Serviceberries are dual-purpose plants. They are planted as ornamentals for their masses of showy, white flowers in early spring and colorful fall foliage. They are also grown for their edible fruit. The blueberry-like fruit may be eaten fresh, baked in pies or other desserts, canned, or made into wine, jams, or preserves.
Serviceberries are members of the genus Amelanchier. Over 25 species of Amelanchier are found in North America. Five species are native to Iowa. Other common names for Amelanchier species include Juneberry, saskatoon, sarvis or sarvistree, shadblow, shadbush, and mountain blueberry.
Serviceberries are most often grown as ornamentals in the home landscape. Several varieties are excellent landscape plants. 'Autumn Brilliance' was introduced by Bill Wandell of Urbana, Illinois. It possesses white flowers in spring, blue-green foliage which turns orange to red in fall, and attractive gray bark. 'Autumn Brilliance' has a moderately spreading branching habit. At maturity, it may be 20 to 25 feet tall and 15 feet wide. 'Princess Diana' originated in Wisconsin and was introduced in 1987. It was selected for its abundant white flowers and outstanding red fall color. 'Princess Diana' is often grown as a multi stemmed tree, but it can be trained to a single stem. It grows approximately 25 feet tall and 15 to 20 feet wide. 'Cumulus' was introduced in 1972. It was selected for its upright growth habit. This variety may grow 25 to 30 feet tall with a spread of 15 feet. 'Cumulus' is covered with white flowers in early spring. Its leaves turn yellow-orange to scarlet in the fall. 'Strata' was selected by Dr. Ed Hasselkus of the University of Wisconsin for its horizontal branching habit. Its leaves are tinged with orange or red in the fall. 'Strata' grows approximately 20 to 25 tall and has a similar spread.
While the fruit on all Amelanchier species are edible, saskatoons (Amelanchier alnifolia) and its varieties are the most productive and produce the best quality fruit. 'Smokey' is a 6- to 10-foot-tall shrub. Plants sucker freely. Its fruit are large, sweet, and mild flavored. 'Northline' is a 10-foot-tall, free-suckering shrub. It has consistently produced the highest yields in trials conducted in Canada. The fruit are large. 'Pembina' produces large, sweet, full flavored berries. The shrubs reach a height of 10 feet. Unlike other varieties, 'Pembina' produces few suckers. 'Thiessen' was found growing near Langham, Saskatchewan and was introduced in 1976. It is perhaps the largest fruiting variety with good flavor and productivity. However, the fruit may ripen unevenly. 'Regent' is a commonly sold variety. However, plants are low yielding and the fruit lack full flavor.
Serviceberries grow well in a wide range of soils. They grow best in moist, well-drained soils with a pH of 6.0 to 7.8. Avoid poorly drained, heavy clay soils.
Serviceberries grown as ornamentals can be planted in partial shade to full sun. When growing saskatoons for their fruit, plant them in full sun.
Saskatoons are often planted in hedgerows in home gardens. Plants should be spaced 6 feet apart within the hedgerow. Rows should spaced 9 to 12 feet apart. Saskatoons should begin to flower and bear fruit in 3 to 4 years. They should reach peak production in 8 to 10 years.
Harvest saskatoons when the berries turn from pink to deep purple. Birds are the biggest threat to the saskatoon crop. The use of plastic netting is the best way to protect the ripening fruit from birds. The plastic netting must be placed over the plants and then secured to the ground to prevent bird entry from below the netting.
This article originally appeared in the June 13, 1997 issue, p. 91.
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