black chokeberry

How To Grow and Care For Aronia shrubs (Aronia melanocarpa)

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Aronia plants are lovely North American native shrubs that provide 3 season interest as well as a very useful crop of berries. These plants have good ornamental value and are just about neat enough for formal gardens. They really shine in native woodland gardens where they can be allowed to naturalize.

Read on to learn all you need to know about these native deciduous shrubs. 

What Is An Aronia Shrub?

The Aronia plant is also commonly known as the black chokeberry. These deciduous shrubs of the Rosaceae family are native to the Eastern parts of North America. 

Aronia plants are small to medium-sized shrubs that are generally between 3 and 8 feet (0.9-1.8m) in height but will spread about 10 feet (3m) wide if allowed to sucker. In shape, they are upright and open, often with a rather leggy growth form. 

These plants occur in southern Canada and south through the United States to Florida. They grow in a variety of habitats, especially moist, wooded lowland environments. 

The leaves are bright green when emerging, maturing to glossy dark green with slightly serrated margins. They are alternately arranged on the branches reaching up to about 3 inches (7.5cm) long. Aronia plants are famed for their rich fall color with shades of orange, red, and purple. 

Flowers

Chokeberries flower on the previous season’s growth in the springtime, usually in the month of May. The flowers measure about ⅝ inch (15mm) across and occur in small clusters called corymbs. Each cluster usually holds 5-25 blossoms. 

These clusters measure 2-3 inches (5-7.5cm) across, and each flower is mostly white or pinkish-white, with 5 petals and sepals. When in bloom, these plants are showy and pleasantly scented.

After flowering, fruits known as pomes are produced in the late summer and fall. These pomes measure  ¼-⅓ inches (6-8mm) across and persist well into the cold winter months. 

Aronia Species & Cultivars

Aronia is a small North American genus that consists of just 2 species and a hybrid of the 2. The other species is the red chokeberry (A. arbutifolia). The red chokeberry bush is a much larger species that can grow to over 12 feet (3.7m) tall. Apart from the size difference and the color of the berries, these plants are very difficult to tell apart and are even found in the same areas and habitats. A hybrid of the two species is known as the purple chokeberry (A. x prunifolia)

There are a few popular cultivars of the black chokeberry, 2 good examples of which include:

‘Autumn Magic’ is a very popular ornamental cultivar that is well-loved for its impressive fall foliage color that persists on the plants well into the fall. These plants only reach 3-4 feet (0.9-1.2m) in height. 

‘Viking’ is a form developed for fruit production. These plants were developed in Russia and are known to reach over 6 feet (1.8m) tall and produce a high yield of fruits (1). 

How To Grow Black Chokeberry Plant

Aronia plants can be propagated in quite a few different ways. The seeds can be sown in the fall or these suckering plants can be divided at the roots, which is best done at the cooler times of the year. Alternatively, softwood or greenwood cuttings root well in the summer (2).

These plants can be grown in a wide variety of soil types, and have the useful distinction of growing just fine in marshy, waterlogged conditions. They grow best in acidic to slightly acidic soils but are quite adaptable.  

Since Aronia plants are so well adapted to moist environments, regular watering will be appreciated. This is especially true during dry periods, in dry climates, and for young plants and those that are not yet established. Watering in the morning is recommended for best growth, fruit, and flower production.

Aronia plants grow best in full sun to partial shade, with the best fall colors achieved in full sun positions. They are suitable for gardens in USDA Hardiness Zones 3 – 8.  

Care and Maintenance

Chokeberry shrubs spread by suckers, so removing these early is advised if you wish to keep the plant contained. Cut the suckers off below ground level for neatness. Hard pruning is not recommended, but removing a third of all the mature stems in the spring on a yearly basis will keep the plants neat and compact (3). 

Aronia plants are generally very low maintenance plants and tend to be very pest and disease resistant. 

Uses

Horticultural Uses

The black chokeberry bush is a great plant for naturalized woodland gardens, especially in moist boggy areas where other shrubs do not thrive. They are also suitable for border and foundation plantings and will grow well if planted under larger trees. 

Human Uses

Aronia plants are very popular for their acidic berries which are very high in antioxidants and are a particularly rich source of polyphenols (4). When eaten raw, the fruits are not very pleasant, which is where the name chokeberry comes from. They are much better when processed as a jam, jelly, juice, etc. Aronia plants are grown commercially in many parts of the world, most notably in Europe. 

Wildlife Uses

Aronia plants are an important fall and winter food plant for wildlife that distribute the seeds (5). Both deer and rabbits will browse on this plant, but the plants are adapted for this. Pollinators like hummingbirds and butterflies enjoy the flowers, and small animals and fruit-eating birds will eat the berries. 

FAQs

Conclusion

For gardeners who enjoy growing food plants and native plants that attract and support wildlife, the Aronia plant makes a wonderful choice. These plants are hardy and one of the few good options for waterlogged areas of the garden. Try one of these attractive shrubs in your garden this year, you won’t regret it!

References

References

  1. Everhart, E. Aronia – A New Crop For Iowa. 

https://www.extension.iastate.edu/news/2009/mar/110401.htm

  1. Toogood, A. Plant Propagation: The Fully Illustrated Plant-By-Plant Manual Of Practical Techniques. 
  1. Brickell, C. & Joyce, D. Pruning & Training: What, When And How To Prune. 
  1. Borowska, S. Chokeberries (Aronia melanocarpa) and Their Products as a Possible Means for the Prevention and Treatment of Noncommunicable Diseases and Unfavorable Health Effects Due to Exposure to Xenobiotics

https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/1541-4337.12221

  • Gill, J. D., Pogge, F. Z. & Bonner, F. T. The Woody Plant Seed Manual. 

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