After more than 20 years of trials with well over 100 new sweet cherry varieties, Oregon horticulturist Lynn Long has some new favorites.

At the Cherry Institute in Yakima, Washington, in January, he shared some insights into the latest promising varieties and how best to grow them.

Among them, dark sweet varieties — Royal Hazel, Black Pearl, Santina, Suite Note, Burgundy Pearl, Coral Champagne, Ebony Pearl, Tamara, Royal Helen and Royal Edie, listed in order or of harvest timing — and the blush variety Radiance Pearl.

“It’s obvious that there are some new options in cherry varieties for Pacific Northwest growers,” Long said. “None, however, are perfect. But some may fill a particular need or time you have.”

For all the varieties, the selection criteria included large fruit, 9.5 row or larger, that are firm and rain crack resistant, and “we need something with good shipping potential,” Long said.

Cherry variety attributes chart. <b>Source: Lynn Long, Oregon State University. Graphic by Jared Johnson/Good Fruit Grower)</b>
Cherry variety attributes chart. Source: Lynn Long, Oregon State University. Graphic by Jared Johnson/Good Fruit Grower)

In terms of timing, the industry particularly needs alternatives to Chelan that would ripen 10 to 12 days before Bing and varieties that ripen late, after Sweetheart, he said.

Royal Hazel is the closest to Chelan, coming in about 11 days before Bing, and it’s got good flavor for an early cherry, Long said.

Developed by Zaiger Genetics, the variety produces fruit 9 row or larger 67 percent of the time in Long’s trial block. But the early ripening comes at a cost — it blooms too early to use most other existing varieties as pollinators and is at risk of late frost.

“The main concern I have is that it’s a moderately low-chill-hour cherry. It blooms about seven days ahead of Bing, so it’s going to be susceptible to that late frost,” Long said.

There’s more competition in the window about a week before Bing. That’s when Black Pearl, a Cornell University-bred variety, and Santina and Suite Note, both developed by the Summerland breeding program in British Columbia, ripen.

Santina, which was released back in the mid-1990s, is heavily planted in Chile and it holds up well over several weeks on a slow boat to China, Long said. “I’m not saying this is the best cherry in the world, it’s a bit weak of flavor,” but the quality retention for shipping is a huge plus. It could be a replacement for Tieton, he said.

Ebony Pearl cherry (Courtesy Lynn Long, Oregon State University)
Ebony Pearl cherry (Courtesy Lynn Long, Oregon State University)

Black Pearl, the first release from the Cornell program aimed at West Coast growers, is a firm, crunchy cherry with better flavor than Santina or Tieton, Long said. It harvests eight days before Bing.

Suite Note, which Summerland released in 2012, is a large cherry with an excellent flavor and harvests five days before Bing. Then, four days before Bing comes Burgundy Pearl, another Cornell cherry. It’s quite large and firm, with a milder, sweeter flavor, Long said.

Ripening right around Bing are Ebony Pearl and Coral Champagne, a University of California, Davis variety that California growers have been planting enthusiastically since 2009.

As for Ebony Pearl, while it doesn’t have competitive timing, it’s a very large cherry, with 93 percent of the trial producing 9 row or larger fruit, Long said. “This is the best tasting of the red Pearl series, mostly sweet but with a nice tang to it.

The large, late cherries include the Czech cherry Tamara, and two developed by Zaiger Genetics, Royal Helen and Royal Edie.

Royal Helen is the largest cherry of the bunch, with 40 percent coming in 8 row or above, Long said. It harvests 12 days after Bing, followed by Royal Edie at 13 days. Edie is also a very large, very firm cherry Long described as having a “meaty but somewhat mild flavor.”

The Tamara cherry, first licensed in the U.S. in 2014, offers very large, firm fruit that’s resistant to cracking and pitting, but Long said he’s concerned that that stem retention could be a problem.

Or, it could be an opportunity for mechanical harvest, along with Selah, he mused, if there were a market for off-stem cherries.

Once you’ve picked a promising new variety for your farm, you need to match it with the right rootstock and training system, Long said. Mismatches spell trouble.

One thing growers know they want is upright production. “The problem is if you match that with varieties that have a recumbent growth habit, it just doesn’t work,” he said. Regina, for example, fruits at the base of 1-year-old wood, which does not work in KGB or UFO systems where pruning the lateral shoots removes the fruiting wood.

Spur-type fruiting trees with an open growth habit can use any type of training system. Black Pearl, Tamara, Coral Champagne and the Royal series all fall into this category, Long said.

Pendant trees, such as Santina, Ebony Pearl and Burgundy Pearl, will fail in a KGB system, so Long recommends using a steep leader, TSA or UFO system.

Long also gave rootstock recommendations depending on productivity for each scion, which are included in the chart. His variety trials have the advantage of really good soils, but he cautioned growers that rootstocks such as Giesla 6 and Krymsk 6 don’t perform well on poor soils, and those sites would be better served with stronger growing Krymsk 5 or Giesla 12. •

—by Kate Prengaman