The Benton cherry tree is a favorite among gardeners, landscapers, and homeowners. Plenty of unique qualities set the Benton cherry apart from other popular alternatives like the Bing cherry.
Benton cherries are known for their complex sweetness and how easy they are to raise. Benton cherries are more forgiving than other cherry trees and take less maintenance. They are also highly disease-resistant.
These characteristics make it a phenomenal choice for newcomers to cherry trees. But even seasoned growers appreciate the simplicity of the Benton cherry tree, making them an important part of farming and grocery markets. Benton cherries also make a great addition to virtually any style of landscaping.
History of the Benton Cherry Tree
The Benton cherry tree originally hails from Washington state. Washington is the top producer of cherries in the United States. Cherry trees are highly valuable to the local and U.S. economies. This led to the development of many cultivars, including the Benton cherry.
The Benton originated at Washington State University Prosser Research Center, as a cross between the Beaulieu and Stella cultivars. The Beaulieu helped produce a faster ripening fruit and the Stella enhanced the cherry’s sweetness.
Tree / Fruit Characteristics
Benton cherry trees tend to be quite large with upright branches that spread out wide. The tree’s leaves have the typical lance-like cherry shape with gently serrated edges. Blossoms are a striking white that you can expect to show up mid-to-late in the season.
The Benton’s large fruits are dark red with a lighter red flesh. Inside is a semi-freestone. The Benton cherry usually ripens before other varieties, like the Bing, and finishes up by mid-season. These trees are tough and resistant to rain cracking.
Keep in mind that the Benton cherry tree needs three to five years to establish itself before producing fruit. How well your tree adjusts will determine whether this period is longer or shorter. While this is a much shorter waiting period than other fruit trees, it means you will need some patience before harvesting any cherries.
Benton cherry trees grow quite well in USDA zones 5 through 8. These trees do really well against frost compared to other varieties due to their later flowering period. Your cherries should be ripe and ready for harvest around mid-June.
Size and Spacing
Benton cherry trees usually grow up to 4 meters tall (or about 14 feet). Their branches spread out to about the same. This means you need to give each Benton cherry plenty of room to grow and spread its branches (as well as its roots). Some varieties of Benton cherry can grow even bigger, so be sure to check when you purchase yours.
The Benton is a self-pollinating cherry tree. This makes it a cinch to keep just one fruiting tree in your lawn or garden. You can help stimulate self-pollination by exchanging pollen between blooms. Additional cherry trees can potentially help improve pollination and your harvest. If you only want one tree, however, you can still harvest plenty of fresh cherries.
Benton cherry trees are quite easy to care for once they have been established. They should be planted in soil that is loose and well-draining. Aim for a pH between 6.0 and 7.0 for optimum root health. Use a low nitrogen fertilizer once in the spring after the tree has begun bearing fruit. Since Benton cherries are light feeders, this will be plenty to keep your tree growing healthy and strong.
You may want to mulch around the tree’s root zone to keep weeds down. Mulch and other ground covers also help preserve moisture. If you spot any pests or signs of disease, treat them with appropriate countermeasures immediately. Preventing these types of issues from worsening is much easier (and often cheaper) than reversing them once they progress. Left alone, pests can seriously damage your fruit harvest.
Harvest your Benton cherries when the fruits feel firm to the touch and are bright red. They should have a glossy sheen to them as well. The pits are easily removed when the fruit is ripe.
Benton cherry trees enjoy lots of sunlight, so be sure to plant yours where it will get full sun. This means it should get 8 or more hours of direct sunlight each day. As long as this minimum is reached, spending the rest of the day in partial sun should be fine.
If you are looking to double-up, you can use Benton cherry trees for shade over your home or yard, too. The tree will get plenty of sunlight while your home’s temperature stays more consistent.
There is no need to water your Benton cherry very frequently. When you water your tree, be sure to water deeply. Planting in loose, well-draining soil is key to watering deeply without oversaturating.
During wetter parts of the year, your tree should be fine without hand-watering. Just be sure to check that it is receiving sufficient water. While Benton cherries hold up well under dry conditions, your tree’s growth and harvest may suffer without enough hydration.
Benton trees should be pruned once each year. The best time to prune is in early spring long before flowering starts. This gives the tree an open canopy to grow into and even spurs it on to grow fuller. Maintaining an open canopy gives room for growth but also air movement to help prevent disease and rotting fruit.
Common Uses For The Fruit
What Do Benton Cherries Taste Like?
Benton cherries have a brilliant sweet flavor that fills the mouth. The fruit’s flesh is dense and firm with a classic cherry flavor. Its flavor is reminiscent of Bing and Stella. The fruit is delicious right off the tree as a fresh snack.
Unlike many other varieties, the Benton cherry lacks most of that characteristic tart sourness. Be sure to taste test a few cherries before you harvest. If you pick the fruit before it ripens, it will not ripen once off the tree.
Benton cherries are not very sour, so they tend not to be used in cherry pies. Sour cherries tend to be a more popular choice for baked goods. That said, Benton cherries work just as well and some people prefer their sweeter flavor.
They are also often used in alcoholic mixed drinks. Cocktails like the Cayuse cherry bomb, Whiskey Sour, and even sangrias can all be enhanced with delicious Benton cherries.
Raw Benton cherries are a delightful snack. They are best when plucked and eaten immediately, but they can be stored for up to five weeks. Because they are sweeter than most other varieties, they tend to be more popular as a raw fruit. Remove the stem if you plan to eat immediately but leave stems intact if you plan to save fruit for later. Store your cherries in perforated plastic bags at 0 C (32 F) for maximum freshness.
Canning / Freezing / Drying
Drying Benton cherries is a popular option and is easy with a common food dehydrator. They can easily be frozen or canned for longer term storage. Cherries stay quite fresh while frozen for up to six months. After this period, they begin to decline.
Health Benefits of Benton Cherries
Benton cherries are full of vitamin C which is key for collagen formation and iron absorption, as well as innumerable vital bodily functions. Eaten regularly, cherries may help reduce inflammation and prevent the development of diseases related to the condition. Diets rich in cherries and other sources of polyphenols (an antioxidant found in plants) may lower the risk of cardiovascular diseases.
Where To Buy Benton Cherries
Benton cherries are commonly sold at lawn and garden stores, farmers’ markets, and online. Since they are such a popular cultivar, they are relatively easy to acquire and very affordable. You can buy Benton cherry trees at various sizes depending on how long you are willing to wait to harvest.
You can also find all types of cherry trees online at Nature Hills Nursery.
It is easy to see why the Benton cherry remains a top pick among gardeners, landscapers, and cherry enthusiasts. Whether you have a honed green thumb or are just getting started out in the yard, Benton cherries are a rewarding option. Because they are self-pollinating, commercial growers prefer them to Bing and other varieties. They are highly valued by seasoned gardeners for their drought, disease, and pest resistance. The ease of care required makes Benton cherries a worthwhile investment for anyone with the space to grow.