Saskatoon Serviceberry Plant Profile

Round berries in shades of pink ripening to blue with bright green oval serrated leaves.

 G. L. Britton / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

The Saskatoon Serviceberry tree is native to North America and is found throughout the North, Central and Midwestern United States, including Alaska, and western Canada. Its name is derived from a Cree word (misâskwatômina) meaning “the fruit of the tree of many branches." The city of Saskatoon in Saskatchewan is named for it. The tree, which is technically a shrub, grows to a height of eight to ten feet, and reaches six or seven feet in width. It provides three seasons of visual interest, with fragrant, pendulous white blossoms in spring tha attract butterflies, juicy purple berries (also called Juneberries) in summer which are beloved by birds, and a dramatic autumn color switch when the leaves turn from bluish green to brilliant shades of red, orange and yellow.

Though some gardeners find the berries to be messy, you may find your array of songbirds becomes more diverse with a serviceberry planted in your yard. Some people enjoy the berries also; they have a blueberry-like flavor and can be used in much the same way for making pies, cobblers, or preserves. Like blueberries, they also contain many beneficial nutrients, including antioxidants, magnesium, iron, vitamin E, and fiber: toss them in your morning smoothie for a nutritional boost. The berries can be frozen for future use. The taste can be somewhat bland owing to their being more sweet than tart, and, like blueberries, fresh lemon zest or juice is often used to boost their flavor in recipes.

Botanical Name Amelanchier alnifolia
Common Name Saskatoon Serviceberry, Western Serviceberry, Indian Pear, Prairie Berries, Juneberries
Plant Type Shrub
Mature Size 8 - 10 feet
Sun Exposure Full sun to partial shade
Soil Type Moist, well-drained, slightly acidic
Soil pH 5.5 - 7.0
Bloom Time Spring
Flower Color White
Hardiness Zones 4 to 7
Native Areas North America (Northeast and Midwest USA, Canada)
Large white flowers on shrub with large green leaves in woodland with boulders and evergreens.
The Saskatoon Serviceberry's large white blossoms are plentiful and fragrant in early spring. J Brew / Flickr / CC BY-SA 2.0

How to Grow Saskatoon Serviceberry

This is an excellent landscape specimen for planting along the edges of woodland gardens or large border plantings. The branches can grow quite thick, and benefit from yearly pruning in early spring or autumn. These shrubs can also be used to form a hedge or thicket if desired; expect them to fill up with birds as the thick growth makes a great hiding place for them, especially when filled with berries. These shrubs grow somewhat slowly, but over time can easily form colonies, so keep an eye out for root suckers and trim them to keep growth under control; if a hedge is desired, plant them five feet apart. Young plants will begin to produce berries in their third year.

There are two Saskatoon Serviceberry cultivars that can accommodate different size and shape preferences: the "Regent" is a compact version that grows only four to six feet tall and wide, and the "Standing Ovation" grows from twelve to fifteen feet high but only two to three feet wide.

Soil

This shrub grows best in a slightly acidic, moist (but not wet) and well-drained soil. It will tolerate alkaline soil and is also tolerant of clay soil. To make your soil more acidic, add some peat moss, pine needles or coffee grounds. This will also improve texture and drainage of clay soil.

Light

The Saskatoon Serviceberry does equally well in full sun or partial sun. It should get a minimum of four hours of direct light per day to ensure proper fruiting of its berries in summer.

Water

This shrub doesn't have any special water needs beyond normal rainfall and can be somewhat drought tolerant. In extended periods of drought, however, lasting more than two weeks, or more than a week with daily temperatures over 85F, a deep watering at the base of the tree will help keep it healthy. Prolonged drought may affect the production of berries, also, as is found with other berries.

Temperature and Humidity

The Saskatoon Serviceberry has a fairly narrow hardiness range and does not flourish in areas with extreme temperatures. Very cold winters or very hot summers are not suitable for this shrub's growing habit. Since it is somewhat prone to mildew, humidity can also be an issue.

Propagation

These plants can be propagated from seed collected from the ripe fruits. Clean the seeds immediately to prevent any fermentation. Seeds can be sown in fall or, using a cold-stratification method, in spring.

Care and Maintenance

Beyond yearly pruning, the Saskatoon Serviceberry requires no special care. If the root system becomes exposed, add some topsoil around the base. A light dressing of manure every other autumn will keep the root system healthy. There are a few pests to be aware of with this shrub, including fireblight, mildew, rust, fungal leaf spots, and cankers. Rabbits and mice may also enjoy chewing on the bark; one natural cure for this is spraying with a solution of water with shaved Irish Spring soap (dissolve one shaved bar into one quart hot water, then dilute with two gallons on water; shake before using).

Toxicity

The seeds of the Saskatoon Serviceberry can be toxic if eaten in a large quantity (similar to apple seeds; indeed, this plant is more closely related to apple trees than to blueberry shrubs). This toxicity is destroyed after cooking or drying. To be on the safe side, don't eat too many fresh serviceberries.