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How to Grow Serviceberry (Shadbush), a Native Shrub

Caren White is a Master Gardener and instructor at Home Gardeners School. She has been associated with Rutgers Gardens for over a decade.

A. canadensis grown as a multi-stemmed tree.

A. canadensis grown as a multi-stemmed tree.

What are Serviceberry?

Serviceberry (Amelanchier spp.) is a genus of deciduous shrubs and small trees that are members of the rose family and native to the Northern Hemisphere. Other common names include shadwood, shadblow, juneberry and saskatoon.

North America has the most species of this genus. There is literally a serviceberry for every ecological niche. They are an important food source for animals including rabbits and deer. They are also the host plants for many butterflies and moths.

Several of the species also produce berries which are used in pies and jams. Native Americans used the berries to make pemmican, a nutritious food that was made with meat, fat and berries. Serviceberry berries taste like blueberries with a hint of almond. The berries ripen in June, hence the name “juneberry.”

Depending on the species, serviceberries grow as shrubs or small trees. Both the shrubs and the trees are multi-stemmed. The bark is usually smooth and a silvery gray in color which is especially attractive in the winter when the leaves have fallen revealing the trunks.

Some species of serviceberries are grown as ornamentals for their spring flowers and bright red fall foliage. The flowers normally open in April, about the time that shad travel upstream to spawn giving these plants their nicknames of shadbush, shadblow and shadwood.

A. alnifolia berries.  They look and taste like blueberries.

A. alnifolia berries. They look and taste like blueberries.

How to Grow Serviceberries

The best time to plant a serviceberry is in the fall so that it has a chance to get established before winter. When planted in the spring, they will need time to get established so flowering and berry production will be delayed.

Most species like to grow in full sun, but will tolerate a little shade. Flower and fruit production is not as good in shade though.

They prefer slightly acidic soil, pH 5.5 – 7.0 which is moist but well-drained. They can be used in the garden or planted along streams or ponds. Water well for the first year after they are planted as they become established in their new home. After that first year, there is no need to water them except during periods of prolonged drought. As native plants, they are adapted to our growing conditions.

There is no need to fertilize your serviceberry. You should spread a 3 inch layer of mulch around the root area. The mulch will help the soil retain moisture and prevent weeds from growing that will compete with your plant for water and nutrients.

Do not allow the mulch to touch the stems or trunks. The popular cones of mulch that you see all over are dangerous for trees and shrubs. Piling mulch against the trunks of trees and shrubs allows insects and small animals to take up residence and chew the bark, eventually killing the tree or shrub. Always leave several inches between your ring of mulch and the trunks of your trees and shrubs.

A. lamarckii showing its brilliant fall foliage.

A. lamarckii showing its brilliant fall foliage.

How to Prune Serviceberries

Like all trees and large shrubs, pruning your serviceberry will keep it healthy and help it to live longer. For the larger serviceberries, you can prune and maintain them as single stem trees. If you choose to do that, keep an eye out for root suckers.

Root suckers are how the plants spread in the wild. Each sucker will become a new stem. To maintain a single stem, you have to remove the root suckers as soon as they appear.

Pruning should be done in the spring after the shrub or tree has flowered. If you want fruit, you can wait to prune until after the fruit has ripened in June but don’t wait any longer than that. Prune before July.

The reason for the July cutoff is that serviceberry like other spring blooming plants, bloom on “old wood.” That means that the buds for next year’s flowers and fruit form this year. If you prune before the plant blooms or in the summer or fall, you are cutting off the buds and will have no flowers or fruit the following year. Spring blooming plants should always be pruned after they bloom.

Prune any dead or diseased branches as well as any branches that are crossing. The idea to is maintain an open airy structure to allow for balance so the tree or shrub doesn’t fall over in the wind as well as for good air circulation to prevent disease from taking hold.

© 2020 Caren White

Comments

Caren White (author) on December 31, 2020:

You're welcome! They are very popular in the Northeast, maybe not so much in other parts of the country.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on December 31, 2020:

I am not certain that I have ever seen a serviceberry shrub or tree. Thanks for the information about them.

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