Grown for eating or admiring, cherries promise year-round appeal – if you choose your variety wisely. Words and Photos Gillian Vine
Cherry lovers are carrying on a long tradition, as fruit stones dating from more than 5000 years ago have been found from Turkey to Portugal, and Japanese blossom festivals have been around for centuries.
One of the snags to cultivation was that cherries don’t self-pollinate, so grafting is generally the only way to propagate them. The exception is the sour Morello cherry (Prunus cerasus).
The Romans had the hang of grafting but when their empire fell apart some 1600 years ago, cherry culture died too, and it wasn’t until about the 16th century that cherries were again cultivated in Europe.
Trees were imported into New Zealand from Australia from the 1840s and commercial crops first trialled in Central Otago some 20 years later.
Modern breeding has resulted in bigger fruit that is less prone to splitting in rain and has a longer overall season. Mostly importantly for the home gardener has been the development of self-fertile varieties such as semi-dwarf ‘Compact Stella’, ‘Stella’, ‘Sweetheart’, ‘Lapins’ and its Central Otago mutation, ‘Sweet Valentine’. Here are my recommendations for the best to grow for fruit or for seasonal colour.
The first consideration for homegrown cherries to eat is whether your climate is suitable, as at least 600 hours of temperatures below 5°C (winter chilling) is needed or they will not fruit...
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