The Nanking cherry is a round, scarlet fruit that grows on a shrub with red-brown bark and blooms from small pink or white flowers. Its bark peels in thin, vertical curls as the plant ages. The leaves are a dark green color with soft, fine hair on their underside, have unequally toothed margins, and are ovate in shape.
Nanking cherries are smaller than a typical cherry and can be considered a little bit larger than the size of a blueberry. At maturity, the Nanking cherry is typically around 6-10 feet tall, without trimming, and 15 feet wide. It typically grows in height by about 1-2 feet every year.
Since the cherries grow on a dense shrub, the plant can provide shelter from wind and a habitat for wildlife. Additionally, the cherries attract birds and pollinators. The plant is indigenous to central Asia and was brought to North America in 1882.
The Nanking cherry grows best in Hardiness Zones 3-7. Bethlehem, PA is a Hardiness Zone 6, making it an ideal place to grow this plant.
Since the plant is not self-fertile, there should be at least two of the bushes planted within 100 feet of each other to allow for cross-pollination. It is recommended to plant them at least 5 feet apart, however. The shrub grows best with full sun, so it ideally should be exposed to direct sunlight for at least 6 hours everyday.
It is able to adapt to many different soil conditions and pH levels, but prefers well-drained soil. It is, however, able to tolerate droughts. Nanking cherries are also adaptable to weather, as they can survive both cold winters and hot summers. The flowers bloom in early spring, and the cherries ripen from July to August.
It is possible to get fruit within the first year of planting a Nanking cherry shrub if it is planted early enough. In the second year after being planted, the shrub can produce up to 8 quarts of cherries. This production will continue in following years without much maintenance required.
Nanking cherries are very visually appealing to have in a garden. Additionally, the cherries have a tart flavor. Many use the cherries to make jam, juices, pies, and jellies, as well as just eating the cherries on their own. Nanking cherries are high in vitamin C and antioxidants. However, since they are smaller than typical cherries, it can be more difficult to pit them.