Ripe cherries growing on a bush

A few summers ago, I planted a pair of healthy star-crossed lovers – two dwarf sour cherry bushes named, appropriately, Romeo and Juliet. They are part of the Romance series developed by plant breeders at my alma mater, the University of Saskatchewan. Their fruit will someday make a delicious cherry crisp for my own true love.

These tough, winter-hardy sour cherries are being grown on the frigid prairies in spots colder than places in Siberia. Trust me, it’s cold. I still have flashbacks of frozen, numb fingers while walking from one campus building to the next.

I was keen to give the cherry bushes a try, thinking they would make a good addition to my northern garden. So when my old leggy backyard cherry tree finally died, I decided to replace it with Romeo (Prunus x kerrasis ‘Romeo’) and Juliet (Prunus x kerrasis ‘Juliet’). I freed them from their pots and planted them in a couple of bare, sunny spots in the front garden.

Thoughts of sweet-smelling, white spring flowers and deep-red, tasty cherries on bushes that would actually be reachable without having to haul out a tall stepladder sent this gardener into waves of, well, pure ecstasy.

Top: Romance series cherry bush 'Romeo'

Bottom: Romance series cherry bush 'Juliet'

Cherry blooms

Romeo and Juliet almost perished soon after planting. In the midst of drought, that first summer was hard on them despite regular watering. That same year, hungry rabbits munched their way through some of their branches during the cold winter that seemed to never end. I was flooded with thoughts of my Shakespeare class long ago back on the Prairies: “For never was a story of more woe than this of Juliet and her Romeo”.

Then came a cool spring and those cherry bushes just took off and flourished. They’ve grown into strong, healthy bushes that fit well into this small, landscaped space.

A Romance cherry bush in full bloom.

Romance series cherry bush 'Cupid'

The Romance Series

There are five cherry bushes in the Romance series. They were developed by Western Canadian researchers in and around Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, and released in 2003. It was a long labor of love. Breeding began in the 1940s, spanning several decades of field tests and trials at the university. These cherries are a cross between northern European sour cherries, sometimes called ‘pie cherries’, and a Mongolian cherry that also provides winter hardiness in harsh climates. Disease resistant and hardy to zone 2, they are worth getting to know by any northern gardener.

Romance series cherry bush 'Cupid’

Romance cherries whole and cut in half to show the interior

Crimson Passion: The smallest in stature of the series, it is well suited for an urban space. The shrub grows about 1 metre to 1 1/2 metres (3’ to 5’) and produces dark-red cherries that are tasty eaten right off the tree or made into a pie, cobbler or crisp.

Cupid: This bush grows to over 2 metres (7’ to 8’) tall and produces a dark-red fruit that ripens in early August. It blooms about a week earlier than others in this series.

Juliet: It produces a dark-red fruit that continues to get sweeter, like the others in the series, the longer it is left on the branch. It may grow a little taller than Romeo, to over 2 metres (7’ to 8’) tall.

Romeo: This one grows to about 2 metres (6’) and produces dark-red fruit that is good for fresh eating. Romeo and Crimson Passion are the least hardy of the series, but both will survive cold winters. In my northern urban garden, Romeo is a slower grower than Juliet.

Valentine: This is the most productive of the series, partly because it is a larger shrub that reaches about 2 1/2 metres (8’ to 9’) tall. It is the only dwarf sour cherry in the series that has bright-red fruit. The others tend to have darker fruit.

All five Romance cherry varieties.

Romance series cherry bush 'Valentine'

Growing Cherries

The beauty of the Romance series is that these shrubs self-pollinate, so you can plant one bush in the series or two of the same kind knowing there will still be fruit. They do, however, require bees for pollination. The shrubs should be planted about 1” to 2” deeper than the depth of the container when first put into the ground. In clay soil, they can be planted a little deeper. They prefer full sun and well-drained soil.

Remove any weeds, grass or vegetation around the base, if possible, up to 1 metre (3’) around any of these shrubs. Otherwise, their growth will be stunted. A light covering of mulch is beneficial.

Romance series cherries require no special care other than regular watering when first planted. On a large property, they can even be grown as a hedge. On my property, I continue to wrap them in late fall to protect them from hungry critters. Not only rabbits find them tasty, but also mice, voles and deer.

Fruit growers say that you should expect to see some fruit about three years after planting a Romance series shrub. After that, yields generally improve. They peak at the seven-year mark. Older branches should be pruned back, preferably in early spring.

Some suckering is expected. It is best not to remove suckers as they produce new growth. In extreme cold, it is the suckers that tend to survive while older parts of the plant may perish.

Romance series cherry bush 'Valentine'

Romance series cherry bush 'Crimson Passion'

Eating Romance Cherries

This will be the three-year mark for my Romeo and Juliet, so lovely in spring with their glossy green leaves and burst of sweet-smelling blossoms.

The fruit is best picked in the coolness of the early morning or during the evening. Refrigerate cherries after picking them.

Even though they’re described as a tart or sour cherry, Romance series cherries are actually quite sweet. Baked into a pie, tart or crisp, they tend to keep their deep-red color. My plans are to pick, pit and freeze them for winter crisps.

I have no cherries yet. I’m counting on my first harvest later this summer. Like true love, these Romance series cherries are worth the wait. Meanwhile, my own true love will need to wait a little longer for that promised cherry crisp.

Romance series cherry bush 'Crimson Passion'

Text by Julianne Labreche

Photos by Bob Bors

Julianne Labreche is a freelance writer and garden enthusiast who volunteers as a Master Gardener in Ottawa-Carleton.

Bob Bors is the Head of the Fruit Program, University of Saskatchewan, and co-author of the book Growing Fruit in Northern Gardens.

Tools for the Gardener

XB848 - Weed Suppression Squares, pkg. of 5

Weed Suppression Squares

(Pkg. of 5)


EV529 - Six-Cherry Pitter

Six-Cherry Pitter


AT231 - Scare Eye Bird Deterrents, pkg. of 5

Scare Eye Bird Deterrents

(Pkg. of 5)


EB125 - Forged Flower Shears

Forged Flower Shears


HK300  - Fruit Picker

Fruit Picker


LA205 - A Gardener's Journal

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