What types of cherry trees are good to plant in the North East? Are there native or edible varieties I can use?
Cherries (Prunus spp.) are often divided into edible cherries and ornamental (flowering) cherries, although in fact the edible kinds often have attractive flowers also. Almost all cherries will grow in the North East (and actually prefer USDA Zones 5 - 7). A number of cherry species are native to the area or to other parts of the United States.
Sweet cherry varieties originate from Prunus avium. Early, mid-season and late varieties have been developed. Sweet cherries can grow into quite large trees but dwarf and standard varieties are available. The standard varieties are grown on dwarfing roots. It is important to note that most sweet cherries cultivars need cross-pollination and not all varieties are compatible pollinators. 'Bing' is the most common black sweet cherry grown in gardens and commercially.
Sour (pie) cherries
Sour cherry varieties originate from Prunus cerasus. As their name implies they are rather bitter and are usually not eaten raw but made into pies or other deserts. They are, however, easier to grow that sweet cherries and are self-pollinating. (Note, however, that they will not cross-pollinate sweet cherries). Cultivars have been developed - amarelle types have clear juice and yellow flesh and morello types have red juice and flesh. 'Montmorency', an amarelle type cultivar, is the standard sour cherry variety.
Many of these originate in Japan. Hundreds of cherry species and cultivars are known in Japan but only a few of them are commonly grown in the West. Among these are:
Yoshino cherry (P. x yedoensis).
This is a very commonly grown hybrid. It produces clusters of white/pale pink flowers in early spring. This variety grows very rapidly to achieve a height of 35 feet.This is the species grown around the Tidal Basin in Washington DC.
Kwanzan cherry (P. 'Kanzan')
This variety produces double pink flowers.Makes an excellent lawn or street tree.
Higan cherry (P. x subhirtella).
A spreading tree growing to 20-25 feet with pale or deep pink flowers.
'Autumnalis' is more shrubby and flowers both in the spring and in the fall (hence its name)
Weeping Higan cherry (Prunus pendula) and other weeping forms
Prunus pendula 'Pendula Plena Rosea' and other weeping forms are popular. Prunus 'Snowfozam' is sold under the trademarked name P. SNOWFOUNTAIN.
Sargent cherry (P. sargentii)
A shade tree growing to 60 feet. Single rose-colored flowers in early and late spring.
Nanking cherry (P. tomentosa)
A bush cherry which is hardy to Zone 3.
The following species are some of those native to the eastern United States:
Black cherry (P. serotina). A very large, beautiful tree (to 90 feet).
Bitter cherry (P. emarginata). Large shrub or small tree.
Pin cherry (P. pensylvanica). A short-lived species sometimes grown as a hedge or barrier.
Carolina laurelberry (P. caroliniana). A large shrub or small tree native to the south-east of the United States.
Courtesy of NYBG Plant Information Office