The Best Cherry Tree Varieties To Grow In Michigan

The Best Cherry Trees Varieties To Grow In Michigan

“The Cherry Capital Of The World”

Northern Michigan has long been known for its cherry trees. Traverse City is commonly referred to as “The Cherry Capital Of The World” for its abundant annual cherry production combined with regional fame brought in by the National Cherry Festival. Despite the Grand Traverse area being known for its cherry production, cherry trees can actually be grown across Michigan when the right variety is paired with the right care.

(Featured Image: Cherry Trees by M. Washburn)

What Makes Michigan An Ideal Place To Grow Cherries?

Michigan is known for cherry trees primarily due to its favorable climate and suitable growing conditions for cherries. There are a few key reasons why Michigan has become renowned for its cherry production:


Michigan’s climate is well-suited for cherry cultivation due to its distinct seasonal variations and moderate temperatures. The state experiences cool winters, which provide the necessary dormancy period for cherry trees. During this period, the trees rest and prepare for the upcoming growing season. Cold temperatures help prevent premature bud break and protect against winter injury.

Michigan’s summers are typically moderate, with average temperatures ranging from the 70s to 80s Fahrenheit. These mild summer temperatures are ideal for cherry trees as they promote gradual fruit ripening without extreme heat stress. Cherries require a specific number of chill hours during the winter to break dormancy and initiate healthy bud development, and Michigan’s climate provides an ample amount of these chill hours. This climate combination results in the highest quality fruit on the market.


Michigan boasts a variety of well-drained soils that are favorable for cherry tree growth. The two main soil types are sandy loam and clay loam. Sandy loam soils have a good balance of sand, silt, and clay particles, allowing for proper water drainage. This prevents waterlogged conditions that can lead to root rot or other diseases.

Clay loam soils, on the other hand, have more clay content, which helps retain moisture during drier periods. This moisture retention is beneficial for cherry trees, ensuring they have access to water during critical growth stages.The sandy loam and clay loam soils are often found in the northwestern Lower Peninsula and the eastern Upper Peninsula, where the majority of Michigan’s cherry production is concentrated. Leelanau county and Old Mission peninsula specifically are known for their nutrient dense, sandy soil that is perfect for growing cherries.

Proximity To The Great Lakes

Michigan’s location adjacent to the Great Lakes, especially Lake Michigan, offers significant advantages for cherry cultivation. The Great Lakes function as a natural “heat sink” and help create a microclimate that protects cherry trees from temperature extremes. In the spring, when cherry blossoms are vulnerable to frost damage, the proximity to the lakes mitigates the risk. The lakes act as large bodies of water that retain heat, slowly releasing it to the surrounding air. This moderating effect helps prevent sudden temperature drops during the critical bloom period, reducing the likelihood of frost damage to the cherry blossoms.

Furthermore, the lakes’ presence also helps regulate overall temperatures, preventing early warming in the spring and late heat accumulation in the fall. This offers a temperate climate that can extend the growing season, allowing cherries to ripen properly and develop their characteristic flavors. If you look at other regions that are known for growing cherries, like Washington state or upstate New York, you’ll notice these areas are also flanked by a large body of water that has a similar effect on their climates as well.

An Ideal Combination

The combination of climate, soil conditions, historical legacy, and effective marketing has established Michigan as a prime location for growing cherries. The state’s commitment to quality and consistent production has made Michigan synonymous with cherries, particularly tart cherries, and it continues to be a prominent player in the cherry industry. While buying local cherries from fruit stands is a fun and unique experience, nothing compares with growing cherries right in your own backyard!

Top 5 Cherry Tree Varieties To Grow In Michigan

There are many types of cherries that can successfully be grown in Michigan due to our ideal growing conditions. Bing cherries and Rainier cherries are popular varieties sold in stores or farm markets, and black cherries are a native variety to our state that are also popular. However, home growers and Northern Michigan cherry farms tend to lean towards these five varieties for the greatest success when it comes to harvest season!

1. Montmorency 

Montmorency cherries are the most widely grown tart cherry variety in Michigan. They have several characteristics that make them ideal for Michigan’s climate and growing conditions. Montmorency cherries are known for their hardiness and ability to withstand cold temperatures, making them resilient to Michigan’s winters. They are also self-pollinating, meaning they can produce fruit without the need for a separate cherry tree for cross-pollination. A Montmorency cherry has a tart flavor that is well-suited for baking, preserving, and juicing, making them popular for pies, jams, and other culinary uses. This is the most popular type of sour cherry grown in Michigan.

Click here to learn more and see purchasing options for Montmorency cherry trees!

2. Royal Ann

The tree is known for its large, yellow to light red fruit with a firm, juicy texture. The cherries are typically heart-shaped and have a sweet, slightly tart flavor. They are excellent for fresh eating and are also commonly used in baking, preserves, and desserts like pies and tarts. Their color is decorative for topping deserts as well. Like Montmorency cherries, Royal Ann cherries like cooler temperatures and suitable for Michigan’s climate.

Click here to learn more and see purchasing options for Royal Ann cherry trees!

3. Stella

Stella cherries are medium to large in size and have a heart-shaped or round shape. The skin is dark red to almost black when fully ripe. The flesh is firm, juicy, and has a deep red color. The flavor is sweet with a slight tartness, making it a favorite for fresh eating. While sweet cherries generally require a milder climate, certain areas of Michigan with favorable microclimates can successfully cultivate Stella cherries. Stella cherry trees are also known for their self-fertile abilities and can produce abundant fruit without a second tree.

To learn more about Stella cherry trees and see purchasing options, click here!

4. Santina

The Santina cherry is a sought-after variety known for its exceptional characteristics. It features large, dark red fruit with a firm and juicy texture, boasting a superbly sweet flavor. Santina cherries are often praised for their resistance to cracking, making them more resilient to inclement weather conditions. This variety typically ripens in mid to late June, providing an early harvest option. With its excellent taste, firmness, and ability to withstand cracking, the Santina cherry is highly regarded among cherry enthusiasts and is a favorite for fresh eating, baking, and preserving.

Santina cherry trees are not often sold at nurseries and demand can be high for this popular tree. To view purchasing options, click here!

5. North Star

North Star cherries are a popular tart cherry variety (sometimes called sour cherry trees) for culinary purposes in Michigan. They are valued for their bright red skin, tangy flavor, and small size. North Star cherries are highly productive and self-pollinating. They are commonly used for making pies, preserves, and other cherry products. North Star cherries are also known for their disease resistance and the ability to survive cold winters, making them well-suited for Michigan’s climate.

Click here to learn more and see purchasing options for North Star cherry trees!

Ripe red cherries hang from a cherry tree that is grown in Northern Michigan.

Ripe Cherries by H.S. Herger

These five cherry varieties have been selected for their adaptability to Michigan’s climate, disease resistance, and their ability to produce high-quality fruit. However, it’s worth noting that specific growing conditions and microclimates can vary within Michigan, so it’s always advisable to consult with local agricultural extension services or experienced cherry growers in your area for more precise recommendations based on your location.

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Why Are These 5 Varieties Best For Michigan Growers?

The cherries mentioned above are well-suited for Michigan’s climate due to a combination of factors including their hardiness, disease resistance, and ability to thrive in the region’s specific growing conditions. Here are some reasons why these cherry varieties are favored in Michigan:

1. Cold Hardiness

Michigan experiences cold winters, and the cherry varieties mentioned have proven to be cold hardy, able to withstand the low temperatures and frost that can occur during the winter months. They have adapted to Michigan’s climate and can survive and produce fruit even after exposure to colder conditions.

2. Adaptability

Michigan has a diverse climate with varying temperatures, rainfall patterns, and soil types. The cherry varieties mentioned are known for their adaptability to different soil types and growing conditions. They can tolerate a range of soils, including the well-drained, loamy soils often found in Michigan, and they are capable of thriving in different microclimates within the state.

3. Disease Resistance

Cherries are susceptible to certain diseases, including cherry leaf spot and bacterial canker, which can be prevalent in Michigan’s humid summers. The cherry varieties recommended for Michigan have been selected for their disease resistance, making them less prone to these common cherry ailments. This resistance helps ensure better overall tree health and higher yields.

4. Pollination

Many cherry varieties, particularly sweet cherries, require cross-pollination with another compatible variety for optimal fruit production. The recommended varieties are known for their compatibility with each other, making it easier for home gardeners or commercial growers to achieve successful pollination and fruit set.

5. Local Success

Over the years, these cherry varieties have demonstrated consistent success in Michigan’s cherry-growing regions. They have been cultivated and refined by local growers who have gained knowledge and expertise specific to Michigan’s climate, resulting in improved cultivars that are well-suited for the region.

It’s important to note that while these cherry varieties are well-adapted to Michigan’s climate, weather patterns and conditions can still vary from year to year. Growers should consider local factors, consult with agricultural extension services or experienced cherry growers in their area, and select varieties that are suitable for their specific location within Michigan.

Grow Your Own Michigan Cherries!

Michigan is one of the best places to live and visit if you’re looking for scenic beauty and untouched nature. Northern Michigan is lined with acres of tart cherry trees and u-pick orchards that can make any day trip a magical one. If you live in Michigan and are interested in growing your own fresh cherries, it’s easier than you think to get started! Check out our Cherry Tree Complete Growing Guide to get a good idea of what all is needed to start your very own cherry orchard!

Once you’ve successfully grown cherries, you’ll want to read up on how to harvest them! Check out our Top 5 Tips for Harvesting Cherries Like The Pros! You’ll then be armed with all the knowledge you need to grow a bountiful harvest of cherries for years to come.

A bundle of red sweet cherries dangle from a mature cherry tree in Northern Michigan.

Sweet Cherries for Harvest by Z. Cooper