Days to germination: Started by seedling
Days to harvest: 3 years old
Light requirements: Full sun or light shading
Water requirements: Water occasionally, not often
Soil: Well-drained soil
Container: Suitable even for standard shrubs
Sand cherries are a great fruit choice for anyone gardening in cooler regions. They are one of the few fruit trees that can be grown as far north as zone 2. You can also grow them in warmer areas to zone 8, so you don’t necessarily have to live in a cool climate.
Many varieties of sand cherry are grown for their blossoms and will not produce fruit. You may have to do a little searching to find one that is bred for fruit production. The most commonly found one is the Purple-Leaved sand cherry and it is strictly an ornamental. The Nanking cherry is very popular as an edible bush cherry but its actually a different species than sand cherry. They grow similarly though if that is your only option.
In some parts of Canada (where it is native), the sand cherry is actually a wild fruit that can be found in many forested areas. Whether domestic or wild, the sand cherry does produce smaller fruit than the typical sweet cherry tree. Sand cherries are quite tart, and not to everyone’s taste for fresh eating out of hand.
They grow more as a shrub than a tree, and are usually about 7 feet high as well as 7 feet wide once they have matured.
Starting Your Tree
Find a location with plenty of sun, but a little afternoon shade won’t be a problem. The roots can be fairly wide-spread, but won’t usually interfere with foundations or other underground structures. Other nearby trees may suffer though, so leave plenty of space between a sand cherry bush and any other small trees.
The hole should be large enough for the roots, even after you’ve opened up the root ball and spread out the roots (carefully). Add a little sand or peat moss to help with draining if you have heavy soil.
The sand cherry is very adaptable to dry weather so you shouldn’t worry too much about constant watering. You should only need to water your trees during any extended dry periods or in extreme heat.
Though the sand cherry does fine in dry weather, you should make sure to water your new tree more often during the first summer until the roots are well established.
Any fertilizer should be a low-nitrogen formula to prevent excessive leaf growth and reduced fruit development. Treatments should be in the spring because new growth in the fall is more likely to be damaged by the winter cold.
Pruning is mainly unnecessary though a yearly trim of excessive branches or any dead wood can help keep the bush healthy and compact. You should do your pruning chores each spring before the first leaf buds come out, while the tree is still dormant. Doing it later on in the season will open your tree up to fungus infections, such as black knot (see below).
You can definitely grow sand cherries in containers, and you don’t necessarily have to find dwarf varieties in order to do so. You will want to do a little more pruning to keep it properly contained, so cut off any dead or older branches and even some of the new shoots so that the bush doesn’t grow too large. A 10 gallon container should be suitable though a larger one would accommodate a larger bush.
If you are growing sand cherries in pots in the colder ends of its region, such as zones 3 or 2, you may lose your potted plants due to the winter cold. Either wrap your plant well with burlap (particularly the pot) or move it to a sheltered area. It’s not necessarily a good idea to move it right indoors though because the plants do need a cold winter to bloom properly the next spring.
Pests and Diseases
Deer can be a big problem, as are many other mammals. This is mainly because the sand cherry is a relatively low-growing fruit which makes it an easy target for 4-legged pests. Bird are also very fond of sand cherries. Pick your fruit as soon as it is ripe and you may need to use bird netting or even fencing to protect your shrubs from animal browsing.
Black knot is a fungus problem that can effect all kinds of cherry, plum and apricot trees including the sand cherry bush. Thick black growths are seen on the branches, often attacking areas where the bark has been damaged. Cut away any branches with these galls on them, and dispose cleanly (don’t compost or just dump the corner of the yard). When you cut the branches, do so about 6 inches farther down from the knot to make sure you get all the spores inside the branch.
If your weather is humid, the low-growing bush can be prone to developing powdery mildew on the leaves. It looks like white dust but it doesn’t rub off. Treat with a fungicide and try to keep the leaves from getting unnecessarily wet. If you have other plants growing around your sand cherries, you may want to move them in order to get better air flow.
Harvest and Storage
Cherries usually ripen in the early summer and will be a dark purple when they are ready to pick. The fruit can stain, so watch out for the juice during harvest.
The fruit can be quite tart, and it’s most commonly used in jams or jellies so the berries are not usually preserved on their own for long term storage. You can keep them in the refrigerator for about a week, and they can also be dried or frozen like regular cherries. You will have to pit them first though, and sand cherries are known for their rather large seeds.
Sand cherries bushes will keep providing you with fruit for 15 to 20 years, though they can give a much reduced number of cherries towards the end of that time.