Tooele Transcript Bulletin – News in Tooele, Utah

June 29, 2017
It’s time to harvest the Utah state fruit: Bing or Van — its the cherry

It’s Cherry Harvest Time.

Both sour and sweet cherries have ripened here in our valley, and the bird population is rejoicing. As much as we enjoy the fruit of our trees, our winged friends do even more so.

I’ve made more than my share of mistakes when it comes to choosing the best types of trees for our orchard or for placement around the yard. Even so, the rewards of having your own fruit harvest, and the resultant preserves that we make, has pretty well made up for my less than optimum choices.

When we planted a few cherry trees, we planted both sweet and sour cherries. That’s been a good thing. I’ve enjoyed plenty of fresh eating of Rainier cherries over the last few weeks, and the sour Montmorency cherries are just about ready to be picked, stones removed and frozen for processing and canning into pie filling. My experience is that cherries are dependable performers, seemingly undeterred by our type of cold.

Before I had learned some of the key things you need to know about fruit trees and where to plant them, I placed a sweet cherry tree in the corner of our back yard. It has flourished there — a little too much. You may see where this is going. I made a two-fold error. First, I got a standard sized tree. Second, I let it get too large. You see, dwarfing rootstocks on fruit trees only does so much size control. The rest is up to you to keep the tree pruned down to working size.

Not that we haven’t enjoyed the shade of the tree. It was one of our early plantings when we started improving our yardscape. Back then, shade and protection from wind was very scarce. When this cherry tree took off, it was welcomed. But then, I took my eye off it and it’s now 25 to 30 feet tall. It produces fantastic cherries, sweet and sizable. I harvest the bottom part, and the birds get the top. I do have to watch for saplings as well with all the pits that land in the lawn and beds, as well as starts that emerge from shallow lateral roots.

I know what I need to do, but it will be quite a job. That tree needs some serious pruning care to thin it out, remove damaged or diseased sections, and make the tree easier to care for and harvest from. With such a sizable tree, it produces more fruit than we can eat fresh, so next year we’ll dehydrate the harvest and spread the enjoyment out over a longer time.

I’m also happy to report that older or damaged fruit is appreciated by your poultry flock, if you have one. Anytime I can feed my chicken greenery (AKA weeds) and fruit from around our place, that’s a win in my mind. The chickens enjoy a bit of diversity in their diet, and we get to pay less in feed. To double check my opinion on the safety of feeding cherries, pits and all to our birds, I visited a backyard poultry forum and the consensus there is that the chickens will eat the fleshy part of the fruit and leave the pits behind.

Since sweet cherries tend to need another pollinator tree to produce fruit, we have a couple more cherry trees in the orchard — one sweet, one sour (kind of like Maggie and me, you guess which is which). However, I’m glad to report that those are both better managed and scaled down for ease of care. All are very good producers, and don’t require a lot of care.

Cherries, apples and peaches have all been popular and important fruit crops in Utah back to the late 1800’s. While Utah doesn’t tend to be a major player in the national fruit market in many categories, we are an important producer of apples and tart cherries. In fact, we are the second largest tart cherry producing state in the U.S., and fifth in the nation in the production of sweet cherries. The most common tart cherry variety is Montmorency — which is the type I have in our orchard and with which Maggie makes our yearly supply of canned pie filling.

Another intriguing fact is that the cherry is the official Utah state fruit, designated as such in 1997. Cherries have some significant history in our state, including the fact that the Japanese gifted trees to Utah following World War II. You can see those trees surrounding the State Capitol building. They put on a spectacular blooming display every spring.

While both sweet and tart cherries belong to the genus Prunus, very few sweet cherries are self-fertile, while tart cherries have no need of an external pollinator. You might find it interesting to know that these types of cherry require a significant amount of cold to grow. They can’t be grown in tropical or sub-tropical areas. Pits from a cherry tree won’t germinate until after going through winter. This prevents the pit from sprouting in the fall before the winter comes and would kill the new sapling.

If you are interested in planting a cherry tree, there are some good choices for our area. Good sweet cherry choices include Stella, Rainer, Van and Bing. Keep in mind that sweet cherries are not as cold tolerant as tart cherries. Even so, I think you will find that you will get a good harvest most years. As mentioned earlier, the best overall choice for tart cherry for our area is Montmorency. It’s dependable, puts on a nice fruit, is easy to manage, and blooms a bit later, helping assure a crop each year.

The care of your trees include adequate water and light fertilization. Beyond that, the cherry does have some pests to be controlled, as do all fruit trees. The most common pest to deal with in our area is the Western Cherry Fruit Fly, which creates small worms (maggots) that feed inside the fruit. A spray schedule will control them. I have not had problems with pests on my trees, but that isn’t to say that I won’t at some time.

For further information on these worms, do an internet search with the phrase “Utah cherry tree pests.” One of the results will be the “Utah Home Orchard Pest Management Guide” authored by Marion Murray at Utah State University. You’ll find a wealth of knowledge about caring for cherry and other trees. I think you’ll find the effort to be well worth your time.

As a final note, I want to give a nod to one of my gardening friends. I met Rick Hall several years ago through the Master Gardener Association when we both went through the Master Gardening Course, led by Larry Sagers. Later, I visited his yardscape where he had created an incredible backyard respite featuring a beautiful cascading water feature and koi pond.

Since that time, not only has the yard gotten more beautiful, but Rick has become a key part of the Garden Tour committee. He’s the Tour Host Coordinator, responsible for locating and recruiting great garden sites and hosts. Rick has been at the helm in this position for three years now, and he has brought some awesome locations to the tour.

Rick received a wonderful acknowledgement of his backyard creation when he was chosen recently by KUTV Channel 2 News to be the live weather report remote site with Sterling Poulson. The honor came along with a great barbeque for 20 of Rick’s family, and being interviewed by Poulson. Several great shots of Rick’s yard were shown during the programs. The backyard BBQ remote broadcast locations are chosen for their beauty and creativity as well as host personality. It was a great broadcast, and it was superb to see Rick honored this way. Congratulations, my friend.

Jay Cooper can be contacted at jay@dirtfarmerjay.com, or you can visit his channel at youtube.com/dirtfarmerjay for videos on the hands-on life of gardening, shop and home skills, culinary arts and landscaping.

Jay Cooper

Garden Spot Columnist at Tooele Transcript Bulletin
Jay Cooper is a new contributing writer for the Garden Spot column. He replaced Diane Sagers, who retired in November 2013 after writing the column for 27 years. Also known as Dirt Farmer Jay, Cooper and his wife have been residents of Erda since 2001 after moving to Utah from Tucson, AZ. A passionate gardener and avid reader of horticultural topics, for several years he has been a member of Utah State University’s Master Gardeners Program, and served as chapter president in 2013. Cooper says Tooele County has an active and vibrant gardening community, and the Garden Spot column will continue to share a wide range of gardening, landscaping, home skills and rural living themes.

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