Can cherries grow in Coastal Southern California? Yes!

Can cherries grow in Coastal Southern California? Yes!

About 5 years ago, I read about promising early results with newly developed low chill sweet cherries called Minnie Royal cherry and Royal Lee cherry. Well,  when I told my neighbor/ friend / fellow gardener about the new trees, she was up for the experiment and had a little bit of room. I grow all sorts of low chill fruit trees, but ran out of room myself for new stuff quite awhile ago.   After 3 years of her “testing” the varieties, it looks like it might be time to rip something out in my own garden next winter.  As of Spring 2010, I would recommend these to anyone looking for a lower chill cherry.

3 year old – Minnie Royal and Royal Lee low chill cherry trees in full bloom 2012

Here is my review so far to date:

The fruits  of Minnie Royal and Royal Lee tastes a little similar to Rainer, but they look more like Sandra Rose or Lapins,  kind of a bright candy apple red.  The color is not deep burgundy like Bing.  Considering there are no other commercially available low chill cherries to compare to, I would rate the fruit on both very good.  You must have both varieties for cross-pollination.  We only get 250 to 400 hours of chilling in average years here.  This year the local CIMIS- weather station #174, recorded 323 chilling hours for winter 2009-2010.  Royal Lee has lots of flowers this year, so we must have had sufficient chilling hours for it.  Based on this, I would guess their chilling requirement is somewhere around 300 hours, but I have read different amounts at different sources.  Minnie Royal did okay too, with a bit less than a hundred or so flowers. The Minnie Royal tree started flowering first and had almost finished flowering when I took the first image in this post.  They both produced a couple cherries that first early summer, a few dozen cherries last year, and they appear to be setting a nice sized crop this year.   I will update again in the future as the trees mature.

UPDATE: April 15th, 2010

My neighbor’s trees have has a couple dozen cherries on the Minnie Royal that she has already started picking those.  Most of the Minnie Royals should be fully ripe in the next week or two. The Royal Lee cherry tree has about 100 cherries developing on it, but most are still green.

Minnie Royal Royal lee fruit in socal
Fruit ripening on low chill Minnie Royal Cherry tree with a grasshopper hidden in the photo

Zaiger’s Inc. Genetics in Modesto holds patents on both of these cherries.  (Thanks for all the hard work and years spent developing the first low chill cherry trees for us coastal gardeners, Zaiger Family!) The first year they released the trees through Dave Wilson Nursery to the wholesale market and general public, they were in very limited supply, and sadly we could not get them for her.  The next year, she bought one of each, at a premium price.  They have now been in the ground for a little over 3 years.  They have come down in price a little bit since; I saw them both for sale at H & H Nursery in Lakewood for under $30 just last month.

Dave Wilson’s Nursery has been propagating a couple of other lower chill cherries by Zaiger Genetics recently, Royal Hazel cherry, Royal Edie cherry, Royal Lynn cherry, and Royal Helen cherry.  I will be keeping my eyes peeled for more information on these growing in backyard gardens over the next few years.  The flavor is supposed to be even better, but no specifics on the exact amount of chill available yet, except for Royal Hazel at 500 hours.  I error on the side of caution and stick with trees than need 300 hours and under.

This is where I check our annual accumulated chilling hours below 45 degrees:

I would love to know what you think about this.

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