Cherry trees thrive in temperate climates, so the Kentucky growing zones are perfectly suited to growing beautiful ornamental cherry trees anywhere in the state.
You can also grow fruit-production cherry trees in KY, but it is a bit more challenging, particularly the ever-popular Sweet Cherry varieties, where spring frosts, variable winters, and summer rains can cause poor production or cracked fruits.
However, you can usually overcome those issues by choosing the right varieties or trying the hardier Sour or Nanking species and still get productive, delicious crops.
Now, let’s look at some edible and ornamental cherry trees in Kentucky!
6 Types of Edible and Ornamental Cherry Trees You Can Grow in Kentucky
1. Sweet Cherries – Prunus avium – Varieties
Even though Kentucky has a great temperate climate and great soils, growing Sweet Cherries can be challenging but not impossible, to get delicious crops.
You need later-flowering varieties to avoid late spring frost damaging the flowers and varieties that resist splitting fruits in summer rains. Split fruits are edible but don’t look pretty and must be eaten immediately.
Another obstacle will be keeping all that KY wildlife away from that delicious fruit. Some people use netting over their trees or keep their dogs outside to bark away the wildlife.
Sweet Cherry trees grow best in full sun in any moist, well-drained soil, preferably in the acidic to neutral range. Irrigation may not be required, but if the spring is especially dry, irrigation will help ensure a productive crop; just keep the water off the fruits.
Most cherry trees are not self-fertile and require a pollination partner for good cross-pollination.
Sweet Cherry Cultivars Recommended for Growing in Kentucky: Black Tartarian (pictured above), Sweetheart, Royal Ann, Stella, Romeo and Juliet, Lambert, Bing, Corum
Other Common Names: Mazzard Cherry
USDA Growing Zones: 3 – 8
Average Size at Maturity: 8 – 30 ft* tall, 8 – 30 ft spread *size depends on variety and rootstock
Flowering / Fruiting Season: Showy flowers bloom in early to late spring; fruits mature early to mid-summer, depending on the variety
2. Sour Cherry – Prunus cerasus – Varieties
Sour Cherries are gorgeous, productive trees that are hardier than Sweet Cherry trees, and their lovely white blossoms bloom later, making them less susceptible to late spring frosts and more likely to produce reliable crops in Kentucky.
These trees perform best in full sun in cool, humid climates in moist but well-drained soil. It is recommended to mulch annually each fall with compost or well-aged manure.
Sour Cherries are self-fertile, so only one tree is needed, and most can be grown in pots or fan-trained against a wall. This is great news for those with small gardens who still want to grow cherries.
Although self-fertile, additional trees will help ensure good cross-pollination and improve yields if you have the space.
Sour Cherries have a tart, sour flavor that makes them popular for use in pies, jams, and other baked goods.
For more information, check out how to identify Sour Cherry.
Sour Cherry Cultivars Recommended for Growing in Kentucky: Montmorency (pictured above), North Star, Balaton, and Surefire are varieties that do well in Kentucky. Carmine Jewel is a good dwarf variety.
Other Common Names: Pea Cherry, Tart Cherry, Dwarf Cherry, Morello Cherry
USDA Growing Zones: 3 – 8
Average Size at Maturity: 12 – 20 ft (to 30 ft) tall, 15 – 20 ft spread
Flowering / Fruiting Season: Showy flowers emerge usually in mid to late May; fruits mature in early to mid-summer, depending on the variety
3. Nanking Cherry – Prunus tomentosa
Nanking Cherry is probably my favorite cherry. I discovered these beauties living in the cold Canadian prairies and would eat them fresh or make them into jams, pies, and wine.
Their bright red cherries are botanically more like a plum, which explains their delicious tart-sweet plum-cherry-like flavor.
Nanking Cherries are popular for being very hardy shrubs that tolerate extreme cold, hot summers, drought, and almost any soil as long as it is well-drained. They grow best in full sun in slightly acidic soils.
You will need to plant 2 – 3 of these shrubs in order to get good cross-pollination. Thanks to their relatively small size, if you plant them as a border or hedge, you will guarantee fruit production and be rewarded with a gorgeous deciduous hedge with pretty spring flowers and delicious summer fruits.
For more information, check out how to identify Nanking Cherry.
Other Common Names: Downy Cherry, Nanjing cherry, Korean cherry, Manchu Cherry, Shanghai Cherry, Ando Cherry, Mountain Cherry, Chinese Bush Cherry, Chinese Dwarf Cherry
USDA Growing Zones: 2 – 7(8 in a location protected from the hottest afternoon sun)
Average Size at Maturity: 6 – 10 ft tall, 10 – 15 ft spread
Flowering / Fruiting Season: Fragrant pink or white flowers emerge in early spring; fruit ripens from July to August
Available at: Nature Hills
4. Japanese Flowering Cherry – Prunus serrulata
Japanese Flowering Cherry is a popular ornamental flowering tree for its prolific spring blossoms that cover their bare branches in early spring.
Countless cultivars have been developed, including dwarf and semi-dwarf varieties and others with semi-double or double flowers in pink or white. They also come in various fall colors, including bronze, red, or yellow.
What’s perhaps the best part of Japanese Flowering Cherries is they are incredibly low-maintenance trees that will grow in full sun in almost any soil, as long as it is well-drained.
Irrigation may be necessary to keep the tree healthy if you have an extended summer drought; otherwise, they do have some drought tolerance.
Japanese Flowering Cherry should grow well anywhere in Kentucky’s mild climate and good soils.
These Asian trees have been introduced in parts of North America but are not considered invasive.
Other Common Names: East Asian Cherry, Sakura, Cherry Blossom, Oriental Cherry, Japanese Cherry, Yamazakura
USDA Growing Zones: 5 – 9
Average Size at Maturity: 15 – 30 ft (to 75 ft) tall, 15 – 25 ft spread
Flowering / Fruiting Season: Showy flowers emerge from late April to early May; inedible pea-size fruits mature in late summer
Available at: Nature Hills
5. Yoshino Cherry – Prunus x yedoensis
The Yoshino Cherry is one of the most popular ornamental cherries for its abundant early spring pinkish-white cherry blossoms and strong almond fragrance.
These medium-sized trees also have lovely dark green summer leaves that make for great shade trees, and in the fall, they turn yellow to bronze or reddish. Finally, in winter, its shiny reddish bark with horizontal lenticels adds some winter interest to the landscape.
Yoshino Cherry grows best in full sun in moist, moderately rich, well-drained soils. An annual top dressing of compost will help add nutrients and organic matter to the soil and help retain moisture during dry spells.
These trees should also grow well anywhere in Kentucky with little to no maintenance.
For more information, check out how to identify the Yoshino Cherry.
Other Common Names: Potomac Cherry, Tokyo Cherry, Japanese Flowering Cherry
USDA Growing Zones: 5 – 8
Average Size at Maturity: 40 – 50 ft tall, 25 – 40 ft spread
Flowering / Fruiting Season: Showy, fragrant flowers bloom from March to April; fruits are often not produced, but if they do, edible pear-shaped fruits mature in early summer
6. Chokecherry – Prunus virginiana
Chokecherry is a gorgeous small Kentucky native tree found in eastern Kentucky, where it grows in various habitats and conditions in dense shrubby thickets or as single small trees.
These trees are also often grown ornamentally for their prolific, showy, small white flowers arranged in large drooping racemes from the ends of their branches.
Chokecherry does produce small edible fruits that can be made into jams or preserves, but more often, they are just left on the tree, where they usually produce little to no mess because the wildlife will eat them all.
These very low-maintenance trees grow best in full sun and will tolerate partial shade and almost any well-drained soil, including clay, limestone, sand, acidic, and alkaline.
In KY, these drought-tolerant trees can be grown without any irrigation and can be used in xeriscaping.
For more information, check out how to identify Chokecherry in its native habitat.
Other Common Names: Bitter Cherry, Virginia Bird Cherry, Western Chokecherry, Eastern Chokecherry, Black Chokecherry
USDA Growing Zones: 2 – 7
Average Size at Maturity: 20 – 30 ft tall, 15 – 20 ft spread
Flowering / Fruiting Season: White flowers bloom in May; fruits mature in August
Available at: Nature Hills
Table Comparing Cherry Trees in Kentucky
Here is a detailed table comparing Kentucky Cherry trees, including varieties, fruiting season, average size and USDA growing zones.
|Cherry Tree Type||Varieties/Cultivars||USDA Growing Zones||Average Size at Maturity||Flowering/Fruiting Season||Notable Characteristics|
|Sweet Cherries (Prunus avium)||Black Tartarian, Sweetheart, Royal Ann, Stella, etc.||3 – 8||8 – 30 ft tall, 8 – 30 ft spread||Early to late spring / Early to mid-summer||Later-flowering varieties for frost avoidance; susceptible to fruit splitting|
|Sour Cherry (Prunus cerasus)||Montmorency, North Star, Balaton, Surefire, etc.||3 – 8||12 – 20 ft (to 30 ft) tall, 15 – 20 ft spread||Mid to late May / Early to mid-summer||Hardy, less susceptible to spring frosts, self-fertile|
|Nanking Cherry (Prunus tomentosa)||–||2 – 7(8)||6 – 10 ft tall, 10 – 15 ft spread||Early spring / July to August||Extremely hardy, tolerates extreme conditions, requires cross-pollination|
|Japanese Flowering Cherry (Prunus serrulata)||Various cultivars||5 – 9||15 – 30 ft (to 75 ft) tall, 15 – 25 ft spread||Late April to early May||Ornamental, prolific spring blossoms, low-maintenance|
|Yoshino Cherry (Prunus x yedoensis)||–||5 – 8||40 – 50 ft tall, 25 – 40 ft spread||March to April||Ornamental, early spring pinkish-white blossoms, almond fragrance|
|Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana)||–||2 – 7||20 – 30 ft tall, 15 – 20 ft spread||May / August||Native to KY, ornamental flowers, small edible fruits|
Cherry Trees That Thrive in Kentucky
Cherry trees are perfect for growing in Kentucky, especially ornamental varieties.
But those looking to grow a home fruit orchard in KY will also have productive crops in most years, especially if you choose a Sour Cherry, Nanking, and later-flowering Sweet Cherry varieties that also resist fruit splitting from the summer rains. Then, you just have to figure out how to keep all those birds away from those delicious fruits!
If you choose the right tree for the right spot in your yard, you will have beautiful and productive trees in no time!
I hope you enjoyed learning about some of the lovely cherry trees you can grow in KY. Now, enjoy dreaming about those lovely cherries you will grow in your Kentucky garden!
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Lyrae grew up in the forests of BC, Canada, where she got a BSc. in Environmental Sciences.
Her whole life, she has loved studying plants, from the tiniest flowers to the most massive trees.
She is currently researching native plants of North America and spends her time traveling, hiking, documenting, and writing.
When not researching, she is homeschooling her brilliant autistic son, who travels with her and benefits from a unique hands-on education about the environment around him.