Thursday, November 17, 2011

Free Fertilizer!

Before, since I don't have as many trees in front,
most to these leaves came from the street
Every year at this time I see so many people raking up and throwing out an excellent, free material for building their soil and feeding their plants and lawn. By mowing in the leaves you return nutrients to the soil, build organic matter, cut down on disposal or transportation costs and, best of all, you don’t need to bend over to pick up the leaves.

After.  10 minutes later, the leaves are 'gone'.

Last season I blogged about this same topic, and you can look back there to read about more good reasons to mow in your leaves. I can also refer you to a recent post from MassHort on fall preparations for more about mowing leaves. They also recommend lowering the mower blades for the last mowings of the season. I did that this year and I got some pretty clean results.  There are some special cases that argue against mowing the leaves back into the soil, but there are many more cases where the benefits far outweigh any downside. So for the last mowing/raking of the year, lower the blades a little and just run over those leaves.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Chokeberries, they gotta find a new name

NOT Burning Bush!  This a Red Chokeberry,
 Aronia arbutifolia 'Brilliantissima' growing at the edge of a parking lot.

Flowers of Red Chokeberry in late May-early June
The Chokeberries are medium-sized shrubs native to eastern North America and have landscape attributes that make them good replacements for the invasive ‘Burning Bush’, Euonymus alatus. Like the Euonymus, these shrubs will grow under a wide variety of conditions and they have good fall color. In fact, this year seems to be an exceptional year for chokeberry foliage! In general, Red Chokeberry has more intense orange to red fall foliage, while Black Chokeberry is more a crimson red. Unlike the Euonymus, the Chokeberries do have showy pinkish-to-white 5-petaled flowers, they have edible berries in the fall and, as natives, they are not invasive.

The two most commonly available species of Chokeberry are: the Red, Aronia arbutifolia, and the Black, Aronia melanocarpa. There is a third species, Aronia prunifolia, the Purplefruit Chokeberry, which may be a natural hybrid of the red and black chokeberries.

Pair of Red Chokeberries in a mixed native planting,
early June.
Red Chokeberry is an upright suckering shrub that will grow 6-12’ tall. Besides the bright red-orange fall foliage, it produces bright red berries that will persist into December. These fruits are edible, but bitter, which is probably why they do not get eaten right away by birds. While it will grow under a wide range of soil conditions from boggy conditions to dry soils, it prefers the moister conditions. Its native range is from the southeastern US to southern New England. The most commonly available form of Red Chokeberry is the cultivar ‘Brilliantissima’, noted for profuse quantities of glossy, red berries.

The Black Chokeberry is a smaller suckering shrub, growing to 3-6’ tall and wide. In addition to its crimson fall foliage it produces quantities of black berries that are eaten up by wildlife by November. Unlike the Red Chokeberry, the black berries, while tart, are more palatable and are used to make jellies and pemmican. These berries are notable for containing high levels of antioxidants and minerals. I went out to sample a berry, but they were already dried up; the taste was reminiscent of a dried fig. Next season I will take a taste while they still have some juice in them. The native range for Black Chokeberry is in the cooler climates of North America, mainly in the Northeast, from Michigan to Maine. There are several cultivars of Black Chokeberry available. The one I have is called Iroquois Beauty™ (‘Morton’). It is listed as a dwarf, growing to about 4’ tall and wide. I have not done any significant pruning in the 5 years I've had this plant.

Black Chokeberry, mid-Fall color.

Same plant at peak color in early November

These shrubs are tolerant of salt, drought, flooding and compacted soils. Other than in full shade, one of these Aronia species will grow nearly anywhere. In my work I look to use them in borders, mixed hedgerows and along woodland edges. Their foliage is less dense than that of the invasive Euonymus, so are better players in a mixed composition.  Now if they could just find a better name...