"How can I have year round interest in my garden?" is a question frequently asked at The NCSU Arboretum (now the JC Raulston Arboretum). An easy answer is not always possible, but there are some plants which are simple to grow that offer unique attractions throughout the year. One such plant is Aronia arbutifolia, the Red Chokeberry. Red Chokeberry is a native, deciduous shrub that grows six to ten feet tall and can spread to ten feet wide. Its an upright, multi-stemmed shrub which readily suckers and spreads over time to form a colony of itself. Red Chokeberry tends to get leggy as it matures because foliage is lost from the lower part of the plant. Planting the shrub in masses or hedges will eliminate any visual unattractiveness due to this character.
The four season interest of Red Chokeberry begins in the Spring with delicate, white to pinkish flowers not unlike those of the Shadbush. In the Summer, the dark, glossy green foliage is very attractive and has the added interest of a soft grey, felt-like covering on the leaves' undersides. Autumn, Red Chokeberry's most dramatic season of the year, brings a cloud of beautiful, rich scarlet and wine red leaves. This fall color is especially striking when the shrub has been planted en masse. The fruit of Red Chokeberry are bright crimson berries which develop color in the fall. In Winter, the berries cheerful red persists on the brown stems adding a wonderful dimension of color to the grey tones of a dormant landscape. The berries have been used to treat scurvy because of their Vitamin C content, but they are very astringent! These berries are so bitter that even the birds will not eat them - hence the name 'Chokeberry'.
Red Chokeberry is tolerant of a wide range of growing conditions from low, wet soils to poor, dry ones. Full sun will give the best fall color and fruiting but the plant will do well in partial shade as well. Red Chokeberry can be propagated by seed, softwood cuttings, or division of existing colonies. There is an excellent cultivar of Red Chokeberry available called 'Brilliantissima'. This cultivar has more prolific flowering and fruiting than the species and exceptional fall color as well.
Planting Red Chokeberry in a mass or grouping will create a cove of landscape beauty year round. From Spring's sweet white blooms and Summer's deep green gloss to Autumn's flash of brilliant red and Winter's touch of crimson, Aronia arbutifolia brings its own unique character to all the seasons of our gardens.