University of Vermont Extension 
Department of Plant and Soil Science

Anytime News Article


Dr. Leonard Perry, Extension Professor
University of Vermont

You may know the serviceberry (Amelanchier) as Saskatoon, Shad, Shadblow, Shadbush, Juneberry, Sarvis tree, or Servicetree.  You may recognize it as that large shrub or small tree blooming in natural areas, with white flowers in early to mid spring.  In addition to its attractive spring flowers, this hardy and native plant has multi-season interest both to wildlife and humans.
The fruits of serviceberry ripen in midsummer, turning initially from red to a bluish-black.  Like blueberries, they’re tasty fresh as well as in pies or jellies, if you can beat the birds to them.  Native Americans dried the berries, mixing them with dried meat and melted fat to form cakes called “pemmican”.  In fall, the leaves turn attractive shades of orange to dark red.     

Serviceberries are native to moist woodlands of northern, temperate climates such as North America.  They can reach 10 to 25 feet high, and 6 to 20 feet wide with a moderate growth rate.  Light requirements vary with type of serviceberry.  They’re quite hardy, at least to USDA zone 4 (-20 to -30 degrees F), and possibly colder depending on species.
Although this plant often goes by several names, these actually refer to different species.  The Saskatoon berry (A. alnifolia) is the lowest, only reaching 5 to 8 feet high and is a main fruit
crop in prairie provinces of Canada.  It will withstand alkaline soils.  ‘Regent’ and ‘Smoky’ are two cultivars (cultivated varieties) grown for their fruit, not ornamental qualities, and they tend to spread.  ‘Obelisk’ is good for fruit, and being upright is used in hedges too.  ‘Northline’ and ‘Thiessen’ have large fruits, and are very hardy (USDA zone 2). 
The Downy serviceberry (A. arborea) is one of the tallest, growing to 30 feet in many areas, has multi-stems, and is often confused with the Juneberry.  Very similar is the Juneberry or Serviceberry (A. canadensis), whose fruits are quite attractive to birds.  Its silvery gray bark and nice branching are attractive in landscapes.  Two cultivars you may find of this are ‘Prince William’ and Rainbow Pillar (more upright).  Similar is the Lamarck serviceberry (A. x lamarckii) only with larger purple fruits, more vigor, and more tolerant of part shade.
The Apple serviceberry (A. x grandiflora) can be grown with one or multiple trunks.  They produce larger fruits than many other of their relatives, also have nice branching and silvery-gray bark.  Unlike others, these prefer part shade (2 to 6 hours a day of direct sun) but will tolerate full sun (6 hours or more a day).  For this species, look for Autumn Brilliance (with great orange-red fall leaves, and resistant to leaf spots and fireblight), ‘Forest Prince’ (disease resistant leaves and flowers along branches), or ‘Princess Diana’ (bright red fall leaves). 
The Allegheny serviceberry  (A. laevis) is also known as the Sarvis tree.  Its fruit are similar to the Juneberry, only juicier and sweeter.  They can be grown with single or multiple trunks.  A unique feature is their emerging leaves which are reddish, contrasting nicely with the white flowers.  They prefer part shade, but will tolerate full sun.  There are a few cultivars of this species  including ‘Cumulus’ (good fall color and more upright habit). 
Serviceberries are easy to grow.  They’ll tolerate many soils, as long as well-drained.  Best are soils that are slightly acidic with lots of organic matter.  Keep well-watered during their first two years in the ground.  Organic mulches help preserve soil moisture in addition to improving soils as they break down.  Fertilizing is often not needed in good soils, especially if compost is added yearly.  Otherwise, you might lightly sprinkle a low-analysis fertilizer in spring (such as 5-3-4), or such as alfalfa meal, blood meal, or fish emulsion.
Avoid planting beneath them (vines that ramble on the ground are good) as many have shallow surface roots.  You can prune out a few branches if needed in late winter (before buds begin to swell) to allow more light, and to enhance the branch structure (and prevent crossing branches).  Don’t prune out too much young growth, as plants fruit on wood from the previous year.     
For pests, they may get Japanese beetles or lace bugs, although these usually are not serious.  For diseases, they may get powdery mildew in wet years and sites, fireblight, and rust.  Fireblight looks like the tips of branches were burned by fire, but is caused by a bacterial disease that gets on other members of the rose family too, such as apples.  Prune these off when seen, and dip pruners in a diluted bleach solution afterwards to disinfect them.
The rust disease looks like its name—rusty colored spots on leaves that begin as yellow spots on new leaves.  Since this disease needs cedars or junipers as an alternate host, keeping these at least a few hundred feet (best is at least a mile) away will prevent this disease.  Since this often is not practical or possible, you can apply sprays labeled for this rust disease (according to label directions), as leaves emerge but not during bloom times.  Spraying once symptoms appear is too late.  Depending on the weather it may be worse some years and not show up in others.  Plants tolerate this disease as well as mildew, so sprays are seldom needed.
Serviceberries can be cropped for fruit, or grown in landscapes either in masses or singly as specimen plants.   They make nice corner plants to buildings or adjacent to patios and walks.  Keep in mind that they’re only partly self-fertile, meaning that to ensure fruiting you’ll need at least two plants for cross pollination within about 50 to 75 feet. 

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