How to Grow and Care for Chokecherries

Common Name Chokecherry, bitter-berry, wild cherry
Botanical Name Prunus virginiana
Family Rosaceae
Plant Type Tree, shrub
Mature Size 30 ft. tall, 20 ft. wide
Sun Exposure Full, partial
Soil Type Loamy, sandy, clay, moist
Soil pH Acidic, neutral, alkaline
Bloom Time Spring, summer
Flower Color White
Hardiness Zones 2-7 (USDA)
Native Area North America
Toxicity Toxic to people, toxic to pets

Chokecherry Care

This plant is extremely tolerant of many conditions so there are only a few main care requirements for growing a chokecherry tree:

  • Place the tree in full sun if you hope to harvest fruit.
  • Keep soil moist, not soggy. However, the chokecherry tree is also drought tolerant and can grow in areas without an abundance of water.
  • Add compost or fertilize to enhance soil, though it is not necessary for this accommodating tree.


The chokecherry is known to create thickets and can choke out other vegetation, making this plant invasive and weedy outside of its native growing zones. For example, Alaska has reported cases of invasive chokecherry harming native plants and wildlife. Be sure to check your local regulations before planting chokecherry.



John Pennell /


Full sun exposure encourages more fruit production. However, the chokecherry is shade tolerant and can be grown in partially shaded areas.


Moist soil is ideal for chokecherries, but this plant is not picky about its soil conditions. The chokecherry can be found growing in loamy, sandy, and clay soil and can tolerate slightly acidic to slightly alkaline soil pH.


The chokecherry tree is naturally found near water sources, so adequate watering is key to healthy, plentiful growth and fruit. However, some neglect will not damage this plant. The chokecherry is somewhat drought-tolerant and can grow with minimal water. It is best to keep the soil moist, not wet. 

Temperature and Humidity

This plant is both cold- and heat-tolerant and can be grown in USDA zones 2 to 7. These hardy plants can be grown in a wide range of climates and conditions.


Because chokecherry plants can thrive in a variety of soil conditions, they generally do not have specific fertilizing requirements. However, if you want to improve soil conditions, you can add compost or add a well-balanced fertilizer in the spring to encourage healthy growth. To determine the best fertilizer and amounts to add, a soil test can be used to examine any nutrient deficiencies in your soil. 

Types of Chokecherries

Three varieties of chokecherry trees exist that are very closely related with slight variations in the color of fruits but have geographical differences, including:

  • Eastern chokecherry (Prunus virginiana, variety virginiana)
  • Western chokecherry (P. virginiana, variety demissa)
  • Black chokecherry (P. virginiana, variety melanocarpa)

There are many chokecherry cultivars of Prunus virginiana used for commercial landscaping and fruit production. The cultivars readily available for the home include:

  • Prunus virginiana ‘Schubert’: This tree has green leaves in the spring that turn burgundy in the summer, blooms light pink flowers, and produces an abundance of dark red–purple fruit that birds love.
  • Prunus virginiana ‘Canada Red’: This cultivar blooms white and was created to eliminate the plant’s suckering problem. It also has green to bright red foliage, which is less purple than ‘Schubert’. ‘Canada Red’ is a sport shoot of ‘Schubert’.
  • Prunus virginiana ‘Boughen’s Chokeless’ or ‘Boughen’s Sweet’: This tree’s fruits are larger, sweeter, and non-astringent in taste. It grows as a shrub to 12 feet tall.
  • Prunus virginiana ‘Maskinonge’: This cultivar also produces fruit that is non-astringent in taste. This bush does not heavily sucker and grows to 12 feet tall.


Proper pruning will ensure that the chokecherry does not become unproductive or unmanageable. It is best to prune in the late winter or early spring. The chokecherry can be pruned into a shrub or a tree.

To train a chokecherry into a tree, prune away branches near the center of the trunk to enable adequate airflow. Remove any low-growing branches.

If you’re looking for a smaller, shrub-like plant, prune away one-third of the old growth. This encourages new, productive growth while maintaining the size and shape of the shrub.

Propagating Chokecherries

 Propagating chokecherries can easily be done by means of cuttings:

  1. Using clean, sharp snips, cut away a stem around 6 inches long. Trim the cutting at a slanted angle. 
  2. Trim away the bottom set of leaves. 
  3. Dip the cut end into rooting hormone and place the cutting into moist potting soil or peat moss. 
  4. Keep the cutting in a bright, warm location until established. 
  5. Transplant to an outdoor location or container.

How to Grow Chokecherries From Seed

Growing a chokecherry from seed requires patience but is simple to accomplish:

  1. Chokecherry seeds must go through cold stratification before germinating. Place the seeds in the refrigerator for three months to achieve this.
  2. After this, plant the seeds in the spring in moist, rich soil. They can be planted either in a pot or in the garden. 
  3. Keep the soil consistently moist with regular watering.

Potting and Repotting Chokecherry

The chokecherry can be grown into a tree or kept in containers and maintained as a smaller shrub. Because they are not particular about the type of soil used, average potting soil usually makes a good option. Add compost or fertilize periodically to give the potted plant the nutrients it needs.

Keep potted chokecherry plants in a sunny location with enough room to branch out and grow. Be sure to water regularly, as a potted plant does not have access to underground water sources. When the chokecherry fills the pot and has no room to grow, it is time to repot. Gently tip the chokecherry onto its side and loosen the roots from the pot. Place the plant in a slightly larger pot and fill it with fresh soil. Water generously.


Because the chokecherry is very cold tolerant, there is not much required to overwinter this plant. Adding a thick layer of mulch in the fall can help insulate the roots and protect them from the cold. For potted chokecherries, it is best to move the plant to an area that is somewhat protected from the cold, such as in a garage. You can also create an insulation layer around the pot by encircling the pot in chicken wire and filling in the open space with mulch or hay. 

Common Pests & Plant Diseases

Common pests that attack the chokecherry tree include the prairie tent caterpillar, eastern tent caterpillar, and aphids.

The tree is susceptible to X-disease (also known as cherry buckskin disease), a bacterial disease spread by leafhoppers, which causes purple holes in the leaves and deforms the fruit.

Other diseases that afflict this tree include honey fungus, black knot, and canker fungus.

How to Get Chokecherries to Bloom

Bloom Months

Chokecherry trees bloom from April or May to early June or through July.

What Do Chokecherry Flowers Look and Smell Like?

Chokecherry flowers bloom as dense cylindrical clusters of white petals. The clusters range from 3 to 6 inches long. The flowers have a sweet, almond-like fragrance.

How to Encourage More Blooms

The chokecherry tree that is grown in full sun in open sites will likely flower and fruit more abundantly.

Common Problems With Chokecherries

Although this tree is forgiving of many conditions, it can still present a couple of issues. Look for these problems:


Native chokecherry trees have suckering traits, which means they can grow out of control fairly fast. However, they also produce larger fruit and blooms.

Weak Branches

The branches are weak and can become damaged, often breaking during ice storms.


  • The fruits that drop are small and they are not squishy so they won’t produce a mess. The fruits are also quickly squirreled away by wildlife.

  • The chokecherry tree is often used as a windbreak, for natural walls or barriers, as a source of food and shelter for native animals and birds, and to beautify an area. The tree does well in a wide range of soil types and is used in mass plantings for erosion control because it forms thickets by its rhizomes.

  • No, deer browse this tree, especially young trees in the winter.

  • The berries from chokecherry trees can be harvested as early as July or August and into the fall.

  • These are two different plants but they are in the same family. Chokecherry (Prunus virginiana) grows to 30 feet tall and berries turn black as they ripen. Red chokeberry (Aronia arbutifolia) and black chokeberry (Aronia melanocarpa) are shorter shrubs that grow to 10 feet tall and their berries are much tarter in taste.

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