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Ask a Gardener: Looking for a plant that looks and grows perfectly? Check out this one

Aronia plants look and grow perfectly for gardeners and even produces masses of berries that are full of antioxidants.
Aronia plants look and grow perfectly for gardeners and even produces masses of berries that are full of antioxidants. McClatchy

Every gardener has felt the intense satisfaction of finding the exact right plant that looks, grows and generally performs just as you hoped it would.

Such a plant grows in my garden, and I want to highly recommend it to every gardener, as it’s not well known or appreciated.

It’s aronia, a deciduous shrub known also as black chokecherry. Its qualities are myriad: it’s a green bush, quite polite about staying about 3-8 feet high, though it sometimes suckers after a few years, but it’s nothing a sharp shovel can’t take care of. The plants take well to pruning, and in autumn its leaves turn a brilliant red.

Maybe best of all, every year, without any particular care, it produces masses of shiny purple berries, all extremely high in antioxidants. It ranks first, displacing blueberries, which most people think of as the best for you. Although the berries are tart, I discovered that the tart aronia juice was a perfect 50/50 partner with the gallons of overly sweet apple juice we produce each year. And it makes a lovely jam. I’m going to try making an aronia leather this year.

So numerous are aronia berries on every bush, that I don’t mind the birds nabbing a few. They’re much easier to harvest than strawberries, raspberries or blueberries, as the berries grow in clusters and are easily snipped off.

Commercial growers in the U.S. are trying to develop markets for the aronia juice and are even working on crossing aronia plants with pear plants to sweeten the berries. Though the plants are native to Southern Canada and the eastern United States, the plants are much better known and used in Europe and China.

Question: Is it true that you can make summer cuttings from many plants. Seems like it would be a good way to get free plants. They’ve become so expensive to buy.

Answer: Yes, they have gotten expensive. But running a full service nursery is no cake walk these days.

Making summer cuttings to produce more plants is an age-old practice among gardeners and can be quite successful, and the list of woody plants you can root is long. I encourage you to try a few of your favorites. July is a good time to do it. Any free plant is a bonus. And they make great presents to gardener friends.

It’s of utmost importance to keep cuttings moist. Take a 3- to 5-inches long tip cutting. Remove leaves from the bottom half of each cutting. Do multiple cuttings to ensure that at least some will succeed. Root the cuttings in pots with moistened seed-starting mix.

Insert the cuttings into the pots to the level of the lowest leaves. To achieve the needed high humidity, put the pot inside a plastic bag, using straws or wooden sticks to hold the plastic off the cuttings.

Keep the bag in bright light but not direct sunlight; open the bag occasionally to check for drying. Expect rooting within two to six weeks. When strongly rooted (pull on the plant to determine if it is), transplant outdoors. Mulch heavily and continue to water until the rains start.

I always get a sense of pride by bringing a cutting to life. Try it. It’s fun.

Q: I’ve had an on-going problem with powdery mildew on my squash plants. Will anything combat it?

A: Next year, be sure to get plants or seeds that are resistant to powdery mildew.

Here’s something to try now. Researchers in Japan discovered that baking soda sprays, applied weekly, controlled powdery mildew. Use a teaspoon per quart of water. In the experiments, the baking soda both prevented powdery mildew and stopped the development of the disease when in an early stage.

I am trying this in my garden this year; let me know if it works for you. Hopefully the answer is yes, as powdery mildew is nasty.

Kathleen Bander of Bellingham is a life-long gardener and Master Gardener. Her column will appear in The Bellingham Herald weekly through the summer growing season. If you have a gardening question you'd like answered in the column, please email it to newsroom@bellinghamherald.com. For more gardening information online, go to whatcom.wsu.edu/ch/mg.html.

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