Black Chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa)

Black Berried Aronia, Black Chokeberry

Black chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa) is native in eastern Canada to the Midwest and south to Tennessee and Georgia. The tart black berries of this shrub provide a food source for wildlife. The antioxidant-rich fruit also can be enjoyed by people, usually in jams and jellies. Showy white flowers with pink stamens bloom in the spring, and glossy green foliage turns a brilliant red-to-burgundy fall color contrasting with the black berries. Use this guide to grow black chokeberry in your yard.

I. Appearance and Characteristics 

Aronia melanocarpa, called the black chokeberry, is a species of shrubs in the rose family native to eastern North America, ranging from Canada to the central United States, from Newfoundland west to Ontario and Minnesota, south as far as Arkansas, Alabama, and Georgia. This plant has been introduced and is cultivated in Europe.

It is a branching shrub with glossy dark green leaves that take on a red color in the autumn; it grows well in the sun and part-shade, often to heights of six feet (1.8 m) or more, forming clumps by means of stems rising from the roots. Its flowers are white or pink, appearing at the end of spring and producing black fruits in September. The plants are relatively easy to clone and root, with summer being the optimal time to take cuttings. Some birds eat the berries.

When raw, the fruits are astringent, but the flavor improves when used in recipes with added sugar.

II. How to Grow and Care

Sunlight

You can plant a black chokeberry shrub in either full sun or partial shade. But you will get the best flowering and fruiting in locations with full sun, meaning at least six hours of direct sunlight on most days. In too much shade, the shrub will likely only minimally flower and fruit, and it will produce weak growth that ultimately could kill the plant.

Temperature and Humidity

Black chokeberry has good tolerance for both the cold and hot temperatures of its growing zones. It flowers fairly late in the spring and thus avoids frost. Humidity typically isn’t an issue for the shrub as long as there is good air circulation around the foliage to prevent fungal diseases.

Watering

Black chokeberry is an adaptable tree that’s able to withstand occasional drought, as well as waterlogged soil. However, with its moderate water requirements, this plant does best when watered infrequently but thoroughly. Whenever the top layer of soil has dried out, give it a good soak. Water more frequently during dry weather and hot spells.

Soil

A virtue of this shrub is how adaptable it is to a wide range of soils. It can tolerate both sandy and clay soil, though it prefers to grow in something in between those two. It also can handle some salt in the soil, making it a good option for a site near roadways that use road salt.

Fertilizing

Black chokeberry usually doesn’t require any supplemental feeding, unless the soil shows signs of nutrient deficiency. Adding garden compost upon planting and again each spring can fix the problem. Potted plants are most likely to lack essential nutrients, so be sure to amend the soil with garden compost each spring.

Planting Instructions

Plant black chokeberry in average, well-draining soil in an area that receives full or partial sun.

This medium-sized, low-maintenance shrub grows in a rounded, somewhat leggy form and may spread, so remove the root suckers to prevent unwanted growth in garden beds. When planted in a naturalized site, allow the suckers to mature and form a colony. Black chokeberry can withstand wet conditions and be used in rain gardens and along streams and ponds.

Black chokeberry is a hardy shrub that can be planted whenever the ground is workable and the plants are available. Prepare a bed of well-draining soil amended with compost, and plant the shrub at the same depth it was growing in the nursery container. Backfill the hole, press down with your hands to remove any air pockets, and water the shrub. When planting multiple shrubs, space them 4 to 5 feet apart.

Pruning

Besides removing suckers around the base of the shrub as needed to prevent unwanted new shrubs from growing, pruning will not be an extensive chore for the black chokeberry shrub. After the plant is done flowering in the spring, lightly prune the stems to shape the shrub to your liking. Also, remove any dead, damaged, or diseased portions of the shrub as you spot them.

Propagation

  • Cuttings

Look around a mature black chokeberry shrub to see if its runners have produced new growth (suckers) above ground. If so, use a sharp spade to slice through the sucker root and lift the small plant out of the ground, being careful not to damage any of its roots. Plant it in a new bed and water it well.

Black chokeberry can also be propagated by taking stem cuttings in late summer from softwood or semi-softwood stems. Each cutting should have two to four leaf nodes. Remove the foliage from the bottom half of the cutting, leaving only the topmost leaves; if the leaves are large, cut them in half. Dip the bottom of the cutting in rooting hormone and put the bottom 2 inches into a pot filled with a sterile potting mix with excellent drainage. Mist the cuttings regularly. When new growth appears, the cutting has rooted, and it can be moved to a larger pot or transplanted to the garden

  • Seed

Propagating chokeberry from seed is challenging as the tiny seeds need several months of cold stratification. Also, seeds from a cultivar (which are difficult and messy to extract from the pulp of the berries) won’t produce an identical plant. For these reasons, propagating black chokeberry from seed is not recommended.

Pests and Diseases

Black chokeberry has no serious insect or disease problems, although aphids might visit. If so, they can be sprayed off with water or treated with neem oil. In humid areas, powdery mildew can become a problem. Keep the garden clean and discard any leaves that display powdery mildew. If the problem persists, treat the shrub with an organic fungicide.

The shrub is deer-resistant, although deer might browse in the spring. Occasionally, they pull newly planted shrubs from the ground and leave them in the garden. The tart, bitter taste repels the deer. Blood meal is somewhat effective at keeping deer away.

Potting and Repotting 

Black chokeberry can be grown in a container but it must be large, 20 gallons at the minimum, with adequate drainage holes. Fill it with a lightweight potting mix combined with a few handfuls of compost. Because it is a slow to moderate grower, it won’t need yearly repotting, only when the roots fill the container and grow out of the drainage holes.

Overwintering

As a native plant, black chokeberry is well adapted to winters in its growth range. If there happens to be a late frost, this can damage the blooms and affect later fruiting for that growing season. If your area does expect frost when your shrub is in bloom, consider covering the shrub with a sheet to protect it.

How to Get to Bloom

The shrub not blooming could be due to lack of sunlight or late pruning. Aronia blooms on old wood and if you pruned it in the early spring, you might have accidentally removed the flower buds. Pruning should be done soon after the shrub has finished flowering.

III. Types of Black Chokeberry

  • ‘Autumn Magic’ Black Chokeberry

The fragrant white flowers, large black berries, and fall leaf color of red and purple set Aronia melanocarpa ‘Autumn Magic’ apart. With its smaller size of 3 to 5 feet high and 2 to 4 feet wide, this shrub is a great choice. Zones 3-8

  • Iroquois Beauty Black Chokeberry

Iroquois Beauty Black Chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa ‘Morton’) is a compact, dwarf black chokeberry with 3/8 inch black berries. Growing to 4 feet high and wide, it easily fits in average-size gardens. Zones 3-8.

  • ‘McKenzie’ Black Chokeberry

Aronia melanocarpa ‘McKenzie’ is an attractive, upright shrub that typically grows 5-10 feet tall. The white blossoms attract pollinators to the garden in spring, and birds feast on the berries in autumn. Zones 3-8.

  • ‘Viking’ Black Chokeberry

Aronia melanocarpa ‘Viking’ blooms in a mass of white flowers somewhat earlier in the spring than other cultivars. This bee-friendly shrub attracts birds and butterflies to the garden. It grows 4-6 feet tall and wide. Zones 3-8

IV. Uses and Benefits 

Black chokeberry is loved by gardeners because it produces vivid black berries and beautiful foliage throughout the year. This shrub may be used as an ornamental that ensures winter interest. As the berries are edibles, black chokeberry is also suitable for kitchen gardens.

Black Chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa) Details

Common name Black Berried Aronia, Black Chokeberry
Botanical name Aronia melanocarpa
Plant type Native Plant
Hardiness zone 3a, 3b, 4a, 4b, 5a, 5b, 6a, 6b, 7a, 7b, 8a, 8b
Harvest time Fall
Height 3 ft. 0 in. - 10 ft. 0 in.
Width 3 ft. 0 in. - 10 ft. 0 in.
Sunlight Full sun (6 or more hours of direct sunlight a day)
Soil condition Clay
Flower color Pink
Leaf color Gold/Yellow