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Cherries for your Valentine?

It’s always nice to hear something positive such as: “What a sweetheart you are!” You may well receive a similar response after presenting somebody special in your life with “a gift that grows.” A paper cutout in the shape of a red heart or a Valentine’s Day card by itself just won’t do. How about attaching or enclosing a gift certificate for a Valentine dwarf sour cherry shrub from a nearby favourite nursery?

CHERRY TIME ON THE PRAIRIES

Valentine is a variety that certainly attracted me because it has a lot going for it. Its makeup is geared to withstand rough and tough, harsh winter conditions here in the Great White North. Numerous cherry varieties have been developed and released by the University of Saskatchewan’s fruit program. Valentine is part of it’s Romance series with “tough as nails” survival hardiness rated for Zone 2a. Brrr! Temperatures can dive to -40 F and more. Isn’t it a good thing to have access to a fruit-producing dwarf cherry shrub that withstands such harsh temperatures?

Studying a zone hardiness map revealed to me that Zone 2a encompasses vast areas and pockets of land throughout B.C., the Prairies and higher tiers of north Ontario and beyond. Sure… the frost-free growing days may be fewer in Zone 2a, but it doesn’t mean you can’t be a gardener.

MORE ABOUT VALENTINE (PRUNUS)

This is a self-pollinating variety with ornamental and landscape attributes as a bonus. It doesn’t require a different variety of cherry tree or cherry shrub nearby to set fruit. Orchardists, fruit growers and backyard gardeners can expect high yields and nobody objects to that. I may slip up and call it a tree once in a while, but Valentine isn’t in tree form at all. This is a dwarf growing cultivar that’s a high producer of medium-sour red fruits.

One of my dictionaries in its broad sense describes “sour” as being tart, pungent, sharp, snappy and keen to the taste. These are the very qualities sought out by eager cooks, home canners and wine makers for making the best-ever cherry pies, cherry fruit jam, stewed cherries, canned cherries, cherry juice and yes — cherry wine.

Small in stature is an important feature of Valentine’s nature… As pointed out, it’s called a shrub, not a tree. Growth maturity is reached at about three metres (six to eight feet) with a spread of 1-1/2 metres (five feet). This makes for easy picking of spectacular cherry clusters from right at ground level or perhaps while standing on a low, firm and solid stool. I’ve never appreciated going up a ladder myself. Because of its low canopy, Valentine is suitable for growing under power lines. Nor is it fussy about soil type or pH (the pH scale is a method of measuring acidity or alkalinity of any substance). Good news too if you live in an urban area… Valentine has strong tolerance to withstand big-city pollution.

CARE AND MAINTENANCE 

Valentine is a deciduous multi-stemmed shrub that does require ongoing annual maintenance and upkeep. It needs to be pruned and the best suggested time to do it is during late winter or very-early spring after extreme cold is no longer expected. It appreciates evenly moist conditions, but won’t tolerate standing in pooled water, so be aware of the importance of good drainage.

Cherry leaves can be subject to mildew, especially later in the season toward harvest time. Good air circulation and full sunlight are important considerations to help prevent it. The central root system is not grafted onto other rootstock and suckering can be a side product. Keep suckers under control by careful pruning and/or digging out. It almost goes without saying that dwarf cherry varieties and cherry trees differ in height like Mutt and Jeff. I have a couple Evans cherry trees that originate out of Edmonton. Regardless of size, cherries do attract all sorts of birds to the yard especially once fruits have ripened.

There are other cherries from the Romance series released as a result of extensive work through the U of Sask. Names include Romeo, Juliette, Crimson Passion, Cupid and Carmine Jewel. These are also available at many nurseries throughout the country.

It may come as a surprise but most of the world’s sour cherries are grown in eastern European countries such as Russia, Poland and Ukraine. Where does Canada fit in? By comparison, we are a small producing nation of sour cherries and rank about one-half of one per cent worldwide… but we’re inching upward. So come on Grainews readers, get growing some sour cherries. But you can’t just plant a fruit tree or shrub and forget about it afterward. What gardener would do that anyway? None that I know of.

Here’s a generations-old practice that has been handed down from Belgium and France. Add a handful of whole oats to the bottom of the planting hole and mix it into the soil first. This oat tonic can really stimulate root development.

Now let me ask! Are you willing to share your soil secrets and discoveries? Send them along to me so other Grainews readers may benefit from your experiences.

Earlier I mentioned mildew. Yes — there are products available at garden centres to treat this common plant ailment, but read the following first.

A HOMEMADE RECIPE

… for powdery mildew prevention and control follows. Not only are cherry leaves sometimes susceptible, but a host of other plants can also fall prey to mildew including bergamot monarda (from the bee balm group), roses and zucchini.

Many people have allergies associated with consumption of cow’s milk but plants do not, that I’m aware of. When it comes to powdery mildew, a simple milk and water spray solution can do wonders to stop it. It’s a powerful combo for putting down fungi and mildew on a host of garden crops as well as flowers, shrubs and trees. I’ve used it myself on tomatoes and vines such as cucumbers and melons.

Mix a concentration of 80 per cent water with 20 per cent milk, either partly skimmed or skim milk (that is, eight parts water to two parts milk). Apply as a spray twice weekly and continue as long as necessary. You can add a bit of kindergarten school-grade liquid paper glue to warm water first to facilitate dispersal. This helps it stick to leaves. Milk and water solution appears to control mildew by providing a germicidal effect that stimulates both leaves and woody growth to initiate a counter-reaction to defend and become resistant by neutralizing the mildew spores.

GOT A RASPY VOICE

… or a sore throat? Relieve the discomfort with sage herb gargle. Add one teaspoon of dried sage to a cup of cool water and bring to a gentle simmer. Remove from heat, cover and steep for 10 minutes then strain. Use sage water as a mouth rinse and gargle to help ease painful, inflamed membranes due to sore throat, mouth ulcers or tonsillitis.

About the author

Columnist

Ted Meseyton

This is Ted Meseyton the Singing Gardener and Grow-It Poet from Portage la Prairie, Man. I salute all gardeners and farmers who help make our world a little safer and more ecologically balanced, and who toil to provide health-giving produce to others who cannot produce their own. It takes all sorts to make a world. One half of the world doesn’t know how the other half lives. The best physicians are Dr. Diet, Dr. Quiet and Dr. Merryman.

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