning it to the freezer where they will stay good for up to six months.
If you choose to can your cherries instead, you will need jars, lids/rings, syrup (optional), boiling water bath pot (or pressure cooker), jar lifter (optional) and a timer.
There are several recipes online that show step-by-step instructions on how to properly process canned fruits such as these so always refer back to those if needed during this process.
Now that you know how to grow Nanking cherry plants, I’d like to share my own expertise (if you can call it that!) in propagating these plants.
Two years ago I planted three Nanking Cherry Bushes along the fence in our garden. I’d read about what a beautiful ornamental shrub they make and how productive they are, and thought they’d be a perfect addition to our edible landscaping.
They’ve done well here in zone 7, I definitely plan on planting more around the garden where they can get full sun. Maybe I can propagate some cuttings?
March of The Second Year
Here’s what the Nanking Cherry Bushes looked like in March. They’ve grown extremely quickly from the 12″ plants that I initially received:
The blooms came early, so the plants actually began bearing before the last frost. We lost some of the developing fruit when heavy frosts came in April, but fortunately the entire harvest wasn’t spoiled.
The blossoms are lovely pink flowers with a sweet fragrance. They were constantly buzzing with bees in early Spring.
The May Harvest
Pretty much every branch on the bush is loaded with cherries. They’re small fruits, about a 1/2 inch in size, with a pit in the middle:
The flavor is a nice combination of sweet, tart, and tangy. They’d be great for jellies or pies, but are also tasty straight off the bush.
My children have greatly enjoyed our weekends home when they can sit out in the garden under the bushes, stripping the branches clean of their ripe red cherries and spitting the hard pits. I imagine the birds have enjoyed them as well.
When I first put them in the ground, buried at the same depth the soil was at when they shipped, they looked so far apart spaced at a distance of 6 feet.
Two years later, the branches are touching with just enough space to stand between the bushes for harvesting. If you decide you want to plant a few Nanking Cherry Bushes around your place, definitely give them adequate space to grow. They make a lovely edible hedge.
If you can’t find Nanking Cherry Bush plants locally, you can order them online. I got mine from Gurney’s. Another nursery that I’ve ordered from and have been happy with is Stark Bro’s, which carries a similar variety called Hansen’s Bush Cherry.
It might be worth having both varieties to see if the season can be extended. It looks like Hansen’s cherries might set fruit later than Nankings, which would give you a longer harvest time.
April Update: Growing Big
The cherry bushes are growing like crazy! I definitely would like to plant more. They’ve been super easy to grow, and really aren’t picky about the soil they’re growing in. Very low maintenance.
The branches are covered with growing fruits. I can’t wait to harvest them in a few more weeks!
So there you have it! Everything you need to know in order to grow Nanking cherry trees. Get started ASAP!
A city girl learning to homestead on an acre of land in the country. Wife and homeschooling mother of four. Enjoying life, and everything that has to do with self sufficient living.