Premium Lapins cherries can be grown on Krymsk 5 rootstock if proper management techniques are followed.

Premium Lapins cherries can be grown on Krymsk 5 rootstock if proper management techniques are followed.

Choosing the right cherry rootstock is just as important as choosing the right variety. This article provides a synopsis of the all the commercially available cherry rootstocks sold in the Pacific Northwest and how they react to Northwest conditions.

Colt (P. avium x P. pseudocerasus)

Colt was released by the research station in East Malling, England, in the 1970s as a semidwarfing rootstock. However, in Northwest irrigated orchards, it produces a vigorous tree that is similar in size to Mazzard with similarly low precocity. Colt is sensitive to droughty soils and cold winter temperatures. It has been widely planted in California due to its resistance to cherry stem pitting. Colt has also shown resistance to Phytophthora root rot and gopher damage, but is susceptible to crown gall caused by Agrobacterium tumefaciens. In the Northwest, Colt performs well in replant situations where cherries follow cherries on nonfumigated sites.

Gisela 5 (P. cerasus x P. canescens)

Although the most popular rootstock in Germany, Gisela 5 has failed to gain widespread acceptance here. The medium low-vigor of this rootstock coupled with very high fruit production has caused fruit size and quality issues, a problem accentuated when Gisela 5 is combined with productive cultivars such as Lapins and Sweetheart. When properly pruned and grown on deep, fertile soils, it may be suitable for very high density plantings of 400 to 600 trees per acre. Gisela 5 tends to advance both flowering and fruit ripening by two to four days and produces a tree that is open and spreading with wide branch angles, though branching may be sparse. Anchorage is usually adequate, but some growers have taken the precaution to support the tree. Trees on Gisela 5 rootstock have shown good winter hardiness. Gisela 5 does not perform well in heavy soils and needs good drainage. Trees show sensitivity to replant stress so should only be planted on virgin sites or where the soil has been properly treated with fumigants prior to planting.

Gisela 6 (P. cerasus x P. canescens)

Gisela 6 is the most popular rootstock for new plantings in Oregon. Although it exhibits medium to high vigor, it is easy to manage. Recommended planting densities are 250 to 500 trees per acre. It is also very precocious, producing harvestable crops by the third leaf with full production possible by the fifth leaf. Due to these high production levels, trees on Gisela 6 need to be properly pruned from an early age in order to maintain fruit size and quality. Premium fruit quality is possible with cultivars of moderate to low productivity such as Bing, Skeena, and Regina, but more difficult with very productive cultivars. The production of new shoots is much easier to achieve with Gisela 6 compared to Gisela 5 and is one of the reasons for the popularity of this rootstock. Gisela 6 tends to advance flowering and fruit ripening only slightly compared to Mazzard. Trees are open and spreading with good branching. Anchorage can be a problem, especially on windy sites, although most growers in the Northwest do not provide support. It is well suited for a wide range of soil types from light to heavy; however, good drainage is essential.

Gisela 12 (P. cerasus x P. canescens)

Tree vigor and size on Gisela 12 is variable depending upon cultivar combination. Several years of testing in The Dalles, Oregon, and Prosser, Washington, indicated that when combined with Bing, Gisela 12 produced a tree intermediate in size to Gisela 5 and 6. However, grower experience with Regina indicates that Gisela 12 produces a tree approximately 10 percent larger than Gisela 6. Some growers prefer the Regina/Gisela 12 combination, as they find it easier to maintain shoot growth and, ultimately, fruit size. It is both precocious and productive, producing early heavy crops, with full production possible by the fifth leaf. Good fruit size and quality is possible with proper pruning. Gisela 12 is adapted to a wide range of soils, and tree structure is open and spreading and new branches form readily.

Krymsk 5 (P. fruticosa x P. lannesiana)

This precocious, semidwarfing rootstock originated in the Black Sea region of Russia. Grower experience in the Northwest suggests that Krymsk 5 is comparable in size to Gisela 6 with slightly less precocity and yield. Production of Lapins on Krymsk 5 through the eighth leaf in Oregon indicates that premium quality fruit can be produced consistently on this rootstock when properly managed. It is adapted to a wide range of soil types, with reports that it will grow well in heavier soils than Mazzard. Accounts out of Russia indicate that the rootstock is well adapted to cold climates. In addition, early indications suggest that trees on this rootstock might also perform well in hotter climates as leaves remain turgid in extreme heat and don’t show the characteristic cupping of Gisela trees in hot conditions. Low to moderate levels of root suckers can be found growing from the crown, but usually not in the tree row. The tree form is excellent, with wide branch angles. Since this rootstock is easy to propagate by softwood cuttings and layers, and due to its lower per-tree royalty, establishment costs for growers are considerably less with Krymsk 5 than the Gisela series. Krymsk 5 is susceptible to prune dwarf virus and Prunus necrotic ring spot virus.

Krymsk 6

[P. cerasp pps x (P. cerasus x P. maackii)]

Krymsk 6 produces a tree that is smaller than Krymsk 5 or Gisela 12. In one commercial orchard in Oregon, Lapins fruit size and quality through the eighth leaf on this rootstock have been excellent. Krymsk 6 rootstocks seem to be adapted to both cold and hot climates as well as heavier soils. Trees are well anchored, but there is low to moderate root suckering. Tree form is good, with wide crotch angles. Due to lower royalties and fees, Krymsk 6 per tree costs are considerably lower than those on the Gisela series. It is sensitive to prune dwarf and Prunus necrotic ring spot viruses.

Mahaleb (P. mahaleb)

Mahaleb is slightly more precocious than Mazzard, slightly less vigorous, and adapts well to droughty and calcareous soils. In the Northwest, Mahaleb rootstocks are generally used only in light, sandy-loam soils, as it readily dies out in gullies and other low-lying areas where water collects. Incompatibility of some sweet cherry cultivars (Chelan and Tieton) can be a problem with Mahaleb, this condition has been detected up to six years after the orchard was planted. Mahaleb has been observed to be attractive to gophers and adequate control measures must be pursued with diligence.

Maxma 14 (P. mahaleb x P. avium)

Maxma 14 originated in Oregon from an open-pollinated Mahaleb tree. However, it has been most widely accepted in France due to its precocity, semidwarfing nature, and resistance to iron-induced chlorosis caused by calcareous soils. In a trial conducted in Oregon on loamy soils, the rootstock produced a tree slightly larger than Mazzard through the seventh leaf when combined with Bing, therefore, it is not recommended for super high density plantings in the Northwest. Production in the fifth leaf was significantly greater with an average of 46 pounds per tree compared to only 2.8 pounds per tree for Mazzard. Maxma 14 shows broad adaptation to soil types and environmental conditions.

Mazzard (Prunus avium)

Growers in the Northwest have a long tradition of planting Mazzard rootstock because it is well adapted to our soils, is winter-hardy and there have been no cases of incompatibility. With its high vigor and moderate productivity, premium fruit quality can be readily obtained. Unfortunately, Mazzard lacks precocity, often not coming into production until the sixth leaf or full production until the twelfth. Vigorous growth makes it difficult to control in high density plantings, and the large tree size reduces picker efficiency. Mazzard does well in a wide range of soils; however, as with other cherry rootstocks, it does not perform well in poorly drained or wet soils. Root suckers can be a problem in limited situations.

F.12/1 (Prunus avium)

F.12/1 is a vegetatively propagated selection of Mazzard used in many locations around the world instead of the seedling-propagated Mazzard. Western Oregon growers prefer F.12/1 to Mazzard due to its resistance to bacterial canker. The F.12/1 stock forms the trunk from the branch union down, and the scion is budded onto each lateral branch. The bacterial-resistant stock slows the progression of canker infection that develops on the branches and hinders the infection from proceeding to the trunk. Many nurseries, however, prefer not to grow this selection due to its sensitivity to crown gall. F.12/1 is more vigorous than Mazzard seedling in many locations where it is grown.


The recent availability of size-controlling, precocious rootstocks has been almost as significant to the sweet cherry industry as to the apple industry several decades ago. Compared to Mazzard, Colt, and even Mahaleb, size-controlling rootstocks have given sweet cherry growers the ability to plant high density, pedestrian orchards that afford high early yields, easier management, and a safer and more productive working environment.  

Rootstock characteristics
Tree Size Percent Precocious Advance bloom/harvest Compatability Root Suckers Anchorage
Colt 100 No No Good No Good
Gisela 5 50-60 Yes 2-4 days Good No Fair-Good
Gisela 6 85-90 Yes 0-1 day Good No Fair
Gisela 12 75-95 Yes No Good No Good
Krymsk 5 80-90 Yes No Limited data Moderate Good
Krymsk 6 65-70 Yes No Limited data Moderate Good
Mahaleb 90 Slightly No Good-Fair No Good
Maxma 14 90-100 Yes No Good No Good
Mazzard 100 No No Good Low Good
Source: Lynn Long, Oregon State University

Additional reading

Long, L.E. 2007. PNW592 Four Simple Steps to Pruning Cherries on Gisela and Other Productive Rootstocks. Oregon State University. Corvallis.