There are three distinct types of cherry trees, all of the Rosaceae family, and all are cool-weather trees that require full sun and plenty of water. Trees categorized as flowering cherries (Prunus) do not produce fruit, but all types do produce blooms. The biggest cherry varieties top out at about 40 feet, though most are 20 feet or less, making them good choices for a home landscape. Cherry trees require fast-draining soil.
Flowering cherries range in size from 6 to 40 feet tall and are grown for their ornamental value. These trees produce a profusion of sweet-smelling, pink or white blooms in spring. Flowering cherries require little pruning, except to remove oddly shaped or dying branches, and may be pruned during bloom time without harming the tree.
The Snow Fountains (P. serrulata) cultivar is among the smallest and is best used in an Asian garden. This cultivar tops out at 12 feet and produces single white blooms in early spring, while the Yoshino Flowering Cherry (P. yedoensis) is the celebrated cultivar that is planted around Washington, D.C. This tree can reach 40 feet and produces single, light pink blooms.
Sour cherry trees produce fruit known as "pie cherries," as they are more suitable for baking or canning than eating off the tree. Sour cherry trees are more widely adapted than their sweet counterparts and will survive in colder and warmer climates. Montmorency and Early Richmond are the most widely planted cultivars and both produce small, bright red fruit that is juicy and sweet-tart. Commercial orchards are typically found in Michigan, New York and Wisconsin, according to the Sunset National Garden Book.
Sour cherry trees are self-pollinating and may be planted individually, though planting in pairs may increase the harvest. These trees will reach about 20 feet.
Sweet cherries are those found commercially in grocery stores or farmers' markets and require more mild climates than their sour cherry cousins. According to the Sunset National Garden Book, most commercially available sweet cherries are grown in Oregon, Washington, British Columbia and around the Great Lakes. These trees cannot survive humid summers or freezing winters, but do require a set amount of hours with temperatures below 45 degrees Fahrenheit for fruit to properly set. Sweet cherries require cross-pollination and should be planted in pairs, though not all varieties may be planted together.
The Bing cultivar produces the sweet, large, dark red fruit often found at the grocery, while the Chinook produces a similar fruit, but ripens about a week earlier.