Common Name: Nanking Cherry
Other Names: Manchu Cherry, Chinese Dwarf or Bush Cherry, Downy Cherry, and many more.
Scientific Name: Prunus tomentosa
Family: Rosaceae (the Rose Family… includes all cherries, plums, peaches…)
Nanking Cherry is a medium to large, multi-stemmed shrub from China that produces small, shiny, red berries with a juicy, true cherry flavor – it is a true bush cherry. It can produce in almost any growing condition, tolerates some shade, is very resistant to diseases, tolerates drought, and because it is much smaller than a full cherry tree, it is easier to protect the tasty fruit from hungry birds.
- A native to the central hills of Asia, Nanking Cherry has been cultivated for centuries.
- Introduced to Britain in 1870 and to the U.S. in 1892.
- Nanking Cherry fruit is usually bright red, but pink and almost white fruited plants exist.
- Nanking Cherries do not reproduce true to type… meaning that each fruit contains a seed that will grow into a shrub that resembles the parents, but may be shorter, taller, wider, thinner, and produce fruit that may taste better or worse or ripen to a different shade of pink to red.
USING THIS PLANT
- Fresh eating
- Fruit juice
- Fruit Leather
- Preserves, jams, jellies, etc.
- Baking – pies, tarts, etc (need to be pitted first)
- Cooking – great for making sweet/savory sauces
- Alcohol – primary or as flavor addition to beers, wines, cordials, liquors, etc.
- Vinegar – primary or as flavor addition
- Pickled – unripe fruits
- One report of flower buds being edible after cooking
- General insect (especially bees) nectar plant
- Food source for wildlife (especially birds) in Summer
- Windbreak hedgerows
- Beautiful, fragrant flowers (pink buds and white petals) in the Spring
- Dark grey-green dye from fruit
- Some, but not many, medicinal uses have been reported
Yield: 12-15 lbs per bush
Harvesting: Late Summer (July-August). Fruit is about half an inch (1.2 cm) in diameter. Pick when the fruit is fully colored and juicy. Remember there is a pit (seed) in the center.
Storage: Fresh fruit does not store well and is best eaten fresh – within a day. The fruit’s stem stays on the shrub leaving a hole in the top of the fruit allowing juice to leak out… which it will readily do. Can be dried after pitting.
DESIGNING WITH THIS PLANT
USDA Hardiness Zone: 2-7
AHS Heat Zone: 7-1 (very heat and cold tolerant)
Chill Requirement: Likely, but no reliable data can be found as to the specifics
Plant Type: Medium to Large Shrub
Leaf Type: Deciduous
Forest Garden Use: Shrub Layer
Cultivars/Varieties: There used to be a large number of named varieties, but many have slowly been lost over the last 100 years. Mostly non-named seedlings and a few named varieties are available.
Pollination: Partially Self-Pollinating/Self-Fertile – will produce better (more and larger fruit) when planted with other varieties of Nanking Cherries
Flowering: Spring (April-June). I’ve seen conflicting statements about Nanking Cherry’s susceptibility to late-spring frosts. Both sources are very reliable, so I can only assume that different plants exhibit different traits.
Years to Begin Bearing: 1-3 years
Years to Maximum Bearing: 2-4 years
Years Between Large Crops: 1-2 years
Years of Useful Life: 15 years
PHYSICAL CHARACTERISTICS OF THIS PLANT
Size: 5-10 feet (1.5-3 meters) tall and wide
Roots: Fibrous tap root, medium depth, may produce suckers
Growth Rate: Medium
GROWING CONDITIONS FOR THIS PLANT
Light: Prefers full sun
Shade: Tolerates light shade, reports exist of Nanking Cherry still being productive in deep shade
Moisture: Medium, but can tolerate some droughts
pH: most species prefer fairly neutral soil (6.1 – 7.0)
Special Considerations for Growing:
Does not tolerate juglone (natural growth inhibitor produced by Black Walnut). Do not plant near Black Walnut or its relatives.
Propagation: Almost exclusively from seed. Seeds require 2-3 months cold stratification for germination. Can be propagated through cuttings. Can be propagated through layering in the Spring.
Minimal. Can prune in the center for good air flow and light penetration, but it is not needed. Some plants can develop “branch dieback” which is either a fungal or bacterial infection. Some growers will cut out diseased branches, but it will rarely kill the whole plant. If the plant seems to producing less than in years previous, a severe pruning (up to cutting back to the ground) may trigger a quick and productive rejuvenation.
Poisonous – Leaves and seeds contain a precursor to cyanide (large amounts need to be eaten for this to be toxic).