Great Lakes Permaculture

Hansen Cherry Bush – Prunus besseyi

Hansen cherry bush is marketed as a delicious edible landscaping bush which can be used in many urban settings where you wan to blend in a little with the neighbors, but you still want to be creating an edible landscaping for your entire yard, or as my Wife would say, you want to look normal.

When we started to convert our yard to all edible landscaping, money is always an issue. You need more plants than you can afford, so you start to look at ways to generate more plants for the buck. Smuggling from the neighbors yard is an option, but that is for a separate article. I started to look at some of the discount plant magazines, you know the ones where you can buy one plant, buy the second one for a penny more and with every order you get a packet of free seeds that you did not want or you would have ordered them in the first place.

It is then I saw the picture for the Hansen cherry bushes, otherwise known as Prunus besseyi. Professor N.E. Hansen of the South Dakota Experiment Station developed and improved the Sand cherry, Prunus besseyi, that was marketed as the “Improved Dwarf Rocky Mountain Cherry,” with fruit growing as large as the Richmond cherry. Luther Burbank argued in his 1922 book, Fruit Improvement page 149, that this Sand cherry tree was more truly a plum tree. Whatever the case, they looked intriguing so I bought four of them for my front yard, total price of less than $6.00.

When they arrived, they were wretched looking little things. Spindly little twigs with a few leaves on them, but I always stand in for the underdog, so Cindy and I planted them with the recommended spacing in the front flower bed.
They continued to grow without too much interference, it should be noted that the bushes with the best water supply and sun are almost twice the size in diameter than the smallest bush. They are all about the same height as each other. They also tend to be spindly, not full and luscious like the marketing picture. But none the less, they have produced cherries. The first year produced nothing, the second year produced a dozen or so cherries that were a cross between a sweet and sour cherry. They could be eaten right off of the bush, which is exactly what happened to the dozen that was produced that year.

The third year was beyond our imagination. Large amounts of cherry’s hanging along the underside of the branches, dark and mysterious looking, taunting us to eat them. We did test a few for scientific reasons, but the majority of the cherries were picked withe the plan to pit them, dry some for granola and the remaining to be frozen for pies during the winter. But part way through the pitting procedure changed our minds. The cherry’s are as small as sour cherries or even slightly smaller with a full size pit. So when you try to pit them, you are left with a very small amount of fruit left to use for a pie. So we changed plans and made cherry jelly with the available fruit, the results are shown in the pictures. The cherries delivered a wonderful deep red jelly, delicious and flavorful. Cindy and I have been very pleased with the result of this little exercise.

Would I recommend Hansen cherry bushes for every yard, probably not. But I would not hesitate to use them again in as an understory plant in a fruit tree guild. They are cheap to buy, require no maintenance except a few snips of the pruner once a tear when dormant. We do not spray the bushes at all, not even with an organic spray. So I consider the bushes to be low maintenance. You should consider the bushes, but keep in mind what I have told you about their shape and fruit output, they can be a very tasty addition to an edible landscape for very little money. And I have the cherry jelly to prove it. Yummm!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *