Jorge, Plants, Trees

When deciding on a cherry fruit tree, you have to decide on how big you want your tree. Rootstocks determine the size of you tree with dwarfing rootstocks producing smaller trees. You then have to select a variety, ideally one you like the taste of. As many will not be familiar with cherry varieties, we have made some recommendations.

Introduction To Cherry Fruit Trees

Unlike other fruit species, it is recommended that you choose a self-fertile variety as your first tree as you can’t be sure of pollination otherwise. Once you have a self-fertile variety in your orchard, you can purchase any cherry in the same or neighbouring flowering group.

cherry pollination groups

Cherries are liable to cracking in heavy summer rains. Varieties with a resistance to cracking are recommended as you’ll receive an unblemished crop. Studies have shown that ‘Karina’ and ‘Regina’ exhibit high resistance and ‘Lapins’ moderate resistance.

Cooking (acid or sour) and dessert (sweet) cherries are actually different species: cerasus and avium respectively. They can still cross-pollinate, however.

Sweet cherries do not keep well and are best eaten fresh. This is why it is important to spread your orchard between early, mid and late cherries.

Unsurprisingly, traditional English varieties are actually from Continental Europe. Cherry production didn’t take off in England until the first half of the twentieth century.

Modern cherry varieties are primarily from Summerland research, Canada who started a self-fertile cherry program in the 1940s. They introduced the now classic Celeste, Stella, Sweetheart and Sunburst, which all start with an “S”-sound.

Cherries are often characterised as black or white, with black referring to the colour of the skin and white referring to the colour of the flesh. White flesh is associated with excellent flavour and common to traditional varieties. Black, or dark, skin is associated with modern varieties, which need be aesthetic.

Sometimes you will see cherries labelled Bigarreau, which refers to a firm-fleshed variety.

Cherries can be spherical or heart-shaped, although sometimes heart-shaped is broken down further.


Lapins (sometimes known as Cherokee) remains the cultivar of choice. It is self-fertile, productive and its fruits are resistant to cracking. Sunburst and Sweetheart make excellent alternatives and will produce bountiful crops of delicious fruit.


With cooking cherries, you have a choice of Morello and Nabella. Nabella is the new introduction, although Morello still retains RHS Award of Garden Merit. Both are self-fertile.

Dual Purpose

Look no further than May Duke, a self-fertile cross between acid and sweet cherries.

Best x Season

Celeste is the best self-fertile early season cherry.

Mid-season, you are spoilt for choice with Lapins, Stardust, Stella, and Sunburst.

Late season, there is a choice between Kordia and Sweetheart. Sweetheart has the best flavour.

For Small Gardens/Dwarf

Cherries with the dwarfing Gisela 5 rootstock are recommended for small gardens, which will produce a 3m tall tree. You can always prune your tree to reduce its size. Alternatively, buy a cordon tree, which is trained to produce a columnar shape.

Petit Noir, Hartland and Celeste are all naturally compact. Sylvia is as well, but isn’t self-fertile.


Napoleon Bigarreau, Stardust Coveu and White Heart are all white cherries. Stardust is unique in that it is self-fertile. All these varieties have exceptional taste.

Cold Areas

Cherries with the Colt rootstock is recommended for cold areas as Colt produces a tree higher from the ground. Be sure to plant your tree in full sun!

Developed in the UK at the John Innes Research Station, Summer Sun makes an excellent choice for colder areas of the UK.


Lapins and Sweetheart are exceptionally productive cultivars. It is best to combine these varieties with Colt as Gisela 5 can overbear, leading to poor quality fruit.

Jorge at PrimroseJorge works in the Primrose marketing team. He is an avid reader, although struggles to stick to one topic!

His ideal afternoon would involve a long walk, before settling down for scones.

Jorge is a journeyman gardener with experience in growing crops.

See all of Jorge’s posts.

How To, Jorge, Plants, Trees

Both pears and quinces are grafted onto quince rootstocks, such as “Quince A”, “Quince C”, and “Quince Eline”. The rootstocks that exert the greatest dwarfing effect will produce a 2.5-3m tall pear tree and 3m tall quince.

What Are Rootstocks?

A scion grafted onto a rootstock.

Most fruit trees are produced from two trees attached or grafted together, with the bottom part composing the roots known as the rootstock and the top part composing the crown, which can be any variety, providing it’s compatible. You can see where they have been attached at the graft point located at the bottom of the stem. For the most part, the above ground tree remains unaffected, so a Concorde pear attached to a rootstock will always produce Concorde pears.

Rootstocks are selected for their interactions with the soil. Often rootstocks exert a dwarfing effect on the tree it’s attached, producing a tree smaller than it would be if left to grow on its own roots. Rootstocks produce smaller trees as they are worse at absorbing nutrients and water from the soil than conventional roots. While this may sound like a negative, it is actually a huge positive. Trees with dwarfing rootstocks produce earlier in their lives and put more resources into fruiting. Their branches are at a more manageable height and the tree’s ultimate size better suited to the average-sized garden.

Rootstocks don’t just affect size and precociousness (time to fruit), but also disease resistance and hardiness. In the UK, we have comparatively mild winters to other countries, so aren’t interested in cold hardiness.

Rootstocks can be of a completely different species to the plant it is grafted as in the case of quinces and pears. Indeed quinces are in a completely different genus altogether, but are in the same family Rosaceae.

Pear/Quince Rootstock History

In the early 1900s East Malling Research began their project of collecting and labelling traditional rootstocks. They knew that farmers in the Angers region of France used quince as pear rootstocks and brought them over to England. They tested them, finding loads of different rootstocks and categorised them by letter: A, B, C and so on. They found that they were easy to propagate and produced good yields, and have been used ever since. It’s perfectly feasible that more pear/quince rootstocks may emerge. “Quince Eline” is actually a new introduction from Holland, selected for its hardiness.

Testing Rootstocks

As with any major outlay it’s always worth testing multiple varieties on multiple rootstocks. You can never be sure how a rootstock will perform in local conditions.

Pear/Quince Tree Rootstocks A-Z

Every rootstock produces a similar dwarfing effect on both pears and quinces, but quinces end up slightly larger.


Kirchensaller is a pear rootstock that produces a tree to the same height as a seedling. Such rootstocks are used to create specimen trees, or can be used to add vigour to naturally small varieties.

Quince A

Quince A produces trees 3-4m high, about 50-66% of the size of a tree grown on its own roots. Quince trees end up around 3.5-4m.

Quince Eline/C

Quince Eline produces trees 2.5-3m high, about 40-50% of the size of a tree grown on its own roots. Quince trees end up around 3m.

Quince C exerts a similar dwarfing effect to Eline. Eline differs slightly to C in that it reduces fruit russeting and produces a slightly more erect form.


A tree grown on its own roots, and therefore not attached to a rootstock, is known as a seedling. A pear on its own roots tend to grow to about 6m, quince about the same.

Rootstock Spacing

Quince Eline needs 2.5m between trees, Quince A 4m and Seedling 6-8m between trees.

Jorge at PrimroseJorge works in the Primrose marketing team. He is an avid reader, although struggles to stick to one topic!

His ideal afternoon would involve a long walk, before settling down for scones.

Jorge is a journeyman gardener with experience in growing crops.

See all of Jorge’s posts.

Current Issues, Jorge, Plants, Trees

It is illegal to sell ‘Pink Lady’ apple trees as the variety can only be grown under license, and the license holder – Apple and Pear Australia – refuses to license to British growers. You won’t be able to grow the tree from the apple’s seeds as they are a combination of genetic information from the variety and another apple.

‘Pink Lady’ is representative of the rise of foreign cultivars, a story that is detailed below, but if you want to still grow a tree, there are many excellent, arguably superior alternatives below.  


The Decline Of British Cultivars

There was once a time when UK supermarkets were stacked with traditional Victorian varieties such as ‘Cox’s Orange Pippin’, ‘Egremont Russet’ and ‘Worcester Pearmain’, but then came the American ‘Golden Delicious’ and Australian ‘Granny Smith’ with the UK’s entry into the common market and after that the “antipodean four”: ‘Gala’, ‘Braeburn’, ‘Jazz’ and ‘Pink Lady, which originate from New Zealand and Australia – a region sometimes known as the antipodes. Now, you may have noticed the introduction of the American ‘Opal’, which is unique in its resistance to browning.

The growth of such varieties highlight changing consumer tastes, the commercialisation of apple growing and the supermarket’s demand for uniformity – a trend now in reverse with today’s consumers fed up of plastic packaging and commercial waste.

Put ‘Granny Smith’ and ‘Bramley’ side-by-side and rate them on aesthetics, you can see something like the descent of man with the heavily-russeted, misshapen ‘Bramley’ evolving into the shiny, round ‘Granny Smith’. The new introduction was cleverly marketed as a dual-purpose apple, but perhaps is only good in a salad. Anyone who has bitten into a ‘Granny Smith’ will note its overwhelming acidity, which will stop all but the bravest.

The “antipodean four” all share a crunchy texture, good skin finish (typically red), and high sugar content, which originates in part from the antipode climate and the long sunlight hours that the UK can’t match.

Sunlight, of course, plays a key role in photosynthesis, which results in light energy being converted into sugar, which is primarily stored in fruit. These apples are well-adapted to the UK’s changed palette, now accustomed to highly processed foods that are full of sugar.

A key determinant of colour is the pigment anthocyanin, which is again driven by sunlight helps such cultivars such as ‘Pink Lady’ stand out against traditional English cultivars such as ‘Cox’. Appearance is unfortunately associated with taste and Britons eat 80% more red apples than green.

Crunchiness is caused by the mechanical damage of your bite, which breaks cell walls, causing the release of juice. Crunchiness is a factor of the strength of the cell walls and the rigidity of the cells, which is a function of the water and sugar stored with the cell, as well as the age of the apple. It can be said that the sunlight hours also drive crunchiness.

Apples with the right size, shape and colour receive the highest prices from supermarkets, with apples divided into class I and class II fruit, with class II rarely being sold. (You may have noticed those “little less than perfect apples” at Waitrose.) A ‘Gala’ tree produces a significantly higher proportion of class I fruit than a ‘Cox’, resulting in such varieties being taken up UK growers.

The newest of the “antipodean four” – ‘Jazz’ and ‘Pink Lady’ – are cleverly marketed and carefully managed. Their names for example are actually trademarks with ‘Jazz’ the name of the variety ‘Scifresh’ and ‘Pink Lady’ ‘Cripps Pink’.

‘Jazz’ was developed by Enza, New Zealand Apple and Pear Marketing Board, and Plant & Food Research, while ‘Pink Lady’ was developed by Apple and Pear Australia. They can both be only grown under license, and the trademark holders refuse to license ‘Pink Lady’ to UK growers, fearing the climate will not do it justice. This is why you will never find a ‘Pink Lady’ apple tree for sale.

‘Pink Lady’ has its own website as well as Facebook and Twitter. The brand was keen to give out apples for free on launch at various London stations and even had a tie in Great Ormond Street Hospital. It has its own logo “so much more than an apple”, which is again trademarked. The campaign was so successful, it even won an award at the Chartered Institute of Marketing.

Alternatives To Pink Lady

As detailed above, even if you were able to grow an ‘Pink Lady’ apple in your garden, it would be unlikely to taste like one found in the supermarket, owing to the UK’s climatic conditions. The UK’s lack of sunlight can actually be an advantage as when yields are smaller flavour is often concentrated. Flavour is more than just sugar content, but acidity and mouthfeel. ‘Cox’ is famously aromatic and high in both sugar and acidity, creating well balanced flavour.

The Antipodean Apples

Braeburn’ and ‘Gala’ are both easily available and indeed ‘Braeburn’ remains the bestseller at garden centres, but not online (perhaps due to the canniness of the online shopper).

RHS Award Of Garden Varieties

Modern AGM cultivars include ‘Discovery’, ‘Pixie’, ‘Sunset’ and ‘Scrumptious’, which are all easy to grow. Discovery, Sunset & Pixie come recommended from our nurserymen.


A British classic, but somewhat difficult to grow. You won’t be disappointed with apples you recieve!

Unique Flavours

Egremont Russet and Worcester Pearmain are notable for their unique flavours with hints of pineapple and strawberry respectively.

Jorge at PrimroseJorge works in the Primrose marketing team. He is an avid reader, although struggles to stick to one topic!

His ideal afternoon would involve a long walk, before settling down for scones.

Jorge is a journeyman gardener with experience in growing crops.

See all of Jorge’s posts.

How To, Jorge, Plants, Trees

Just like apples, pears are predominantly self-sterile and need to be paired with a pollination partner to produce fruit. There are a few partially self-fertile varieties that will crop without a partner, but any crop is much improved with one. Conference and Obelisk are the only varieties that are truly self-fertile and will produce a decent crop unaided, but for bumper crops we recommend you partner up.

Pollination Basics

Pear trees produce flowers that have both male and female reproductive organs, the anther and stigma respectively. The anther produces pollen and the stigma contains ovules. Pollen needs to be transferred from the anther to the stigma. This is usually done by insects, which flowers are designed to attract. Once a pollen grain reaches the stigma, it will start to form a pollen tube.

From here two things can happen. If the pollen grain is incompatible, an enzyme will be produced, which stops the pollen tube from growing, preventing fertilisation. If it is compatible, the pollen tube will grow down the stigma and deposit sperm onto the ovules. Fertilised ovules grow into fruit.

Pollen may be incompatible if it is from the same tree, from a closely related variety or a triploid variety. Self-fertile trees are different in that they produce pollen that will fertilise its own ovules.

Pear trees are put into pollination groups with group 1 flowering very early and group 6 flowering very late. Group 1 will always flower before group 2. Some websites will provide a specific flowering date, but it really depends on your location. Pears will be pollinated by any variety in the same or neighbouring (+-1) flowering group. This is because by the time the flowers of group 3 open, group 1 have already closed, making pollination impossible.

Do I Need to Buy a Pollination Partner?

Unless you live in an isolated location, it is probable there is another pear tree nearby. honey bees, the principal pollinator of trees, will forage several miles in search of nectar, so if you are in an urban area it is likely you are fine.

How Do I Know if My Tree is Well Fertilised?

Well-pollinated fruits have a large diameter and lot of seeds. Poorly pollinated fruits are small and misshapen.

Can Different Pear Species Pollinate Each Other?

Asian pears (Pyrus pyrifolia) will pollinate European pears (Pyrus communis) and vice-versa. Ostensibly, ornamental pears will also fertilise fruiting pear trees.

Other Than Buying A Pollination Partner How Else Can I Improve Pollination?

It is a little known fact that the first flower colour a bee lands on will be a bees preference thereafter. Bees also have an innate preference for violet/blue flowers which have the highest concentration of nectar. It is therefore unwise to plant flowers such as lavender near your orchard. Pears produce pale white flowers, which bees may forgo for more vivid flowers. The presence of weeds such as dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) and chickweed (Stellaria media) can also distract bees, so it is worth deheading them.

Jorge at PrimroseJorge works in the Primrose marketing team. He is an avid reader, although struggles to stick to one topic!

His ideal afternoon would involve a long walk, before settling down for scones.

Jorge is a journeyman gardener with experience in growing crops.

See all of Jorge’s posts.