Earth Matters by Jacqueline Milner – Looking to plant a bush that can feed you, the birds, the bees and serve as a windbreak? – May 9, 2011 – Cornwall Ontario

Cornwall ON – The Nanking Cherry is a native of Manchuria and grows naturally in the northern parts of that country where the winter temperatures are close to ours.
Our household purchased a couple of Nanking Cherry bushes locally (Marlin Orchards) about six years ago.  The fruit bushes can grow to about 6 feet in height and width.
The Nanking Cherry is a lovely attractive shrub with dark green foliage.  It comes into bloom very early in the season, sometimes before its foliage has developed.  If I remember correctly our bushes began producing fruit within a couple of years.  The bushes produce fruit which is edible for human and animal consumption.  The fruit is usually ripe towards the end of July and the bright red fruit is about a half inch in size.  Our bushes fruit pit ratio is about 1:1.  In other words there is not a lot of fruit flesh on the pit which means you would have to pit about 3 – 4 times as many of these cherries compared to the cultivated cherries purchased in the grocery store should you wish to make a cherry pie. 

On the up side, the Nanking is well suited for our northern climate and the bushes produce an abundance of fruit which is well suited for making jelly and jams or just leaving for the birds.  The birds love these cherries…they just swallow them whole for the most part.  Our summer resident robins just love them.  It is the only other thing I have ever seen them eat besides worms.  I have read that some bushes produce sweet cherries; ours definitely lean towards the sour side of the scale. The Nanking Cherry can apparently be trained to be small trees or used as hedges in a windbreak. They are considered cold hardy.

Because this bush blooms early it is of considerable benefit to our bee populations.  It gives the bees something to forage on before very much else is producing nectar or pollen. This gives them a jump start in building up the colony which represents more bees when the apple and pear trees go into full bloom.  In the midst of photographing the above image of our Nanking in full bloom this morning (as you see a honey bee was busy foraging away) a hummingbird was foraging around the bush.

The bush is considered self pollinating although planting a couple of bushes together or planting together with other fruit producers such as apple or plum is suggested to improve fruit production.  We did plant two bushes on the property along with a couple of apple trees.  Plan to prune annually to prevent the bush becoming too dense and to promote the growth of new wood.  It is important to understand that the Nanking cherry flowers buds are formed on the previous year’s new growth.  Pruning in either the fall or winter puts you at risk for removing dormant flower buds which will mean less fruit the following year.  Prune as soon as flowering is finished before next year’s buds have set.  Don’t remove more than 30 percent of the branches at any one time.  Removing the older wood will promote new wood growth which will result in a greater wealth of blossoms the following season.  Do remove dead or diseased wood throughout the season to avoid problems or spread of disease.

This is a wonderful bush to add to your surroundings.  It produces flowers and fruit which are a delight to the eyes, can be consumed by yourself if you so choose and is a greatly appreciated early food source for our pollinator bee friends and your neighborhood birds.

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