The healthy chokeberry is trendy as a superfood and also brings a rich yield to the home garden. We give tips on location requirements and the cultivation of Aronia berries.
Health-conscious people know the chokeberry as a superfood in the form of juices or powder from health food stores and well-stocked organic shops. But healthy Aronia can also be grown in our gardens and plenty of fruit can be harvested. We introduce you to the robust shrub and show you the most important steps from planting to harvesting and using the chokeberry.
Aronia: origin and characteristics
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The chokeberry ( Aronia ) originally comes from North America and belongs to the rose family (Rosaceae). Around 1900, the vitamin-rich, healthy fruit in Eastern Europe was improved for the first time for commercial fruit growing and planted in plantations. In recent years the chokeberry has been cultivated more and more often for pharmaceutical purposes or the food trade.
It is closely related to our local mountain ash or rowanberry ( Sorbus aucuparia ) and can even crossbreed with it. There are three species in the genus Aronia: The felty chokeberry ( Aronia arbutifolia ), the black chokeberry ( Aronia melanocarpa ), and the plum-leaved chokeberry ( Aronia x prunifolia ), a hybrid of the two.
The chokeberry is moisture-loving, loose, multi-shoot, mostly overhanging, and hardy shrubs up to two meters in height and width. The leaves of the Aronia are ovate to elliptical in shape and shiny green. The shrub is a special ornament in autumn when the foliage turns wine-red. In May, the blooming time of the white or pink-white Aronia blossoms, which sit together in umbrella umbels and are visited by numerous bees, begins.
Small fruits develop from them, the appearance of which is strongly reminiscent of rowan berries or apples ( Malus ) in miniature format. From a botanical point of view, the term “chokeberry” is not correct, because the black “berries” are, strictly speaking, collective note fruits. However, the term berry has become commonplace. From mid-August, the first chokeberry fruits, which are then black-violet in color, can be harvested. They weigh 1 to 1.5 g each and have deep red-purple flesh.
The taste of the Aronia is tart-sweet and not everyone’s cup of tea, which is why the chokeberry, which can also be eaten raw, is only offered in processed form. The rich Aronia bushes can produce 10 to 17 kg of fruit in good years, but birds also love to nibble on them.
Planting Aronia berries: location and procedure
Aronia bushes are adaptable and only thrive poorly on dry and at the same time calcareous soils. The optimal location for the chokeberry is in full sun to a little shade on slightly acidic, medium-heavy to slightly sandy, and well water-storing, humus-rich soils. The pH should be between 5.8 and 6.5. Chokeberries form a flat, compact root system, which is why the quality of the topsoil is primarily decisive for them.
Soils that are too heavy, clayey, but also too light, sandy soils can be improved with the help of high-quality potting soil, and thus made suitable for Aronia. The high compost content increases the water storage capacity and improves the soil structure. The high potassium requirement of the Aronia berry is also covered by our nutrient-rich potting soil.
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Due to its tolerable height, the Aronia is suitable for underplanting tall trees, in groups or individual positions in beds and large pots. They are ecologically very valuable, especially in wild fruit hedges, as the flowers and fruits serve as food for numerous insects and birds. The shrubs are best planted between October and the end of November at the beginning of winter dormancy. In this way, roots form first, which can then supply the new leaves with nutrients and water in the next spring. Even in early spring – the beginning of March – you can still plant. In summer, however, you should water these shrubs regularly until they are well-rooted. A layer of mulch helps to retain water and keep the pH in the slightly acidic range.
For hedges and dense group plantings, the planting distance for chokeberries is about 1 to 1.5 m, in individual positions 3 to 4 m. Loosen the soil over a large area and work in some compost if necessary. Then dig a planting hole and put the Aronia bush into it. It can also be planted a little deeper so that the branching of the trunk starts underground, as this promotes branching at the base.
Planting Aronia in a pot: To keep chokeberries in the bucket, the planter must be large enough and have a volume of at least 20 liters. The shallow root system requires a wide rather than deep pot. Good water drainage and a five-centimeter-high drainage layer made of expanded clay, sand, and gravel prevent waterlogging. A high-quality compost-based potting soil supports plant health and demonstrably promotes root growth through the release of humic substances. About every two to three years – in spring – the chokeberry should be moved to a larger planter and filled with fresh soil. When keeping chokeberries in pots, it is also worth applying a layer of mulch to maintain moisture and the low pH value.
Tip: The flowers appear before the ice saints and are very sensitive to frost. However, the Aronia blooms for a full two weeks, which is why it is generally not endangered by a late frost and is also suitable for locations where it is cold in spring.
Planting Aronia: summary
- Location: Full sun to a little shady
- Soil: Medium-heavy to slightly sandy, well water-storing, humic with a slightly acidic pH value
- Time: October – end of November; at the beginning of March
- Plant spacing: 1 – 1.5 m for hedges and group plantings; 3 – 4 m in a single position
- In the bucket: large planter (min. 20 l) and drainage layer
The most important maintenance measures
The undemanding chokeberry is a reward for gardening attention with abundant flowering and good yield. Freshly planted, however, the shrubs do not tolerate competition. Therefore, weeds around and in the plant should be pulled out regularly. In the following, you will find further tips for the most important care measures for Aronia bushes.
Fertilize and water the Aronia
You have to water the chokeberry regularly in the garden in the first two years after planting until a sufficient number of roots have formed. Flowering and yield suffer from dry periods in summer and spring. Therefore, in this case, it is also worth watering older plants. When kept in pots, the chokeberry needs regular water replenishment, especially on hot summer days.
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Chokeberries have a medium nutritional requirement and should always be replenished. With Aronia in the bucket, regular fertilization is particularly important due to the limited soil supply. The ideal time to apply fertilizer is between leaf shoots and flowering, i.e. between April and May. A predominantly organic long-term fertilizer can be incorporated into the surface of the bed or mixed with the potting soil when repotting.
Chokeberries are easy to cut. Most of the flowers and fruits are formed on five to six-year-old shoots, older branches bear significantly less. Seven to eight-year-old shoots should therefore be cut out in the winter months together with weak, thin new shoots – similar to black currants ( Ribes nigrum ). Ideally, a chokeberry bush consists of equal parts from one to six-year-old branches. In this way, the shrub will be able to produce plenty of fruit every year in the future.
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Diseases and pests on Aronia
Chokeberries are robust shrubs and rarely get sick. The notifiable, threatening fire blight ( Erwinia amylovora ) and powdery mildew ( Erysiphaceae) can occur on Aronia bushes. Occasionally frost moths (Operophtera ) and mountain ash moths (Argyresthia conjugally) are observed as pests. The fruits of the Aronia are particularly endangered by the infestation with the cherry vinegar fly (Drosophila suzukii ) and bird damage.
Aronia can be propagated from seeds, cuttings, and runners. Only the ‘Hugin’ variety can be propagated in a true-to-seed manner, all other varieties can only be propagated vegetatively in a true-to-variety manner. The seeds of the Aronia are cold germs that only germinate after a long cold stimulus.
Chokeberries naturally form runners now and then and can easily be propagated this way. The runners are pricked from the mother plant with a spade and moved to a new location.
In summer, cuttings or cuttings are cut from young, not yet woody shoot tips. Fill a seed pot with a mixture of sand and nutrient-poor potting soil. The approximately 10 cm long cuttings are peeled off to the tip after cutting and inserted deep into the moistened soil mixture. In the following weeks, the light and moist Aronia cuttings kept at 15 to 20 ° C take root.
Harvesting Aronia: timing and procedure
Depending on the variety, the harvest time begins in early to mid-August and lasts for about three weeks. You have to be quick when harvesting because birds can empty entire bushes in a short time. With a pair of secateurs, you cut off the fruits that are sitting together as a whole grape, wash them and then pluck the chokeberry from the stems. As the juice stains strongly, we recommend wearing gloves. Few people enjoy the tart, sweet fruits in their raw state, which is why the fresh fruits are usually processed further.
Use and storage of Aronia
Aronia berries remain firm and hard-skinned even when fully ripe. At 0 to 2 ° C, they can be stored in the refrigerator for up to four months. Frozen whole fruits can be stored for years and further processed if necessary. Aronia juice can be pressed from healthy fruits. This is strongly coloring and is therefore added to dairy products, light juices, cocktails, or liqueurs. The aromatic taste unfolds in Aronia jams and jellies, but also baked goods.
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The fruits of the Aronia can be dried at gentle temperatures of 50 to 60 ° C and retain most of their healthy ingredients. Especially vitamin C (137 mg per 100 g of fresh fruit), but also calcium and potassium are contained in the healthy Aronia berries. The coloring polyphenols – the so-called anthocyanins – have an antioxidant effect and could thus reduce the risk of cancer. In folk medicine, the juice from the chokeberry is used to lower blood pressure and cholesterol levels.
Are chokeberries poisonous?
Ripe chokeberries can also be eaten raw and are completely harmless to humans and animals. As in apples and almonds, the kernels in the fruits of the Aronia contain small amounts of amygdalin. When the kernels are bitten, the substance is released and converted into highly toxic hydrogen cyanide in the body. Cores swallowed undamaged and safely traversed the digestive tract without releasing amygdalin.
100 g of almond kernels contain about twice the amount of amygdalin than is found in 100 g of fresh Aronia berries. In addition, it is hardly possible to bite into all of the kernels, let alone consume this amount of tart and sour fruits at all. If the kernels are heated, a large part of the already low amygdalin content builds up. All processed Aronia products are therefore completely safe to enjoy.
Do you already know the hawthorn ( Crataegus )? The genus Crataegus consists of other ecologically valuable bird nutrient trees, which inspire with bee-friendly flowers and splendid autumn color.