Here in the Northwest, the serviceberry bushes, (Amelanchier canadensis), along the Interstate are the first to show their color in the spring. And what a display they can be – they are often completely covered with a cloud of white blossoms that give way to edible fruit in the early summer.
The Serviceberry is also known as the Juneberry, shadbush, sarviceberry, and saskatoon.
The fact that these plants show up along the freeway gives you an idea of their hardiness. They can range in size from a medium-sized bush to a multi-stemmed tree that can grow up to 30 feet tall. The taste of their fruit and the display of their blossoms can also vary between varieties. No matter which cultivar you choose, you can expect a brilliant display of fragrant flowers in the very early spring, and by June you’ll be eating tasty berries that are rich in iron and copper. The fruit can be eaten fresh, or you can make it into jams, jellies and wine. This plant is considered a valuable landscape plant in Europe, and is becoming more popular in the United States.
In addition to giving you a crop of edible berries, these trees also make a very attractive screening plant. If you’re looking for a plant that will give you privacy in the summer, brilliant fall color, and early spring blossoms, you might want to plant a cultivar that will sucker, so they will quickly fill in and create a tall informal hedge. You can always leave the berries to the birds, if you want.
The fruit is about the size of blueberries, and the berries are usually purple or dark blue. Some Serviceberry trees bear fruits that are red or white. Although the taste can vary from one variety to the next, the best berries are juicy, sweet, and taste a bit like sweet cherry with a hint of almond.
The Serviceberry can be found wild in every state in the continental United States, and they grow from southern Alaska to eastern Alberta. They are hardy in zones 3 to 7, with some cultivars being hardy down to USDA zone 1. Wild plants are an important food source for birds, deer, moose and other animals, and were once used extensively by Native Americans. When your Serviceberry fruit ripens, you’ll want to pick them quickly, because birds will find your bush and easily eat all the berries before you get to them.
There are many different species of Amelanchier. Some members of the genus grow close to the ground, while others can soar to fifty feet tall. While some will spread from shoots that grow from horizontal roots, others do not. Your local nursery should be able to tell you if the cultivar you buy will stay where it’s planted, or naturalize into a stand of small trees. Depending on the variety, the leaves will change color in the fall to purple, orange or yellow, and can put on an impressive show. During the winter, you’ll see the attractive gray bark.
Particularly tasty cultivars are ‘Moon Lake’, “Pembina’, “Forestburg’, and ‘Sturgeon’. ‘Autumn Brilliance’, as the name implies, will give you a spectacular show of orange, red or yellow leaves in the fall. ‘Ballerina’, a hybrid variety from the Netherlands, will grow as an ornamental upright shrub or small tree with larger flowers, and sweet, dark fruits up to half an inch large.
You can grow this hardy plant in sun or part shade, and many varieties are drought resistant. All are cold hardy. Some experts suggest that Serviceberries will do best if planted in fall instead of spring. This gives their roots plenty of time to get established before the tops break dormancy in the spring. Prune your bushes in the winter to remove all wood older than four years. You can also prune the bushes to stay short enough so you can pick the small fruits without a ladder. If your variety grows as a small tree, you don’t need to prune every year. These trees are related to roses, so they can develop rust and other plant diseases common to this family.