2020 Cherry King

Dena Ybarra addresses her subjects after being crowned "Cherry King" at the annual Cherry Institute of Northwest Cherry Growers in Yakima on Jan. 10.

YAKIMA, Wash. — Dena Ybarra, a former nursery owner still active in the cherry industry, was named 76th cherry king at the annual Cherry Institute of Northwest Cherry Growers at the Yakima Convention Center on Jan. 10.

Ybarra, 55, was born in Wenatchee and grew up on her parents’ orchard and tree fruit nursery, Columbia Basin Nursery in Quincy. She learned to cut bud wood as a toddler and later could bud up to 6,000 trees a day.

After graduation from Washington State University with a degree in horticulture in 1987, she continued working with her parents, Carl and Gie Perleberg, at the nursery and eventually managed more than 1,000 acres of tree fruit orchards in Quincy, George and Royal City. In 1988, she married Manuel Ybarra, who became nursery manager.

Her father, Carl, died in 1992 and she continued operating the nursery with her mother and sister.

In 1992, the nursery offered only five cherry varieties. The Ybarras expanded that to dozens by the time the family sold the nursery in 2014.

“Dena took a leadership role in bringing new varieties into the industry, working with Northwest Nursery Improvement Institute in releasing WSU’s Dr. Tom Toyama’s Chelan and Tieton varieties,” said Mike Willett, the 75th cherry king and former manager of the Washington State Tree Fruit Research Commission.

“Dena also planted one of the very first blocks of Tietons on Gisela 5 rootstock, which the birds loved and since there were no other cherries in that area resulted in the first netting for birds and wind control in the region,” Willett said.

Columbia Basin Nursery produced an annual average of about 600,000 trees for 20 years, peaking at 800,000 in its last harvest in November of 2013.

Ybarra has been a board member of the Washington Tree Fruit Research Commission since 2011, chairs the commission’s cherry committee and as a member of the Cherry Breeding Program Advisory Committee works with WSU cherry breeder Per McCord.

Ybarra also belongs to the American Nursery and Landscape Association, the International Fruit Tree Association and is a past president of Northwest Nursery Improvement Institute.

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