Friday, February 22, 2019

George Washington and Planting Cherry Trees by Carol King

It’s George Washington’s birthday, (February 22, 1732) and it’s hard to think of our first president without the phrase “I cannot tell a lie” popping up.  The cherry tree myth is the most well-known and longest enduring legend about our first president. It was invented by one of Washington’s very first biographers, Mason Locke Weems. In the original story, when Washington was six years old he received a hatchet as a gift and damaged his father’s cherry tree. When his father discovered what he had done, he became angry and confronted him. Young George bravely said, “I cannot tell a lie…I did cut it with my hatchet.” Washington’s father embraced him and rejoiced that his son’s honesty was worth more than a thousand trees.1

Weems wanted to present Washington as the perfect role model, especially for young Americans. The cherry tree myth and other stories showed readers that Washington’s public greatness was due to his private virtues. William Holmes McGuffey, author of the McGuffey’s Readers, created a version of the cherry tree myth that appeared in his Eclectic Second Reader. This helped entrench the cherry tree myth in American culture. The myth has endured for more than two hundred years and has become an important part of Americans' cultural heritage.

To honor George Washington and this well-known story, I offer these tips from Plant Talk Colorado for growing you very own cherry tree.

Cherry tree photo Plant Talk Colorado
Plant cherry trees in full sun, in soil that drains well and on higher ground so frost gathering in low pockets will not damage the tree or the fruit. Use caution in planting on the warmer south or west side of a building as they tend to bloom earlier in the spring and can be damaged by frost.

Sour cherries are the most dependable variety for the Front Range. They don’t need another variety for cross pollination. Good sour cherry varieties for Colorado include Montmorency, North Star, Montmore, Meteor, English Morello, Early Richmond, Hansen bush cherry and Nanking.

If you have your heart set on sweet cherries, varieties that sometimes work in the more urban areas are: Index, Lapins, Stella and Sweetheart.  They also don’t need another tree to pollinate. All other varieties of sweet cherries need a second variety for cross pollination.

For proper planting of your cherry tree, check this fact sheet: Science of Planting Trees.

More information about George Washington and cultivating cherries can be found here: