Ever since I was a small child I have loved the taste of cherries, so as soon as I got into gardening, I started looking into which types of cherry trees do well in our climate (Hardiness Zone 3A). My search didn’t last long once I hit the internet; I almost immediately found an article from the Edmonton Journal back in 2006 that sold me on the Evans Cherry as the perfect tree for what I wanted. It grows large cherries that are great for baking and freeze well, it is a heavy producer, and the cultivar even has an interesting history to it.
History of the Evans Cherry Tree in Alberta
As far back as 1923 a Mrs. Borward in the Henwood area (near Edmonton) has been growing Evans Cherry trees (Prunus “Evans”). It is thought she got seeds from some Minnesotans that settled in that area, and who may have been growing them as far back as the 1800’s in Minnesota.
When Mrs. Borward’s orchard was to be taken over for a new federal prison in 1976, and all of her trees were to be lost, she contacted Dr. Iuean Evans. She told him what was to take place and that he could take some of the trees to the Alberta Tree Nursery and keep any wood he wanted from the rest.
Dr. Evans began to propagate cuttings and give them to his friends and acquaintances, but for a good while no nurseries were interested in the trees. That is until DNA Gardens, a nursery from Red Deer, specializing in hardy perennials finally started propagating them for sale to the general public. Soon after, in 1990, a Winnipeg nursery bought 8000 trees and has sold out every year since (as of 2006), which has helped lead to the Evans Cherry to become the number one selling cherry tree in Canada.
The History of My Evans Cherry
I bought my Evans Cherry back in July of 2007 from a tree farm west of Olds for $30. It was only about a foot tall, but I was already excited to see what it would do in its first year in its new home.
It did nothing. Well, almost nothing; it may have grown an inch or two that first summer, but nothing noticeable to me. I am sure this had more to do with it being transplanted later in the season than anything else, as Evans Cherries are typically fast growing.
The second year it grew about six inches and started to become bushy. Then in 2009 it grew about six more inches and started to look like a proper shrub, it also got its first blossoms. Thought it only formed a few blossoms, it was nice to see that it really would give fruit eventually. We never got any that year however, as the birds beats us to them.
In 2010, now well established, the tree grew over a foot; though the spring found few blossoms again and again the birds ate the few cherries that were to be had. At this point I realized that the neigbours lilac hedge was likely shading the tree in the mornings, leading to it’s slower than normal growth. It turns out that I may have just been basing the growth I thought it should have had on something I read on the DNA Gardens website which said they can get one to grow five feet in a single season, thought it is not advisable to do so.
In 2011 I finally got to taste my first cherry from the tree, I picked it early and it was so sour that I had wished I had bit into a lemon. Fortunately for me, I found that the cherries get sweeter the longer you leave them, and much of the tartness was gone by the time I picked the next one. We only had a few handfuls of cherries that year. The tree grew almost two feet in 2011 to come in at around five feet tall.
2012 brought us our first bumper crop from the tree; we got four 4 litre ice cream buckets full of cherries, and that was with the birds still picking them off. We had a lot of cherry based baking that year, and gave many away to friends and family. It was the first time I actually believed one of these trees could produce up to 150 lbs of fruit like my research had claimed since the tree was only about six and a half feet tall of the ten to fifteen feet it is supposed to get to.
Last year we didn’t get as many cherries as in 2012, but that mainly has to do with the removal of a very large sucker that had a lot of fruit bearing branches early in the spring. The rest of the tree produced as much as it did the year before, netting us three buckets full of fruit. The tree now stands over seven feet tall.
Last year also saw the trimming of the neighbours hedge to around six feet in the fall, so the tree will not have to compete for canopy space in the spring, which should allow it to bush out a little more on the back, and grow as much in 2014 as it did in 2013, if not more.
What are Cherries Good For?
Though an English Morello type cherry, the fruit of the Evans Cherry is quite tart if not left on the tree until the right time. I don’t mind the flavour of some picked slightly early (a medium red colour), but I know many who prefer to leave the cherries until they are a nice burgundy colour, which gets rid of most of the tart flavour.
I have also heard that freezing the cherries whole can get rid of a lot of the tartness, though our cherries get pitted before we freeze them and only get used in baking afterwards. To me they taste the same in baking after they are frozen as they do fresh.
As mentioned, this year we froze a lot of our cherries, we pitted them, vacuum sealed them, and tossed them into the freezer until we need them. They freeze up very well; they keep their structure and are incredible for baking afterwards. I cannot say as to how they taste if they are simply thawed out and eaten, as I have yet to try them that way. The best part is, as of this writing we still have a pair of two cup bags left.
I will be adding some of the recipes we use the cherries for to the site at a later date, keep checking back for them; the cherry cake is especially moist and delicious!
All in all I wouldn’t trade my Evans Cherry for any other kind hardy enough for our zone. Nankings grow around here, and while the flavour is a bit better, you would need three, or four trees to produce as much as a single Evans. You will thank yourself when you still have cherries left over on a cold January day to make yourself some chocolate cherry muffins if you plant one of your own.