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Commentary: Berry mystery unraveled

Don Kinzler identified this reader-submitted photo as yellow chokecherries, which occasionally grow among the more common type of chokecherries. Submitted photo

Q: What kind of berry is this? It's in the tree row with our chokecherries. It tastes like a chokecherry but is much sweeter. — Sharon Ulmer, Edgeley, N.D.

A: The fruits in the photo are yellow chokecherries. Identifying characteristics of leaf shape, prominent white dots on the twigs, called lenticels, and the arrangement of the fruits in their cluster are all the same as the more common purple-black fruited chokecherry. The main difference is the fruit color (and probably sweetness), and yellow types are sometimes larger in size.

Yellow-fruited chokecherries are occasionally found in the wild along rivers and creeks, growing among the more common type. Longtime botanist O.A. Stevens mentions yellow-fruited chokecherries in his book "Handbook of North Dakota Plants." One of the yellow-fruited types that originated in Wyoming has been marketed under the name Yellowbird Chokecherry.

Q: Our two potted cherry and patio tomato plants have many unripened fruits and were very healthy until about two weeks ago. The leaves began to droop, turn yellow and develop small brown spots. Now, the leaves have mostly turned brown and the plants looks sick. We have kept them watered and apply Miracle-Gro tomato fertilizer every two to three weeks. Any thoughts would be welcome. — Rich.

A: I'm afraid it might be too late for this year to resurrect the badly damaged tomato plants, although you still might harvest a few edible tomatoes. But let's work on next year.

Small pots can be a bane for a healthy tomato root system. A pot the size of a 5-gallon bucket is a minimum for best tomato growth.

Tomatoes in pots develop fungal and bacterial blight diseases easily, probably because frequent watering increases foliage wetness and disease spread. To prevent disease, water only the soil and avoid splashing, and next year apply an all-purpose garden fungicide containing the active ingredient chlorothalonil when the foliage is still healthy.

Q: I planted a Quickfire hydrangea in 2013 and it was beautiful until last year, when it appeared to have symptoms of chlorosis as it does again this summer. Both years, I've applied liquid iron to the foliage and soil, but it continues to have yellowed leaves. Is there hope for this shrub? It receives some shade from the hot afternoon sun, and is mulched with wood chips. I have four other hydrangeas that winter well and are doing beautifully. — Sandy Gjervold, Perley, Minn.

A: Iron chlorosis problems are often linked to soil quality and moisture issues. If the soil in that particular spot is very heavy clay, then iron deficiency chlorosis is more common. If the area stays soggy or is poorly drained, a too-moist, heavy soil can magnify chlorosis, even though hydrangeas like moisture.

To remedy the situation, temporarily remove the mulch and incorporate as much peat moss into the surrounding soil as you can without injuring roots. Peat moss will mellow the soil and improve drainage while retaining proper moisture for hydrangea growth. Hydrangeas like a soil rich in organics. Continue the iron treatment to both foliage and soil this year, and maybe next.