If George Washington indeed chopped down a cherry tree, it was probably because he was miffed about not getting any fruit. Fruiting cherries, both sweet and sour types, make attractive trees for the home garden, but getting a decent crop is a challenge in the South. For strictly ornamental cherries, see Prunus.
Sweet cherries. These are best grown in the Upper South, preferably in the Appalachian and Blue Ridge Mountains. They are the most common market type, but their high chilling requirement (many hours needed below 45F) makes them poorly adapted to most of the South. They can't take extreme summer heat or intense winter cold, and freezes and heavy spring rains can damage crop. Trees reach 2035 ft. tall and broad in some selections.
The worst single problem for sweet cherries grown in the South is bacterial canker. Gardeners should check with their local Cooperative Extension Offices for recommended methods of control.
In the past, many gardeners stayed away from sweet cherries, because the trees are naturally large (to 35 ft. high and wide), and most need cross-pollination, so they have to plant two. But breeding advances have produced many self-fruitful varieties (noted in descriptions) and much smaller sizes.
For selections that need pollinators to produce fruit, the second tree must be chosen with care. No combination of these will produce fruit: 'Bing', 'Lambert', 'Royal Ann'. However, the following selections will pollinate any other cherry: 'Angela', 'Black Tartarian', 'Hedelfingen', 'Stella', and 'Van'. Self-fertile types (a lone tree will bear) are noted in the descriptions.
Good selections include the following:
'Angela'. Small, glossy black fruit with excellent flavor. Resists cracking. Midseason to late.
'Bing'. Top quality. Large, dark red, meaty fruit of fine flavor. Midseason.
'Black Tartarian'. Fruit smaller than 'Bing', purplish black, firm and sweet. Early.
'Craig's Crimson'. Medium to large, deep red to black; superb flavor. Naturally dwarf (about two-thirds normal size). Self-fruitful. Midseason.
'Early Ruby'. Dark red, purple-fleshed early cherry that performs well in all sweet cherry areas. 'Black Tartarian', 'Royal Ann', 'Van' are all good pollenizers.
'Hedelfingen'. Medium-large black cherry. Ripens with 'Van', but fruit colors before maturity, needs early protection from birds. Productive tree begins bearing fruit when young.
'Lambert'. Large, firm black fruit. Flavor more sprightly than 'Bing'. Late.
'Lapins'. Resembles 'Bing' but is self-fruitful. Early to midseason.
'Royal Ann' ('Napoleon'). Large, spreading tree; very productive. Tender, crisp, light yellow fruit with pink blush. Sprightly flavor. Midseason.
'Stella'. Dark fruit like 'Lambert'; ripens a few days later. Self-fertile and good pollenizer for other cherries. 'Compact Stella' is similar, but tree is half the size.
'Sweetheart'. Large, bright red; excellent flavor. Self-fruitful and heavy bearing. Late.
'Van'. Heavy-bearing tree. Shiny black fruit, firmer and slightly smaller than 'Bing'. Ripens slightly earlier than or at the same time as 'Bing'.
'White Gold'. Large, yellow with red blush; fine flavor. Self-fruitful and heavy bearing; resists cracking. Midseason.
The newly introduced German dwarfing rootstocks ('Gisela 5' and 'Gisela 6') now provide gardeners with smaller sweet cherry trees that are easier to manage. Self-fruitful selections now available on these rootstocks include 'Sandra Rose', 'Barton', and 'Stardust'. Some of these may prove satisfactory in the South.
Sour cherries. Also known as pie cherries. More widely adapted than sweet cherries; succeed along the Atlantic Coast and farther north and south than sweet cherries do. In home gardens and orchards, grow in Upper and Middle South in well-drained soil. Sour cherry trees are smaller than sweet cherry treesto about 20 ft. tall, with spreading habit. They are self-fertile. There are far fewer types of sour cherries than sweet ones.
'Early Richmond'. Highly recommended. Like 'Montmorency'. Early.
'English Morello'. Dark red, some- what tart fruit with red juice. Late.
'Kansas Sweet'. Large red fruit is semisweet. Late.
'Meteor'. Fruit like 'Montmorency' but on a smaller tree. Late.
'Montmorency'. Highly recommended. Small, bright red, soft, juicy fruit with a sweet-tart flavor. Midseason to late.
'North Star'. Fruit has red to dark red skin and sour yellow flesh. Susceptible to bacterial canker. Small, very hardy tree. Midseason.
'Surefire'. Bright red skin and flesh; sweet flavor. Late.