Serviceberry trees, known by many names, are showstoppers year-round. In spring, they grace us with a flush of crisp white or slightly pink flowers. The vibrant berries appear in the summer, dramatically changing the landscape. And just when you think it can’t give any more, the serviceberry tree foliage morphs into an autumn gardener’s dream, offering golden browns, reds, and yellows that complement the change in season.
Serviceberry trees include many species in many colors, shapes, and sizes. A year-long thriller, this versatile tree deserves a place in your garden. Let’s learn how to plant, grow, and care for serviceberry trees.
Service Berry (Amelanchier Canadensis) Trees Overview
What Is It?
Serviceberry trees, part of the Amelanchier genus, come in diverse species.
Serviceberry tree is the most common nickname for the genus Amelanchier, but there are many other names, including shadbush, juneberry, and saskatoon.
Although no one seems to know exactly how many species of serviceberries there are, most agree it’s around 25-30 of this pome-fruit subfamily, which is closely related to apple trees.
Grown either as a tree (by trimming off suckers) or as a large, multi-trunked shrub, serviceberry comes in species of different heights, colors, and fruit quality. Some varieties feature increased cold-hardiness and spectacular fall foliage. Others withstand pruning into different shapes and sizes to fit landscaping needs.
Meaning Behind The Nicknames
Many common names have been used to refer to serviceberries over time.
Regional, fruiting, bloom time, and color are among the different ways nicknames have come to be. Folklore tells us that blooming serviceberries are a key indicator that the ground has thawed after a long winter. To the early settlers in New England, this meant they could bury loved ones who passed away over the winter months and hold a burial ceremony. Today, you’ll find them commonly planted in cemeteries, perhaps for this reason.
Here are a few of the serviceberry tree’s other common names and their meaning.
- Juneberry: June is when the berries begin to flourish in some regions.
- Shadbush/Shadblow: Each spring, a massive shad fish run occurs on the Hudson River when serviceberries bloom. Since the timing matched, the fish’s name was applied to the plant.
- Saskatoon: Serviceberries grow in Saskatchewan, the home of the Cree Nation. The word saskatoon is a poorly translated form of the indigenous Cree word “misâskwatômin” and indicates the fruit itself, and the Cree word “misâskwatwâhtik” indicates the shrub’s wood. This mistranslation has become the name of a moderately-sized city in southern Saskatchewan and is now a common reference to both the fruit and the serviceberry tree.
Serviceberries have gray bark and small white flowers, producing pome fruits that ripen over 2-3 months.
The bark of serviceberries is slightly gray, and the tree can be single or multi-stemmed. The vibrant white, cup-shaped flowers are small and feature five slightly star-shaped petals with a slight pink tint. The flowers are beautiful but live for only a short time. They can be upright or drooping and form in dense clusters atop a sturdy stem.
The fruits, which are pome fruits, not a true berry, take two to three months to ripen. They look like a green or pink blueberry, about a half inch in size when unripe, and turn a dark purple or maroon when ready to harvest. The fruits will continue to ripen after harvest, so preserve, eat, or refrigerate them quickly.
The trees range from 5-25+ feet tall at full maturity and 3-25+ feet wide. The range is great, offering an option for every garden.
Importance in Nature
Serviceberry flowers attract pollinators and serve as an early food source for various wildlife.
Serviceberry flowers are alluring to pollinators of all types, and they serve as an early food source for bees as they emerge from hibernation and butterflies. It also hosts various larvae for viceroy butterflies and Canadian tiger swallowtails.
Some think serviceberries should be called birdberries because of their significance as a food source for upwards of 50 species of birds. Other herbivores and omnivores like deer, foxes, bears, and raccoons will also feed on the berries, making this an ideal plant for a wildlife-friendly garden.
Serviceberries, once a staple food for indigenous tribes, are edible with a blueberry-blackberry taste.
Serviceberries are edible and non-toxic to humans and were a staple food for many Indigenous tribes. They taste like a hybrid of sweet blueberry and blackberry with just a hint of apple and are a great source of manganese, copper, iron, calcium, and potassium. Some consider the berries a superfood, although they’re sadly underutilized.
The delicious berries can be processed into jams, pie filling, preserves, baked into muffins and breads, or eaten fresh. They work well in desserts and simple syrups for summer cocktails. Some say they have a slightly sweet, nutty flavor.
The berries and bark have historical medicinal purposes.
Serviceberries have many potential medicinal uses. Native Americans traditionally had many herbal remedies, such as making tea from the stems and twigs as a post-childbirth treatment. However, as with any herbal remedy, consult your physician before use.
Serviceberries, native to Europe, Africa, North America, and temperate Asia, thrive in American landscapes.
Serviceberries are native to North America, Europe, Africa, and temperate Asia. Today, serviceberry trees can be found along the edges of forestland, in thickets, banks, and canyons across North America.
How to Grow
When properly cared for, serviceberry trees can live up to 50 years.
These trees thrive with 4-6 hours of full sun but tolerate partial shade, although they may have reduced productivity.
Serviceberry trees should receive 4-6 hours of full sun daily but will tolerate partial shade. Their production of flowers, berries, and fall foliage will decrease when grown in partial shade.
Maintain moist soil with drip irrigation for deep watering.
Soil should be kept moist. Drip irrigation is highly recommended to deep water the root system, ensuring proper watering and decreasing the risk of foliar diseases that might form in damp leaf tissues. Once mature, serviceberries are fairly drought-resistant and perform well in salty areas.
Serviceberries thrive in loamy, well-draining soil with pH 5.5-7.0 but tolerate other conditions.
Serviceberry trees like loamy, well-draining, aerated, and moist soil. They do not perform well if overwatered and also have trouble when there is standing water. However, they will tolerate clay or sandy soils.
They prefer a soil pH of 5.5-7.0, though they will tolerate higher. Soil test every year to have a baseline and amend accordingly.
Temperature and Humidity
Serviceberries thrive in mild climates with moderate humidity, avoiding fungal diseases in optimal conditions.
Mild temperatures and humidity levels will be best for serviceberry trees. They perform best in regions where summers and winters are not extreme. Fungal diseases are more prevalent during high humidity.
Spring slow-release application of fertilizer promotes healthy growth and vibrant foliage.
Serviceberries don’t need much fertilizer as they’re not heavy feeders. They usually find what they need in the soil if it’s well cared for and healthy. However, adding a slow-release fertilizer during your annual spring cleanup will encourage healthy new growth and vibrant foliage colors.
Prune serviceberries minimally, removing basal sprouts for a tidy, vase-shaped shrub.
Serviceberries don’t require much pruning. However, new sprouts near the base of the tree and suckers can make it a bit unruly. Pruning these off and any unhealthy-looking or crossed branches annually to help keep it tidy. Pruning will allow better light penetration and airflow and will encourage new growth. Go for a vase-shaped shrub.
The University of Montana suggests minimally pruning in the first three years, allowing the plant to grow and become established. As flowers form on two to four-year-old wood, your pruning should aim to replace fruiting wood every 3-4 years.
Due to the deep taproot and vigorous root system, you can cut serviceberries down to the ground, and over a few years, new shoots will produce a new version of the tree.
Mulch 4-6 inches deep in fall or spring to suppress weeds and retain moisture.
Weeds can inhibit the proper growth of serviceberries and compete with their root system when newly transplanted. Mulching four to six inches will help maintain a nice, moist soil and keep weed pressure to a minimum. Do this in the fall or spring after general cleanup and shallow cultivation or at the time of transplant to help maintain moisture.
As with any mulch, do not “volcano mulch” serviceberries. This can create too much moisture around the plant’s base, leading to trunk rot. Leave a gap of at least 4″-6″ between the trunk and the mulch.
Serviceberries can be propagated by taking stem cuttings, planting suckers, or allowing them to spread their seeds naturally. It’s hard to establish, so many growers recommend purchasing a young tree from your local nursery, leaving the hard part to the experts. However, you can try starting seeds by collecting them from fresh fruit, cleaning them thoroughly, and allowing them to dry.
Practice winter sowing to give them a period of cold stratification and watch them germinate in the spring. Note the seeds will produce a plant that differs from the parent, similar to apples.
Achieve successful serviceberry propagation through stem cuttings in a milk jug greenhouse or pot.
Most serviceberry experts will tell you taking cuttings will give you the greatest success at growing a new plant. Stem cuttings should be performed on a healthy tree without disease, dead wood, or unhealthy foliage.
To root cuttings in a milk jug:
- Cut the top half off and use the bottom as your planting container.
- Fill it with fresh potting mix with vermiculite or perlite mixed in.
- When you see new growth in the spring, cut wood that’s at least ¼ inch thick in diameter in the midsection of a shoot. Cut a piece 4-6 inches long with sharp, clean shears or pruners.
- Remove the foliage from the stem, leaving just a couple at the top.
- Dip the cut end in rooting hormone and plant it about halfway down into the milk jug.
- Water it in. Add up to four cuttings per container.
Now, you can replace the top of the milk jug, creating a DIY mini greenhouse. A regular potting container also works; just don’t allow the soil to dry out. Keep temperatures between 60-70°. Finely mist up to three times a week.
Pot or plant new growth from spring pruning of suckers, ensuring adequate watering.
Remember the new growth near the base of the plant I mentioned earlier during spring pruning? You can gently separate those from the main plant and repot them in a container or directly in the ground instead of discarding them in the compost pile. Ensure a solid root system before planting. Water them well as they become established.
Natural Seed Spread
Consumed by animals, the berries naturally spread their seeds through droppings.
Seeds will naturally spread when consumed and dropped elsewhere by animals in nature. The berries will naturally go through cold stratification and germinate independently in the spring. Due to helpful birds and other wildlife, the seeds can spread up to three miles away from their parent tree!
Although serviceberry trees can self-fertilize, they’ll produce more fruit when at least two serviceberry plants that are genetically different are planted 50 feet or less apart from one another.
Allow 12-15 feet for serviceberries to grow out, adjusting spacing for variety or pruning.
Give serviceberries 12-15 feet if planting them next to other trees or large shrubs. If you’re growing a larger variety, spread them out more or prune accordingly to avoid overcrowding. Plant them in a row to create a luscious privacy fence or border wall.
Transplant serviceberries in spring or fall to allow for settling and adjustment before hot or cold weather.
The highest success rates when transplanting will occur in the spring or late fall when serviceberries are dormant. This will decrease the risk of transplant shock.
Dig a hole as deep as the root ball and twice as wide, set it in, and surround it with native soil. Tamp it down as you fill the hole, then water it well. If you’re using fertilizer, sprinkle it in now. Mulch to help retain moisture.
If you’re planting bare-root plants widely available from nurseries, make your hole as deep as the roots and a bit wider. Bare-root plants require more irrigation to keep the shallow roots from drying out. Mulch to retain moisture.
Plant serviceberries in full sun with moist, well-draining soil.
Serviceberries should be planted in an area receiving full sun where the soil is moist but well-draining. However, some species can tolerate partial shade, although the yield may diminish.
Serviceberry trees bloom in 2-3 years, yield fruit in 3-5 years, and reach full maturity by year eight.
New trees will bloom two to three years after planting. Decent fruit yields will occur around the three to five mark, increasing yearly, with full fruiting maturity around year eight.
Types of Serviceberries
As previously mentioned, there are quite a few species of serviceberries, and depending on your needs, there is certainly one out there for you. They have been cross-bred to create cultivars with different fall foliage, bloom and fruiting time, height, and more. Here are just a few examples of species adored for their unique characteristics.
Best For Landscaping
Allegheny Serviceberry (A. laevis)
This shrub-like tree grows up to 25 feet in zones 4-8.
Named the 2023 Tree of the Year by the Blandy Experimental Farm in Virginia, this shrub behaves more like a tree and is typically pruned as such. It’s a multi-stemmed shrub that can grow up to 25 feet tall but can be pruned to remain more compact. It’s hardy in zones 4-8.
‘Cumulus’ is a fan favorite and is named as such due to its fluffy flowers’ resemblance to tufts of clouds. It tops out at 8-10 feet, and pollinators love it. Its light green leaves turn shades of orange to dark maroon that will leave you swooning.
Best For Small Spaces
Canadian or Shadblow Serviceberry (A. canadensis)
Eastern seaboard native, this early bloomer with white flowers, silvery bark, and berries thrives in zones 3-7.
Native to the Eastern seaboard, this early bloomer will help your garden transition from winter to spring with its bright white flowers and silvery bark, leading into summer with young berries changing from green to purple and bright green leaves. Its leaves turn a bright golden for fall, are hardy in zones 3-7, and mature at 18-22 feet.
‘Prince William’ is known for its heavy fruiting, compact size, and larger and longer flowers that bloom before the leaves appear in spring. Young leaves are red in the spring, turning orange in the fall.
‘Prince William’ is somewhat tolerant of pollution, making it suitable for urban settings. Design this variety in a hedge, a cottage garden, or in a mass planting to make a statement.
Garden Serviceberry (A. ovalis)
Amelanchier ovalis is a deciduous shrub with white spring blossoms and edible berries.
Native to Europe, this compact species is hardy in zones 5-7 and can mature up to 20 feet tall.
‘Pumila’ is a dwarf variety that grows just three to five feet tall.
Best For Fall Foliage
Apple Serviceberry (A. x grandiflora)
‘Autumn Brilliance,’ a drought-resistant hybrid, thrives in zones 3-8, reaching up to 25 feet.
This is a cross between the downy serviceberry and Allegheny serviceberry. It is very drought-resistant and hardy in zones 3-8. It can reach heights of 25 feet tall.
‘Autumn Brilliance’ was bred for its stunning fall foliage, which ranges from red to bright orange. Unlike most other cultivars, it’s shorter and does well in shade. It also has a high resistance to common diseases.
This cultivar doesn’t perform well in areas with constant high heat, high winds, and extended drought conditions. If you’re experiencing these outside your normal climate, extra watering and attention will be necessary with ‘Autumn Brilliance.’ It’s believed George Washington planted ‘Autumn Brilliance’ at his Mount Vernon estate, and if you plant one, you’ll quickly see why!
Best For Cold Growing Regions
Saskatoon Serviceberry (A.alnifolia)
Known as alder-leaved serviceberry, it yields large fruit, is hardy in zones 3-9, and matures variably.
This species is sometimes referred to as alder-leaved serviceberry due to the similarity in leaves of those found in the Alnus species. This type of serviceberry is well known for its large, delicious fruit, is hardy in zones 3-9, and can mature to 4-15 feet, depending on the variety.
‘Regent’ flowers early and is typically used as an ornamental plant in small spaces, reaching just four to six feet when fully mature. Use it as the backdrop to your garden plot or among other shrubs in a border or privacy hedge, showcasing its white spring flowers, vibrant pink berries in summer, and gorgeous fall-colored leaves later in the year.
‘Altaglow’ was bred to grow in zones as cold as 1, making it the most hardy serviceberry. It has an unusual whitish berry, unlike others. Note this variety spreads underground via runners and can be hard to remove from unwanted areas once established.
Best For Berries
Common or Downy Serviceberry (A. arborea)
Prune to control growth in multi-stemmed varieties to maintain a tree-like form rather than a shrub.
Pruning will be necessary if you want this tree to remain tamed, as it can become multi-stemmed. Select a main leader and prune annually around the leader. This type of serviceberry is known for its large fruit and is hardy in zones 5-9.
These are just a few examples of well–known and loved serviceberry types. If you’re unsure which would work best in your space, contact your local extension office for help.
Another variety known for its large berries is ‘Thiessen,’ which grows 12-15 feet tall with an open growing habit and blooms early. ‘Thiessen’ was introduced in 1978 and is a Saskatoon species.
Diseases may be avoided with proper care of serviceberries and good cultural practices.
A few minor pests can bother serviceberries, including spider mites and aphids. Control any cosmetic damage by the pear slug sawfly with insecticidal soap. Serviceberries are usually deer-resistant.
Here are some pests that can cause issues:
Fall webworms feed on deciduous trees, causing damage before overwintering in their webs.
The fall webworm starts feeding on many species of deciduous trees, including serviceberries, in late summer and early fall and builds its webs among the branches and along the bark. If you’ve ever noticed what looks like giant cobwebs in your trees, it’s likely the work of a fall webworm.
They overwinter in cocoons in crevices of the tree, emerging in the summer as adults when females will lay hundreds of eggs on the backside of leaves. Much damage can be done when these caterpillars hatch, feeding on foliage, building nests, and spinning cocoons. When mature, the caterpillars are 1¼ inches long, featuring a dark brown stripe down its back and yellow hairs with black polka dots.
Pruning out damage can decrease populations of the worms, but heavy infestations may need to be treated with Bt or spinosad to help control this destructive pest.
Caterpillars feed on serviceberries, then they pupate, and once they emerge, the adult moths lay eggs.
These two to three-inch-long caterpillars feed on serviceberries, mainly at night, then pupate in a crack or crevice. About two weeks later, moths emerge, and a female moth can lay up to 400 eggs at a time, allowing the cycle to repeat.
The biocontrol fungus Entomophaga maimaiga was brought to Boston from Japan, where it originated in 1910. It was rediscovered in 1989 and can now be used to control larvae. It grows best in hot, humid weather conditions.
Roundheaded Appletree Borer
Tiny brownish-black beetles lay eggs in bark slits. The larvae eat tunnels and cause damage to young plants.
Just ½ to one inch long, these brownish-black beetles lay eggs in tiny slits she makes along the bark for about 40 days. The larvae hatch and tunnel up and down the bark, feeding all the way.
They mature in a few years to a lighter colored, 1- 1 ½ inch long worm, pupating in the plant. Young plants are most susceptible to these borers, with damage occurring on the lower part of the tree.
Protect your berries from birds with a secure barrier, but leave some for wildlife.
If you hope to save the berries for yourself, create a barrier from birds that keeps them out but is also safe. Don’t drape anything too loosely, as they could become tangled in the netting.
If your serviceberries are a perennial landscaping feature, leave some berries for the birds and critters, as they’re an important native food source.
Bark Beetles (Shothole Beetle)
Minimize stress to reduce shothole beetle damage, as they target weakened or decaying trees and branches.
Minimizing stress is crucial to decrease lower risk of damage by the shothole beetle. They go after decaying or dead trees but are also attracted to weakened branches or stressed plants suffering from aging, chemical damage, transplant shock, environmental damage, or injury.
If your tree looks like it was used as hunting shot practice, it may be damage caused by shothole beetles. These little buggers can overwinter in the bark and emerge in the spring as adults.
Rust on serviceberries, caused by Gymnosporangium fungi, can often be pruned off and removed.
Caused by two different fungi in the Gymnosporangium genus, two hosts must be infected for the rust to complete its lifecycle. Junipers and members of Rosaceae, including serviceberries, can be affected.
The fungi go through four spore stages, with the ones present on serviceberries ranging from yellow or orange round lesions on the leaves to dark pimple-like bodies.
Damage is typically minor, and branches can be pruned off. Eliminating one of the two host categories can decrease the risk of this fungal disease, or fungicidal sprays can be applied in the spring. Follow all warnings and instructions on labels before spraying.
Powdery mildew is not a serious threat.
While powdery mildew can be a serious threat, it is not a huge deal for serviceberries. The white, powdery spots on the leaves are unsightly and can be removed once noticed. Cleaning up garden debris around plants in the fall decreases the risk. Three applications of a dormant oil used at Thanksgiving, Christmas, and around Valentine’s Day can help prevent powdery mildew outbreaks in subsequent seasons.
Entomosporium Leaf and Berry Spot
Common leaf spot appears as small brown discolorations with a yellow halo.
Symptoms include small brown leaf discolorations, often featuring a yellow halo around the spot. This disease is common and pops up more often in rainy years. Proper pruning, removing debris under the canopy, and deep drip irrigation will decrease the risk. Prune wood at least a foot below the diseased area and discard. Clean your shears or pruners afterward.
Black, shriveled flowers and leaves signal fire blight.
If your flowers and leaves are black, shriveled, and have the appearance of being burned, your serviceberry may be infected with fire blight. Although rare, this can be serious and should be treated at the first sign of symptoms.
Cut affected branches at least eight inches below symptoms and dispose of them. Treat wounds and tools with alcohol, or you risk spreading the bacteria. A healthy plant is not at high risk of this disease, so follow good cultural practices.
Frequently Asked Questions
No, they grow fairly slowly and do not have invasive roots. Feel free to plant them near a driveway, garage, or garden shed.
Your tree may simply be too young. It will begin to bloom after two to three years. Other factors include heat-induced stress, pest pressure, or drought conditions. Also, if your region received a late spring frost, it’s possible the buds were cold-damaged.
Serviceberries are a multi-season shrub, offering bright white flowers in spring, vibrant berries and foliage in the summer, and autumnal-shaded foliage in the fall. Work them into cottage gardens, select a short cultivar and add it to a perennial or pollinator garden, use it as an understory tree, or create a hedgerow by lining your property with them.
With the wide variety of types, species, shapes, sizes, and colors, surely there is a serviceberry you can work into your landscape or garden. They have an interesting history, gorgeous foliage, and delicious berries, so it’s sure to be a conversation piece at your next backyard gathering.