Cornelian cherry trees
Cornelian cherry trees produce abundant small fruits which are valued for their healthy properties.
How to choose Cornelian cherry trees
Cornelian cherries are the fruits of Cornus mas, a species of flowering dogwood. They have a rich sharp flavour which is ideal for all kinds of cookery, and are widely used in eastern Europe and the near East for making jams and preserves. The fruits usually ripen in September, and are typically either bright red or bright yellow. They can also be eaten fresh when fully ripe - they taste somewhat similar to sour cherries or cranberries.
Cornelian cherries are becoming popular because of the exceptional health benefits of the fruits. They naturally have very high levels of vitamin C, anthocyanins, and iron, and are considered to have good anti-oxidant properties. The fruits have relatively large stones and little flesh, and the highest concentrations of these beneficial chemicals are found in the skin.
Cornelian cherry trees typically reach a height of 3m - 5m after 10 years, with a spreading bush-like habit, often becoming multi-stemmed. You can encourage a more tree-like habit by pruning out the lowest branches. Pruning can be done at any time of the year, but is best done in mid-winter.
If you are establishing a new orchard you should plant at a spacing of 3m from stem to stem in rows 5m apart, preferably in full sun. They can also be planted at 50cm intervals if you want to create a fruiting hedge. If you just want to add a few trees to your garden, plant them about 3m apart. They can also be trained as fans on a trellis or south-facing wall.
The flowers appear very early in the spring, and have an attractive ornamental appearance. They are not usually susceptible to frost damage.
The trees are cold-hardy to USDA zone 4, so can tolerate average minimum temperatures of -25C. They do best in neutral or slightly acidic soils which are rich in humus. Avoid shallow or chalky soils. The key requirement is irrigation or regular watering in hot weather.
Cornelian cherry trees are remarkably untroubled by diseases and pests, and therefore ideally suited to organic or untreated regimes.
The modern cultivated varieties of Cornus mas are very productive and high yielding. At 10 years old a typical tree will produce 10kg - 20kg of fruit annually in an amateur orchard, increasing to perhaps 40kg as it gets older. Higher yields are possible in commercial orchards. The trees are very long-lived, and production is likely to increase steadily over the first 50 years.
Cornelian cherries are not self-fertile, but are readily pollinated by other (different) varieties planted nearby - so it is usually best to plant at least two different un-related varieties in the orchard.