Sweet cherries are the northern gardener’s dream… and depending on just how far north you garden, that dream’s odds of coming true rank just below the odds of your garden pumpkins suddenly turning into a golden carriage. Sweet cherries just aren’t designed for frigid temperatures… and believe me, I’ve tried. (This blog IS labeled “epic fails” for a reason.)

Ever since my first sweet cherry failed to survive in the northern hardiness zone I so naively planted in, growing a sweet cherry tree in zone 4 has been one of my ultimate gardening goals. Unfortunately, finding a winter-hardy sweet cherry tree that’s rated for anything colder than zone 5 is tough – and sometimes even when you do find an outlier, it’s out of stock wherever you look!

This year, I was fascinated to see a new variety pop up — a cold-hardy sweet cherry rated to zone three: the Chelan Cherry tree.


After years struggling to find a sweet cherry rated to zone 4 (the Kristin Sweet Cherry is rated to this zone, but my Kristen tree is still just a little guy so I reserve judgement on its ability to grow and thrive here), I was SHOCKED to see an advertisement for a zone 3 tree.

At first I thought this must be a typo. Sweet cherries are notoriously hard to grow in cold climates; somebody simply hit the wrong key, right? However, when I looked up other nurseries’ listings for this tree, I found the same climate rating.

So what’s the truth? Is the Chelan really this cold-hardy, or is its zone-3 promise overly optimistic?


Look before you leap, folks. Almost everybody agrees that the Chelan is one of the better sweet cherries to grow in cold northern gardening zones. 

However, the only third-party expert zone-rating for the cherry tree I could find wasn’t optimistic about “extreme” cold-hardiness. I only found one Extension resource that listed a zone rating for the tree, and that rating doesn’t promise the Chelan’s ability to survive zone 4, much less zone 3. Don’t take my word for it: Utah State University | Box Elder County Extension rates the Chelan as cold-hardy to zone 5.

Now don’t get me wrong – I am not dissing the companies that are advertising the tree for zone 4. The good news is that if a reputable company has rated the tree for survival in your zone, it will honor the guarantee that it made about the tree’s hardiness. (A bad company won’t… so don’t purchase from just anywhere, folks.)

A long enough guarantee means that if the tree doesn’t survive within the stated amount of time, you get your money back — so just make sure that the warrantee period covers the tree’s first full winter in your zone!

However, even if you get your money back, you will have lost a full growing season, and you can’t get that time back. It’s a cost-benefit analysis that only you can make.


The Chelan is relatively new in the fruit world (you can find it listed as a new variety in an American Society for Horticultural Science publication from 2002).

This means that data on the tree is somewhat limited until larger studies can be conducted, you so can think of this a little like the stock market: nobody really knows how a new company will perform. You may win the jackpot – but you may also find that the promising newcomer struggles to fulfill its promise.

Another con? The Chelan’s fruit quality may not be the best. Multiple sources report fruit size is smaller and taste is kind of “eh.” There’s a mildly shocking chart in an archived Oregon State Extension document that shows the fruit size is significantly smaller than other popular varieties such as the Benton. 

However, to me, the fruit size isn’t a huge deal. Many cold-hardy fruit trees produce smaller fruit than their warm-zone versions would. It’s a survival mechanism to deal with a cold climate, and I’m not going to argue with that design!

For me, the biggest con to purchasing the Chelan is the availability… i.e., the price. For home gardeners, the Chelan is not easy to find if you don’t have it readily available at your local nursery (spoiler… I don’t).

Availability may be different on the West Coast (the tree was developed in Washington, most sources report), so depending on your location you may have better luck than I. New England is a long way from the Pacific!

I’ve only seen it listed for sale at a handful of mail-order/online nurseries, and frankly, the cost is prohibitive. The cost is particularly concerning for a tree that I’m concerned may not even survive my zone.


You should also be aware that pollination is a major concern for the Chelan Sweet Cherry. Even if you get this tree to survive in a zone three winter, you won’t get fruit without a pollinator tree! 

Now, when I purchased a Kristen cherry tree – which, at the time, was the only sweet cherry variety I could find rated cold-hardy to zone 4 – I figured that sooner or later, another tree would come out that was rated to the same zone. Sure, the maturity between the two trees would be significant, but my hope was that I could find a pollinator by the time my Kristen reached prime bearing years. 

(My backup plan was to baby a few zone 5 sweet cherry trees to help them survive a zone 4 winter… but that’s a discussion for another post!)

If you are looking for a tree to pollinate your Chelan, first touch base with the company you purchased from. They should have some suggestions (I’m sure everyone else had the same question, so their answer should be down pat by now!). 

If the nursery does NOT have a suggestion, try to find a tree that is 1) rated for colder zones, and 2) blossoms in the same “window,” if possible. If blossom times don’t overlap well, you might not get as good a fruit crop as you would otherwise.

(A quick note: although most nurseries only guarantee it to zone 5, Whitegold is recommended by a few different extension resources as a cold-hardy sweet cherry tree that will survive in zone 4. Have I tested it? Nope! But just FYI, that’s what I’ve seen commonly recommended.)


At the end of the day, after all my research and concerns, do I still want a Chelan Cherry Tree? 

Yes. Emphatically yes. Even if the tree isn’t perfect, a cold-hardy sweet cherry that will survive zone 4 is a huge breakthrough in my world – and zone 3 hardiness is just the cherry on top (y’all see what I did there?). I’ve been waiting for this tree my entire gardening life.

However, I have to be honest; after all the “cold-hardy” trees that have died in my zone 4 weather, I carry some pretty healthy skepticism when I look at zone ratings. The fact that the Chelan is rated a zone colder than my zone — hardy all the way down to the frigid weather of zone 3 — is wildly exciting, and it’s high on my wish list… but when you combine the current price range with doubts about this sweet cherry’s true cold-hardiness, I am willing to sit back and hope it becomes more affordable before I order a tree.

Someday, Chelan. Someday.

If you’re looking for more information on the Chelan, there is a quick summary with some key stats included within a larger document on Oregon State University Extension’s online catalog  and a Chelan-specific PDF through Washington State University Extension. I appreciated the info in these writeups (even though they didn’t directly speak to zone hardiness).

For those wondering, I saw the Chelan Cherry for sale through Stark Bros (and no, I don’t get any money for linking to it – I’m just being nice, y’all). I did look up other nurseries to confirm the cold hardiness, but I’m not linking to those other nurseries because I have no personal experience purchasing from them, and if I can’t personally recommend a place, I try to avoid linking. UPDATE: As of the last time I checked (July 2023) the Chelan is not currently offered for sale through Stark Bro’s. I’ve no idea if it’s just out or stock or actually discontinued, or whether they will begin offering it again in the future. I will update if I see it offered through them again, but don’t assume that this blog post is up to date… I may notice it being posted for sale again, so please check Stark’s website yourself to ensure you are getting the most up to date information.


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