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Minnie Royal/Royal Lee cherries in SoCal. Worth the effort?

December 29, 2014

I have seen where some people who had planted minnie royal and royal lee low chill cherries were very unhappy with fruit yield. They were getting just a hand full of cherries and bloom times for both trees were staggered.

Is there anyone who has these trees with some time in the ground who is happy with their harvest? I am in inland southern California. Very hot summers and mild winters with 100-300 chill hours.

Comments (27)

  • fireduck

    I will watch this post closely....My two low chillers have done fair in 3 years. Not a good test. The cherries they did produce were delicious. The gophers got my best tree. I notice these definitely are NOT drought tolerant trees. The grower hypes these bigtime...but I would like to hear from people like you.

  • parker25mv

    Since you said you live in "inland". depending where exactly you are, your fruit trees may be getting a little chill in the winter, even if it is baking hot most of the time. It is the coastal part of southern California that has more moderate temperatures and does not get any chill in the winter.

    If a fruit tree does not get enough chill hours, it will not grow as vigorously and will not set much fruit, or will not set fruit at all. Excessively hot temperatures are not good for cherry trees either, but they are bad in a different way.

    I have read several reviews of people growing Minnie Royal in coastal Southern California, and their fruit yields are indeed low (only 20 cherries per tree), but another thing to keep in mind is that the Royal Lee variety only recently came out, and most of these trees people are describing are only 2-4 years old. There could be pollination issues too, because supposedly in the early growing years Royal Lee sets flower some time before Minnie Lee, so their bloom overlap is very short.

    I have 2 Royal Lees, one Minnie Royal, and a Bing. I am hoping even if the yields per tree are very low, having four trees will help compensate for that. Having 4 trees also gives me a better chance that at least 2 of them will bloom at the same time, to have a better chance of successful pollination.

    I also have an ornamental Yoshino cherry blossom tree, and while the Yoshino variety is a known to be a terrible pollinator, there may be a chance the Yoshino could help pollinate the other trees. (If anyone was wondering, Kanzan is a hybridized sterile variety with too many chromosomes)

    I just planted the cherry trees, so will have to get back to you when they start producing fruit. That is part of the reason I got the Bing, just to see if it could grow and produce fruit in this climate (when everyone else says it will not do well). Actually the foliage on the Bing has so far grown more vigorously than the Royal Lee, surprisingly.

    I already got 4 little blooms from the Yoshino seedling, so that tells me it is possible for higher chill cherries to flower. Yoshino cherry blossoms typically like at least 500 chill hours, and we probably get under 200 here.

    Is it "worth the effort" ? Well, that question I cannot answer. But if you really have your heart set on growing cherries, Minnie Royal/Royal Lee is the combination to use. It will take more time to see if they can produce abundant fruit in very low chill climates.

    There are always Capulin cherries, which some would say are not really "real cherries", and many people are put off by their resinous taste, but being native to Mexico and Guatemala they grow reliably in warmer climates.

  • parker25mv

    I saw a picture of a low-chill cherry tree growing in Los Angeles. From the picture, there seems to be around 60 cherries on it, and the tree appears to be about 12-14ft tall.

    Here is the link:


    An update on my cherry trees: The leaves do not appear to be doing so well. They have turned a yellowish-shade of green and look like they are getting a bit too much sun. I have one growing in partial shade and the leaves look more green. The Bing has greener foliage down at its base where it does not get as much sun, but the foliage looks just a tiny bit limp, like it is getting a little dried out, and some of the tips of the smaller leaves got scorched. They are surviving, and I am trying to consistently give them water. They look like they could use more water, but I am afraid to drench the base in too much water everyday because with cherry trees it could result in root rot. That seems to be the dilemma in this climate. Sometimes I try to mist the leaves a bit (probably not a good idea either since it can encourage disease and leaf-eating pests, but there are not a lot of other options).

  • tim45z10

    The leaves on my young cherry trees turned brown at the edges. Others have commented their tree leaves seem to be changing early as well.

  • fireballsocal

    Thanks for the update Parker25mv. That's a great pic of the cherry tree in Liannes blog. I'm holding out some hope! I planted the pairing this Spring and both trees are looking good. One was almost completely destroyed by a gopher. I found the tree yellowing, tilted at a 45 degree angle with an almost gnawed completely bare root ball. I trapped the gopher, tamped down soil around the root ball where the gopher had dug it all away, and hit the tree with vitamin B and it has came back remarkably. I am probably a few years away from any fruit but at least the trees are growing well.

  • tim45z10

    Old deal

  • tim45z10

    Good deal

  • Baby G (USDA:10a, Sunset:21&23 SoCal-NE. Mt Washington, Lo-Chill: 200-400 Hrs, So

    One of my pair died this year - I think they are 3 years old. I have them in a raised bed. I replaced it, but I'm not holding my breath. If I get cherries some year, I will be thrilled. If not...oh well.

  • tim45z10

    These were planted 15 months ago. Seem to be doing well. Two cherries on one. I don't expect the cherries to mature.

  • parker25mv

    My Royal Lee/Minnie Royal trees are not doing well (I have 2 of each). One pair is out in the open and the other pair is in shade (with limited sun). Very surprisingly, my Rainier and Bing are doing great (though they are still not that old and haven't produced any fruit yet), despite the fact that these are not low-chill varieties.

    One thing it could be, the Rainier and Bing receive just slightly less than full sun, and it could be that this is the optimal level of sun exposure; not too much or too little. It's also possible the shaded Minnie Royal got a little dried out in its pot since it did not get enough water, and the shaded Royal Lee got dug up over a year ago and replanted, so its root system could still be recovering. It also does not get watered as often, though it is in a more moist area with ample shade.

    The Royal Lee/Minnie Royal pair out in full sun do not have that many leaves and the leaves are much smaller than they should be and the tips are brown. Too much heat and sun causing the leaves to dry out. Maybe it will start to look better as Winter approaches, that's usually the time (in this climate) when all the leaves are most green and lush, about 3 weeks before they begin turning yellow and falling off in late December. Winters here have more cloud cover, cooler temperatures, more moisture in the air, and more rain. It's a reprieve for the plants from the hot dry Summers and Autumn.

  • fireballsocal

    Mine are trashed pretty bad from the sun. June was a brutally hot month, most of it between 105 and 108 and I think that much heat that early in the season took its toll on just about all of my fruit trees in the ground. Lots of brown edges on the leaves and many branches that have dropped a bunch of leaves already. They are hanging on but I expect to start losing trees if the summer gets much worse. I do see some new green leaves pushing out near some pruning cuts from earlier in the year.

  • hoovb zone 9 sunset 23

    The drought made it difficult for them even with irrigation. I started getting fruit on mine last year. I had two Royal Lee and one Minnie Royal. This year one got some sort of borer and began to die. Digging it up, I discovered crown gall. I dug up the other two and they both had massive crown gall also. Bye bye cherries.

  • Tim Walker

    A pic of how mine are doing. Sorry to hear about removal. Foreground good. background a lot of missing leaves in the middle. Second growing season for me.

  • parker25mv

    Hey Tim, at least in this dry climate with low humidity in the air we don't have to worry about diseases on our cherries. I haven't noticed any stone fruit diseases yet, just a few grasshoppers taking big bites out of some of the leaves.

    On the other hand, chronic overwatering to try to compensate for the drought and heat can potentially lead to root rot. So frustrating how all the leaves can dry out and get burnt at the same time the roots are oversaturated with more water than they can handle. I think older more mature trees will be able to handle these conditions better with their more extensive and established root systems.

    Something else I noticed, all the cherry trees (which are in containers) at the nursery have lush green leaves. Then I take them home, plant it in the ground, and the leaves do not look so lush anymore. How can this be? I think at the nursery all the cherry trees are bunched right up against each other, and this creates a kind of forest canopy where all the trees are protected. The little trees shade each other, and the bunching helps retain some humidity to a limited extent in the area under the trees. The same type of effect might occur for a single larger cherry tree with enough foliage.

  • parker25mv

    Royal Minnie Lee, on dwarf rootstock, in huge size container, located in a fairly shady spot, but gets morning sun

    A few cherry druplets are definitely forming on it, and it was loaded with blossoms.

    Royal Minnie appears to behave more vigorously for me than Royal Lee. In climate zone 10 (on the edge between 10a and 10b).

  • fireballsocal

    That looks great Parker25mv. My 2 were very vigorous and healthy till I lost one to a flat nosed peach borer. It was Royal Lee, and I replaced that one with a new tree this Spring. My Minnie Royal showed no flowers this year which I thought was strange but perhaps needs another year in the ground. I can't wait to see them looking like yours.

  • Rebecca Reynolds

    Attention! New Pollinator for Royal lee and Minnie Royal! There is a new kid on the block that hopefully will help out with our low chill cherry trees flowering out-of sync! I quote from the Dave Wilson Nursery site; " Royal Crimson Cherry...New, long awaited, low-chill self-fruitful sweet cherry, expected to be a home run for Zaiger Genetics. Bright crimson with superb flavor, this important new variety has the added benefit of blooming with Minnie Royal and Royal Lee. (Initially sold as "6GM25 Cherry)". I picked one up at the Walter Anderson Nursery in Poway, CA . They had just gotten them in the day before. I am planting near the other two and hoping for the best! Let's grow some cherries friends!

  • fireballsocal

    Hi Rebecca! I searched for that variety this Spring to no avail. It was a limited release before it had been named so was sold as low chill cherry 6GM25. I found a sign where the nursery had had some for sale but had sold the only trees they had earlier that day. Gotta be fast when on the hunt for a promising new tree! Did you just get yours ?

  • carolstropicals

    Hi, I am in Houston - hot with humidity. I planted the Minnie Royal and the Royal Lee. They were fully mature - should have produced since we have the stated chill hours in our area, but they never did anything. We pulled them out. They were given to someone where I could try to find out if they did any better. I was told by a fruit specialist that these cherries actually take more chill hours than stated. That they lowered the chill hours for sales. I don't know if this is a true statement, but I do know my experience with this cherry.

    We also tried Lapins Cherry on z-dwarf. Also did not work. A mature tree that we chopped down this year.

    We have a Cherry of the Rio Grande that is producing. It is a mature tree that took 20 degrees last year without any covering. Not a lot of cherries, but produces. It is a small tree so not much space taken. Hope this helps. Carol

  • Parker Turtle

    Carol, you do realize that with low chill cherries in warm climate areas you need to give them at least 4 years in the ground?

    Cherry trees don't immediately start producing and this is especially true when the amount of chill relative to what the tree requires is borderline.

    Also, in hot climates a cherry tree in full sun is not going to grow well, so that's going to set back growth even further. I'd at least put it in partial shade for the first two years.

    A warm sunny day can really detract from the amount of effective chill a cherry tree accumulates during the Winter in somewhere like Texas if it's out in the open with absolutely no shade.

  • Diyfreddy

    I have Royal lee, Minnie royal and crimson royal in sunset 23. Crimson royal looks great but is still small and under a year in the ground. My other two bum trees are growing but no fruit set and the graft sites aren’t looking too healthy either. Just saw a Minnie royal at Home Depot today and has me thinking about buying and planting it as a back up.

  • James

    Lessons learned so far from Southern California cherries:

    -Plant in sandy (or loamy) well-drained soil. Definitely no clay. Definitely no organic amendments

    -Plant high. Stick it on the ground and add dirt around that. Slight exaggeration but plant high.

    -Prune not to let light in, but to cast shade. Specifically head low the first year so it has low branching. Don't let branches get leggy or a) the branch will sunburn and b) nothing will grow lower. Get that ground shaded

    -Mulch to keep the roots from being burned. Walk in your orchard in bare feet anywhere San Diego inland and the ground is 130 degrees of more. The bare ground is often 40 degrees hotter than the air, and the air was as high as 113 last summer, inland. Studies show double the growth rate in our climate from thick mulch. Yes, mulch is fertilizer. It may also minimize those winter temperature swings on those random January 85 degree days. Keeps the ground cold. But the main thing is preventing 150 degree ground in July.

    -Don't water near the trunk. I know that is obvious. Many stone fruit let you get away with that. Seems that cherries do not. Water at the perimeter. I think we should water weekly.

    -Newroot-1 is a terrible rootstock, your tree dies and all it does is sucker. Fortunately Dave Wilson does not seem to be selling it much any more. If you failed on Newroot-1, try again on Maxma 14. High heat stops growth. Southern California needs standard rootstocks in general. I am experimenting with Gisela 6 and it is too early to call but I actually think Maxma 14 may be my new favorite.

    -When the tips of branches turn black, that is oriental fruit moth. Use BT to control it. If you want to be sure, take out a pocket knife and cut the tip of the shoot longitudinally, and you will see how the larvae ate the inside out, like a kid who eats the white of oreos and then sticks the oreo back together and puts it back in the package.

    -There are 6 varieties thought to do well in low chill areas. The new ones from Zaiger (Royal Crimson, Minnie Royal, Royal Lee). Laguna Hills nursery raves about Lapins, and Stella can work okay. Don't knock Pacific Groves/Home Depot, they do more for low chill cherries than anyone. Their self-fertile Bing is actually Lapins. Buy it and try it. Finally, Cristobalina is known in Spain and promoted by Arboreumco. Cristobalina is described as the lowest chill cherry in many studies. It needs to start showing up at scion exchanges. Try all 6 and let's figure this out.

  • melikeeatplants

    Mulch doesn’t have to be fertilizer, rock mulch and pine straw would be good choices if looking to avoid organic decomposing

  • dretutz

    Have any of you tried the Pluerry? Cross between plum and cherry; got mine at Laguna Hills Nursery. Gary says it needs a plum to pollinate. I planted with a Burgundy plum. We'll see.

  • socalnolympia

    I tried planting Lapins two different times in a remote area and made sure to give it some water a few times during the hot dry Summers. Both of them slowly declined and eventually died. The trees just lacked the vigor needed to thrive because they were not getting adequate chill. (zone 10, Southern California, not too far away from the ocean)

    I don't think Lapins is going to be able to survive long-term in this climate unless it gets a lot of care and is kept consistently watered throughout the hotter half of the year.

    It's definitely not going to thrive or vigorously grow in the first two years.

    Surprisingly I have a Bing that has grown well and, after the first two years, even thrived, although it has never fruited and the occasional year it has blossoms it only has a just a small number. (It was on standard rootstock)

    Later I decided to try grafting a branch of Royal Minnie into it, which has since done okay. It even formed a few little underformed cherry druplets one year, but they either dropped off or the birds got to them before they could form mature fruits.

    There are two Royal Lee and two other Royal Minnie which are still surviving (maybe very slowly growing) but are not doing really well. They obviously seem to be lacking vigor and haven't put out that many leaves.

    They seem to prefer shadier spots with part sun in this climate, but even in those spots they haven't grown very well for me.

    I even tried a Rainier in a large container, which did fairly well for a year or two (put out a fair number of blossoms) and then died.

    (same person parker25mv, just new user name)

  • HU-111905664

    socalnolympia does that mean we're out of options. I was hoping I could plant a cherry in a land I have in semi arid north Africa on the mediterranean... After reading your experience, I feel like it's not even worth trying...

  • socalnolympia

    I would go with Royal Lee / Royal Minnie Lee, and see if you can plant your cherry trees under the partial shade of a tree (or use a shade cloth structure to protect them while young). You absolutely need to be consistently giving them water in the Summer. (Royal Crimson is another varitety that was recently developed in California, and is like Royal Lee but self-fertile, i.e. you don't need a separate pollinator to get fruit)

    Out in Spain, Cristobalina is another heirloom variety.

    The most important time to provide shade and cool temperatures are Summer and Winter. Winter because that's when the plant is accumulating chill hours, and Summer because that's when the leaves will struggle in the blazing hot dry sun the most.

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