If you are looking to grow delicious cherries in your own yard, it doesn’t get much better than the Emperor Francis cherry tree. This old English variety produces medium-sized, crisp fruits that are so sweet, they almost taste like candy.
These cherries are perfect for baking and preserving, too, so you won’t just enjoy them during the summer months.
The Emperor Francis requires a lot of special conditions to thrive. But if you are willing to provide those — and put in some work — you will be rewarded with some of the best fruit you can grow at home.
History of the Emperor Francis Cherry Tree
The Emperor Francis cherry tree originated in the United Kingdom in the early 1900s. Since then, it has been grown around the world. This variety became particularly important in the 1990s, when it was used to create the first self-fertile cherry variety.
Though not independently fertile itself, the Emperor Francis cherry tree has become the ancestor of the Newfane sweet cherry among others.
Tree / Fruit Characteristics
This beautiful cherry tree variety blooms early, sprouting breathtaking white flowers. Fruit is ready to harvest in June. The cherries were bred to resist cracking or splitting on the tree. The result is an incredibly sweet, crisp cherry that almost tastes like candy.
The Emperor Francis cherry tree grows best in zones five through seven. It blooms and produces fruit early in the season, which makes it more vulnerable to late spring frosts and rainfall.
Size and Spacing
This variety is shorter than average, reaching between 15 and 18 feet high at full maturity with a canopy of the same width. Space trees a minimum of 15 feet apart to allow them to get adequate sun and nutrients from the soil.
The Emperor Francis cherry tree needs another cherry tree planted nearby to pollinate and produce fruit. For the best results, plant another cherry variety within 50 feet of your Emperor Francis tree.
This tree does not productively cross-pollinate with every cherry variety. Pair it with one of the following trees to best encourage fruit production:
- Black Tartarian
- Stark Gold
The Emperor Francis cherry tree should be planted in well-draining soil to ensure that the roots do not get overly well. Ideally, choose loamy soil. Avoid clay, which can retain too much water, and sand, which drains too quickly, causing tree drought.
Cherry trees can handle imperfect soil with support from the right fertilizer. Fertilizers help fortify the soil with important elements, especially nitrogen.
Emperor Francis cherry trees need full sunlight, which means ideally six to eight hours of sunshine every day. Without this, they are unlikely to bear fruit. Full sun also reduces the risk of the tree developing harmful fungus.
During the tree’s early years, provide about an inch of water every week. It may need more during very hot or dry times of the year. However, make sure you don’t water it too much — flooding the roots can cause health problems.
As a rule of thumb, provide water when the surrounding soil is dry to the touch. Adding mulch is a good way to reach the right amount of water retention, as it keeps the roots moist without soaking them. This also ensures that the water won’t evaporate too quickly.
Pruning is an important way to keep your tree healthy, especially in the early years. It improves circulation to the branches and helps sunlight reach the fruiting parts of the tree.
Prune the tree during the late winter, just before it starts to bloom. Using clean, sharp shears, remove any dead branches or limbs that cross with others. This improves circulation to the healthier parts of the tree and promotes fruit growth.
Make sure to focus on the middle part of the tree. Thinning this area also promotes better circulation and reduces the risk of mold or mildew growing on the tree.
Common Uses For The Fruit
Emperor Francis cherries are perfect for cooking and preserving. They are particularly beloved for jams and jellies and can also be used to make homemade maraschino cherries.
What Do Emperor Francis Cherries Taste Like?
Emperor Francis cherries are incredibly sweet, crisp, and bright. They have gained a reputation as “nature’s candy,” bursting with juice and delicious right off the tree.
Cherries can be cooked in many ways, but they are most popularly used in baking. They are often used — either fresh or dried — in cookies, pies, cobblers, and cakes. You can also make them into syrup, glaze, or pair them with savory meat dishes.
If you bake with fresh cherries, make sure to cut them into small pieces and then squeeze the excess moisture out with a cloth or paper towel. These fruits are so juicy that their natural moisture can cause them to sink to the bottom of your recipe.
Emperor Francis cherries are often eaten raw. They are delicious on their own, with a crisp skin and sweet, juicy flesh. You can also incorporate them raw into yogurt, cereal, oatmeal, fruit salad, and much more.
You can also add them to smoothies if you don’t mind having pieces of skin, which don’t always break down well. Just make sure to remove all the pits beforehand to avoid
Canning / Freezing / Drying
Emperor Francis cherries are ideal for preserving. These sweet fruits can be made into jams or jellies, juiced, made into syrup, or otherwise preserved. They are a popular choice for making homemade maraschino cherries, which you can add to ice cream or other desserts.
Dried cherries are easy to make at home if you have a food dehydrator. These will keep for years in your pantry and are a delicious addition to trail mix, bread, cake, and muffins.
Health Benefits of Emperor Francis Cherries
Emperor Francis cherries are full of nutrients. Their high juice content and fibrous skin mean that they promote gut health, in part by improving hydration. They are also particularly high in vitamin C and potassium, which help support immune health and regulate blood pressure.
Cherries also have anti-inflammatory properties. This means that they have the potential to reduce stress and fight stress-related conditions like heart disease and diabetes.
Where To Buy Emperor Francis Cherries
You may be able to find Emperor Francis cherries in a grocery store, but other sweet cherry varieties are more common. This is because they are self-fertile, unlike the Emperor Francis. If you want to try this variety, you might have more luck inquiring with a local grower or at a farmers’ market.
You can find all types of cherry trees for sale online at Nature Hills Nursery.
How Long Will It Take This Tree To Bear Fruit?
The Emperor Francis cherry tree takes between four and seven years to start producing fruit. It is important that you prune the tree even in these early years. This will encourage the likelihood of getting a healthy crop of fruit in time. In the meantime, the tree will be a beautiful ornamental in your yard.
What Pests And Diseases Is The Emperor Francis Cherry Tree Susceptible To?
Cherry trees may attract many pests. It is important to keep an eye out for the signs of a pest-ridden tree, such as yellow, curling leaves, white marks on the trunk or limbs, or slowed growth.
Common pests in Emperor Francis cherry trees include: aphids, borers, Japanese beetles, moths, cherry fruit flies, mites, leafhoppers, and caterpillars. Routine maintenance often keeps infestations at bay, but commercial insecticides are available to kill pests.
Cherry trees are also prone to rot and bacterial canker, especially during wet seasons. Some of these are spread by insects.
How Much Fruit Will I Get During a Typical Year?
The amount of fruit your Emperor Francis cherry tree will produce depends on several elements. The tree can be a dwarf or a semi-dwarf, which affects the fruit yield. This can also vary based on the nutrients in the soil and placement of the tree. In general, you can expect between 15 and 20 quarts of fruit from a dwarf tree and between 30 and 50 quarts from a semi-dwarf.
Although Emperor Francis cherry trees require a lot of care, their delicious fruit is well worth the effort. Dedicated gardeners can enjoy their harvest for many months — though the cherries are so good, they may not last that long!