So back in the day when I was very new to fruit gardening, I believed a nursery catalog that solemnly told me I lived in zone 5 (not so, as current zoning maps declare). I was terribly disappointed when my sweet cherry tree, purchased from that catalog, didn’t survive the winter (I think it was a Stella, but don’t quiz me — it was a long time ago and I’ve tried mightily to scrub the unpleasant incident from my memory). 

Ever since, growing a sweet cherry tree in zone 4 has been the driving ambition of my fruit gardening schemes. The problem? Finding a winter-hardy sweet cherry tree that’s rated for this zone. Sour cherries and bush cherries that will thrive in cold climates are no trouble — you can find them in abundance! — but a winter-hardy sweet cherry tree is something of a purple cow. That is, there ain’t many of them around.


Enter the Kristin Sweet Cherry. Everywhere I look for winter-hardy sweet cherry trees, there it is, blazoned across the internet and nursery catalogs. The ads practically drip with promise and the urge to look no further.

So why, you ask, have I looked further? What’s my problem with the Kristin?

I’ve done a significant bit of homework reading up on the Kristen, both its positives and negatives. My verdict? Sure, I’d try one — but I have little expectation of getting it to produce, and as such I’ve decided to rank it low on my wish list and give some hardier fruit trees a chance to get established before I take a gamble on another sweet cherry. For my breakdown of the pros and cons of growing Kristin Sweet Cherry Trees in zone 4, read on (or don’t, as you please).


Now this isn’t to say that you can just throw this tree into the ground any old place on your property — placing is still everything — but reliable sources have tested this cultivar and found it to be pretty darn good.

A handy little publication by Cornell University notes that the Kristin has been tested in northern climates (including Norway and Montana, as well as Cornell’s home state of New York. Beat that, Stella), although the temperatures tested in were not particularly frigid. 

According to Cornell, the tree had originally been bred in the 1940’s, so it’s not some new and untested concoction. It’s really kind of an old dog, and the claim that it thrives in zone 4 has had an extended period to allow for testing and trials in varied temperatures. 


The biggest problem with this tree? It needs a pollinator. No, not fuzzy little honeybees. It needs a pollinator tree — and that pollinator has to be another sweet cherry. Sour cherries or bush cherries just won’t do (bloom time between sour cherries and sweets are typically too great), and that brings us right back to square one. 

Of course, you can find something. Whitegold is recommended by a few different resources as a cold-hardy sweet cherry tree that will survive in zone 4. Stark Bro’s also offers the Whitegold cherry, but they only rate its winter hardiness to zone 5. 

All fine and good. We trust the research of ag-universities enough to take a gamble, right?

Well, not really. The problem here is that if a company doesn’t rate the tree to zone 4, they shouldn’t be held liable if they were right. If a company doesn’t rate the Whitegold to zone 4, it’s because they know it’s not likely to be a success. Y’all, if it was me selling you the tree and it didn’t survive a zone four winter, I wouldn’t give you your money back. Would a nursery? I don’t know. And in my opinion, it’s not fair to ask.

Bottom line? If you buy the Kristin Sweet Cherry, you’re going to have a tough time finding a pollinator that you can be sure of getting your money back on if it dies. 


Frankly, another reason I haven’t gambled on this tree is that I’m very leery of tempting fate with new nurseries.  I do typically trust Stark Bro’s, which lists the Kristen Sweet Cherry in its offerings, but it seems to be always out of stock. I’m not sure I want to try a product I’m already unsure of AND buy it from a nursery I have no track record with. It would be different if this was a handful of strawberries, but any fruit tree is a big investment.

Normally at this point I’d go through the list of places where this and other purported cold-hardy sweet cherries are available… but if it isn’t a company I have personally tested and found reasonably reliable, I’m not going to post about it. I’m just not. Not saying these companies are scary, just that I have no personal experience with them, and I’m not going to be one of those bloggers that refers random companies just because they exist. If you are determined to find one, Google it and I’m sure you can find some options.

(That said, if anybody has any suggestions of nursery companies that they are happy with, feel free to pass them along. I’m always looking for suggestions! Always! Always!)

Let me be honest. I’ve been holding out for a new and improved cultivar of cold-hardy sweet cherries, but with no news on the air I know that one of these years I’m going to be jumping on the Kristen-cherry bandwagon. It’s just too tempting. All gardening is a gamble at some level, and realistically, even a tree that’s rated for the zone isn’t guaranteed to survive a particularly cold winter. Weather happens. As much as we can try to predict the future, it’s entirely possible that a plant or tree we were trying to save from the cold instead succumbs to a particularly damp summer.

One of these days, I’m going to feel lucky enough to roll the dice on a sweet cherry tree in zone four… 

…but it is not this day. I have a few other plants to gamble on first!

**Update: I did end up purchasing and planting a Kristen Sweet Cherry Tree since this post was originally published. I will create a linked update to the post once I have some additional time to review the tree’s performance and once I have solid first-hand information to share on the tree’s survival / cold-tolerance / other characteristics. Thank you!**


3 thoughts on “Growing Cold-Hardy Sweet Cherries: Is The Kristen Cherry Tree Viable?

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