Chokeberries, also known as Aronia and chokecherries are related to roses. The chokeberry genus is actually 3 distinctly different, but related species. They are grown as ornamental plants as well as for food. The berries are more frequently processed in wines , jams, syrups and preserves but can also be eaten raw.
The term "choke" as a prefix to the name is believed to refer to the tartness of the fruit. They are classified as "astringent" in their taste [See: 6 Tastes of Food ]
Chokeberries add an aesthetic value to most landscape scenarios. Some cultivars are prized for their Autumn foliage displays. They grow well as woodland border plants, as well as planted under trees. Chokeberries are resistant to most insects, drought, and disease. Chokeberry flowers remain on the tree for most of the summer and come very early Autumn the berries appear hanging down from small red stalks. The fruit has small seeds which ripen through the early winter. Although the shrubs will grow in almost any soils they do need modest sunlight - they will not grow in full shade.
Black chokeberry, will average about 3 - 5 feet tall, and easily spreads from root sprouts. The flowers are white,and as the name implies the fruit is black. It has a shorter growing season than its red cousins.
The Autumn leaf color of black chokeberry is less intense. They're also very tolerant of cold weather and high winds, and can be grown in exposed sites.
The Black Chokeberry is a deciduous shrub, meaning that it sheds its flowers,leaves and fruits at maturity. Once planted it requires very little care, it is hardy and very easy to grow. It rarely fails to produce edible black berries annually. A healthy and mature black chokeberry plants can produce over twenty pounds of fruit per year.
They have extremely high levels of natural antioxidants which is accompanied by an extremely tart astringent flavor. Black chokeberries are not generally eaten raw.
They are more commonly used in various preserves. They are also mixed with other fruits in preserves and juices - particularly blackberry and blueberry.
Red chokeberry, can grow up 13 feet tall. They produce a white to pale pink flower and red fruit. They are prized for their brilliant red fall foliage and fruits which stands out in late summer through mid-winter.
The red berries are usually too tart to be eaten fresh, they are commonly used to make jams ,jellies and juices.The mature red chokeberry will clone itself rampantly through suckers and needs to be kept in check in some scenarios.It does not have problems with pests or diseases. Occasionally some minor blights and leaf spots. None will cause severe much damage to the plant or fruit.
The Purple Chokeberry, is actually a hybrid of the Black and red ones. and is now considered a distinct species. The berries are dark purple to almost black and it has a growing season equal to the black chokeberry. The purple chokeberry has a wider range than its red and Black cousins.
Planting and Care of Chokeberries
Select a location with either full sun or partial shade, it will not grow in full shade. It will tolerate most types of soil, however, Slightly acidic soil is the best, Soil pH between 6 and 7 being optimal.
Plants should be spaced 4 to 6 feet apart if growing for ornamentals, if growing chokeberry primarily for fruit production space them even further, about 9 - 10 feet apart. Spacing may vary slightly depending on the cultivar, so consult the packaging per individual plant. It's best to plant chokeberry in the early spring.
Set bare root trees in the center of the planting hole, spreading the roots down and away from the center . Try not to bend them anymore than is absolutely necessary. Mixing organic amendments such as well composted manure or plant materials into the soil to improve it's structure, fertility and moisture retention is recommended but not absolutely necessary.
Amendments to adjust soil pH should be added at this time also. If you are starting from seeds, sowing chokeberry seeds in a container and planting them outside after germination is advisable.
You can also plant them directly into the ground. Plant seedlings or cuttings into the ground at the same depth they were planted in the container. Water them thoroughly - don't drown them, just water thoroughly. Irrigate the chokeberry plants deeply during dry weather periods.Mulching controls weeds and will conserve soil moisture, as it breaks down organic mulch also adds nutrients to the soil. Put 3- to 4-inches of mulch around the base of the shrub, leaving a small mulchless circle around the stem so that none of the mulch comes into contact with the bark.
Chokeberry can reproduce via suckers quite rampantly at times. If the suckering is undesirable, cultivate the area around the chokeberry, pulling out any new suckers as they appear.Weeds should also be removed as they appear. A balanced, slow-release fertilizer applied annually is a good idea to promote plant growth. It is not absolutely essential - as chokeberries , in any reasonable soil will generally do okay without it, especially if you added soil amendments at planting time , and an organic mulch at the plant base.
Inspect the chokeberry plants , as you would any garden plants for signs of pests or disease problems. Neither is much of a problem with chokeberries as they are hardy and highly resistant - but it does happen from time to time.
If fungus , such as powdery mildew does appears, prune out any effected branches, which will also improve air circulation within the shrub. Avoid wetting the leaves when watering. Every other year chokeberry should be pruned to remove any older unproductive stems.