If you’re adding more edible perennials to your garden or homestead, be sure to start growing serviceberries! These delicious, healthy fruits aren’t as well-known as blueberries or blackberries, but are definitely worth having in your garden.
Here’s what to know about these North American natives and how to make them thrive in your space.
What are Serviceberries?
Depending on your location, you might also know these tasty fruits as Juneberries, shadblow berries, or Saskatoon berries. This is because they tend to ripen in June, when the shad fish “blow” (are numerous), and “Saskatoon” is the Cree name for these fruits (yes, the city was named after the berries).
Whatever they’re called in your area, Amelanchier berries are absolutely delicious. Furthermore, they’re packed with antioxidants, fiber, iron, vitamin E, and magnesium. They also have more vitamin C than blueberries!
The shrubs are perennial, very low-maintenance, resistant to most pests, and prolific. What’s not to love about these beauties?
Soil and Sun Requirements
These plants can adapt to almost every soil type, provided it’s neutral to slightly acidic and well-draining. Avoiding clay-rich soils that are prone to retaining water.
In terms of sun, serviceberries thrive best in full sunshine but can also do well in partial shade. The more sun they get, the more prolifically they’ll flower and fruit.
The first time I planted serviceberries, my shrubs all died. All of them. It turns out that I had planted them too close to a subterranean ant colony, and they disrupted the surrounding soil so much that none of my plants could root properly.
When scouting out your planting location, be sure to check the soil for potential insect interference!
How to Plant Them
These shrubs are self-fertile, so you don’t have to fret about planting different species for cross-pollination. You can plant one or 100, depending on your space. However, if you plant more than one, please know that these plants can spread out intensely.
Research the cultivar(s) you’ll be planting to determine their spread. Then, you can decide how much space you’d like between them. For example, if the ones you’re planting can spread 12 feet wide, planting them 6 feet apart will create a continuous fence or canopy.
Alternatively, you can plant them 20 feet apart and create permaculture guilds around them.
Plant bare-root trees in spring or autumn to allow roots to develop before intense winter or summer weather. When planting, dig a hole that’s just a bit larger than the root ball, and twice the width. Pack aged compost around the bare root, press good soil around it to settle it in, then add some mulch on top and water in well.
Companion Planting with Serviceberries
These shrubs are some of the easiest neighbors as far as companion planting goes. In fact, most people pair them with both taller trees and understory plants for aesthetic contrasts.
They grow beautifully alongside cherry, oak, and maple trees (especially Japanese maples), and contrast wonderfully with herbs such as anise hyssop, echinacea, and mints.
Watering and Feeding
Water serviceberry shrubs regularly for their first season to help them establish their root systems. Aim for one solid soak at the soil level every week if you’re in a temperate climate.
If it’s scorching and dry, increase this to twice weekly. In contrast, if there has been a lot of rainfall recently, reduce watering.
Ultimately, the soil around the shrubs’ trunks should be moist but not drenched. If you stick your finger into the soil up to the second knuckle and you can feel moisture, it’s fine. If you feel no dampness and there are tumbleweeds and cattle skulls nearby, give your plants a good drink.
After the first year, you only need to water during dry periods. If there’s been no rainfall for two or three weeks, give their roots a solid soak. That said, if the surrounding soil is quite sandy, you’ll need to water more often. This is because sand-heavy soils don’t retain moisture well, and the roots can dry out without adequate water.
Potential Growing Problems
Serviceberries are resistant to many diseases, which is why they’re so beneficial on a homestead. Quite simply, they take care of themselves unless there are extreme temperature or humidity fluctuations.
For example, extended periods of heat and humidity can cause powdery mildew or fire blight. They can also be prone to Entomosporium fungal infection. Always water these shrubs at root level rather than from above, and you should keep them from developing most fungal pathogens.
If you spot powdery mildew or rust settling in, you can treat them with an anti-fungal spray such as a copper fungicide.
Birds absolutely love these berries. We’re not talking about a mild appreciation here: we’re talking about full-on feeding frenzy obsession. As a result, they’re likely to inhale your entire crop unless you take protective measures.
The best way to keep them from eating all your berries is to drape the fruits with fine, bird-proof mesh netting when the berries are still red.
Harvesting and Preservation
Serviceberries are ripe when they turn from red to a deep, blue-purple. This is when their sweetness develops completely, and their seeds take on a slight almond flavor. Each berry tastes like a burst of blueberry-amaretto deliciousness that needs to be tasted to be believed.
Since you won’t want to let a single berry go to waste, make sure to preserve these in several different ways! Some people like to freeze them in batches to use in smoothies year-round. Others prefer them in jams, jellies, syrups, and even chutneys. You can dry them to eat in trail snacks or mix them into pemmican too.
Attract Birds and Pollinators
If you’re a bird lover, you’ll be delighted to know that serviceberries are beloved by many different species. In fact, you may find that you’re getting a lot more songbirds on your property once you’ve planted a few of these shrubs around.
Consider making serviceberry shrubs an integral part of your bird and butterfly garden. Their blossoms will attract numerous beneficial insects as well as hummingbirds, and their fruits will draw extraordinarily beautiful songbirds. Some of the fruits’ biggest fans include:
- Hermit Thrushes
- Rose-Breasted Grosbeaks
- Eastern Bluebirds
- Cedar Waxwings
- Gray Catbirds
- Baltimore Orioles
- Mourning Doves
- Various woodpeckers
There’s no downside to adding more edibles to your garden or homestead. Get some serviceberries established this year, and your family will be harvesting deliciousness from them for the next 50 to 150 years!