Sweet cherries are delicious for eating fresh and tart ones are best for making pies, cobblers and jams.
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Sweet cherries are great for eating fresh. They can be grown successfully by backyard gardeners in many, but not all, areas of the country. Most commercially grown sweet cherries come from a few states in the Northwest, including Washington, Oregon and California.
Most sweet cherries require cross-pollination to bear fruit, which means home gardeners typically need to plant two different varieties of cherries that bloom at the same time in order to get fruit. A few sweet cherries are self-fertile and don't require cross-pollination, however. Your local extension service can tell you which varieties of cherries will cross-pollinate with others and which varieties are self-fertile and don't require cross-pollination.
One popular sweet cherry is Black Tartanian, while another is Stella. Stella will pollinate other cherry varieties, but it is also self-fertile. That makes it a great choice if you have room for only one tree in your landscape.
Tart cherries, sometimes called sour or pie cherries, are the cherries most often found in pies, cobblers, jams and jellies. For most people's taste, they are a bit too tart for eating fresh. But tart cherry trees are adaptable to a wider range of growing conditions than sweet cherries. For that reason they're the best selection for many home gardeners.
Tart cherry trees are small trees with a bushy, spreading habit, and rarely reach more than 15' tall. They're typically more cold hardy than sweet cherries, can take a bit more summer heat and humidity and adapt to a wider range of soils. All tart cherries are self-fertile, so home gardeners don't have to be concerned about cross-pollination.
One popular tart cherry is 'Montmorency'. With its white springtime flowers and golden-yellow fall color, it's a good addition to a garden for its landscape value alone.