Your Guide to Easy Fruit Tree Care

Dwarf cherry tree or cherry shrub? Which is better for your garden?

Close up of cherries | Dwarf cherry tree or cherry shrub
Which is a better option...a cherry tree? Or a cherry shrub? Read on to discover the pros and cons of each one.

Which is Best for Your Garden - a dwarf cherry tree or a cherry shrub?

For generations, there was no such thing as a dwarf cherry tree. Instead, cherry trees came in one size only and that size was "large". Cherry trees can be huge, up to three stories high. But if you have a small garden and no space for a full sized tree, what can you do? Today, you’re spoiled for choice. You can invest in a dwarf cherry tree that’s been grafted onto dwarfing rootstock. Or you can opt for an easy-care cherry shrub. I’ll talk about both of those options in this blog.

Dwarf Cherry Shrubs Developed in Saskatchewan for Cold Climates

If you live in a cold climate, a dwarf cherry shrub may be the best option. Back in the 1940s, a breeder in Saskatchewan started to develop hybrid cherry plants that would grow in a shrub-like form. When he died, researchers from the University of Saskatchewan took over and continued to work on these plants until they were really happy with the taste of the fruit.

The team introduced their first dwarf cherry shrub, Carmine Jewel, in 1999. They followed up in 2004 with the introduction of "The Romance Series of Cherries" including cultivars named Romeo, Juliet, Crimson Passion, Valentine and Cupid. These shrubs produce sour cherries that are perfect for cooking and processing. And they are easier to prune than a dwarf sweet cherry would be.

Full size cherry trees can be two or three stories tall. But dwarf cherry shrubs are an option for small gardens where there is no room for a full size tree.

Rootstock Choices for your Dwarf Cherry Tree

Cherry shrubs are terrific if you’re interested in growing cherries for cooking and processing. But if you want sweet cherries for fresh eating, you may opt instead for a dwarf cherry tree in which a branch from one of your favourite types of cherries (Like Bing, Lapins, Ranier and other popular cultivars) is grafted onto a rootstock from another compatible tree. The rootstock contributes many qualities to the new plant – one of the important ones is that the rootstock can help limit the size of the fruit tree when mature.

Dwarf rootstock has been available for apple growers for a long time. But that was not the case with cherry trees until the 1970s. At that time breeders in Germany starting working to create a root stock that could be used to create a dwarf cherry tree that can be half the size of a full size tree . Over the years a few options have been created including Gisela and Krymsk that offer lots of benefits, including dwarfing qualities. Using those root stock options, your dwarf cherry tree can produce almost any types of cherries including sweet cherries like Bing, Lapins, Ranier and other popular cultivars.

If you want sweet cherries for fresh eating, you may opt instead for a dwarf cherry tree in which a branch from one of your favourite types of cherries


Dwarf Cherry Trees are Better for Warmer Climate Zones

If you live in a very cold climate, cherry shrubs may be your only option. But if your climate is slightly warmer (Zone 5 and up) you’ll have more choice. You will also be able to grow sweet cherries that can be eaten fresh. Sweet cherries aren’t yet available in a compact shrub form. So, if you want to grow sweet cherries, you need to plant a sweet cherry tree.  And if your garden is small, make sure your new cherry tree is on dwarfing root stock, otherwise your new tree may soon grow so large that it will take over your garden. 

Dwarf cherry trees are produced when the grower takes a branch from a cherry tree that produces tasty fruit (like Bing, or Lapins) and fuses it onto a rootstock from another compatible tree. The rootstock contributes many qualities to the new plant – like disease resistance or increased hardiness. But one of the important features is that some rootstocks will help limit the size of the tree when mature.

Dwarf rootstock has been available for apple growers for a long time. But that was not the case with cherry trees until the 1970s. At that time breeders in Germany starting working to create a root stock that could be used to create a dwarf cherry tree that can be half the size of a full size tree . Today two popular dwarfing cherry root stock choices are Gisela and Krymsk.

So where will you find a good selection of dwarf cherry trees and cherry shrubs? I’ll go through that below. But first, here’s an infographic that summarizes the features of dwarf cherry trees and cherry shrubs. 

Further Dwarf Cherry Tree Resources

Before you make your choice about whether to plant a dwarf cherry tree or a cherry shrub in your garden consider learning more about the different options. I cover both topics in more depth in recent episodes of The Urban Forestry Radio Show and Podcast, which you can listen to below.

You can learn more about how to select a dwarf cherry tree that will thrive in your unique conditions in my online workshop in Beginner Fruit Tree Care. And then, when you’re ready to shop around and buy a dwarf cherry tree, download my fruit tree nursery resource list so that you can find a nursery that will provide you with exactly that type of cherry you would like to grow in your small garden.

So dwarf cherry tree or cherry shrub? It's up to you. What will you choose?


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Susan Poizner

Director, OrchardPeople.com Fruit Tree Care Education Online

Susan Poizner is an urban orchardist and the author of the award-winning fruit tree care book Growing Urban Orchards. She is the creator of the award-winning online fruit tree care training program at www.orchardpeople.com and the host of The Urban Forestry Radio Show and Podcast.  She is also an ISA Certified Arborist..

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