Serviceberry: Everything To Plant And Care For The Tree
Serviceberry is not only very decorative but also bears delicious fruit. Here we show what you need to know about planting, caring, and harvesting.
Serviceberry trees (Amelanchier) delight the gardener’s heart all year round: In the spring, their lush white blossoms shine in the garden, in the summer, the healthy fruits can be tasted and in autumn, the leaves shine in all imaginable shades of red and orange.
If you do not have a Serviceberry in your garden yet, we provide you with this article with all the information you need if you want to get a Serviceberry soon. Here we tell you everything about the origin, varieties, planting, care, and harvesting of the popular shrub.
Serviceberries belong to the rose family (Rosaceae). The botanical genus name Amelanchier comes from the French-Breton name “amélanche” for the Amelanchier ovalis, which is native to Brittany. The word “amélanche” in turn is of Celtic origin and means as much as “apple”. But the Serviceberry shadbush is neither an apple (Malus) nor a pear (Pyrus communis).
The ripe fruits of the shrub rather resemble blueberries (Vaccinium) and taste similar, with a hint of marzipan. Serviceberries used to be an important fruit plant. This can also be seen from the fact that the shrub is still called the “current tree” or “raisin tree” in Northern Amerika. The fruits were collected, dried, and then used like raisins.
Serviceberry: Origin And Characteristics
Most types of Serviceberry come from North America. At least one species is native to every US state (except Hawaii) and every Canadian province and territory. Only three species are exceptions: two are native to Europe, only one to Asia.
Serviceberries are deciduous shrubs. The shoots are thin and olive green. If all types still grow upright at the beginning, they widen in the course of their life more and more and form expansive crowns. The leaves are three to seven centimeters long, alternate and elliptical. The leaf blades are often covered with delicate hairs. In some species, the leaves show a reddish color as soon as they sprout and later change to a greenish color. In autumn the leaves turn bright orange to dark red.
In spring, all species form a multitude of white, star-shaped flowers, which grow together in bunch-like inflorescences.
In summer the fruits ripen as berry-like pome fruits. They are red to violet, almost black, and can have a diameter of 5 to 15 millimeters. Depending on type and variety, the fruits taste bland and bitter or pleasantly sweet.
Are Serviceberries Poisonous Or Edible?
Apples or raspberries have certainly been eaten by most people. Less often, however, you can enjoy wild fruits such as sloes or elderberries. And few will have ever tasted the fruit of the Serviceberry shadbush because the myth is still widespread that the Serviceberry is poisonous and should not be eaten.
The leaves and seeds of the fruit indeed contain cyanogenic glycosides, which are very poisonous. If the leaves or kernels are damaged, prussic acid is released. However, the amount of poison in the kernels is very small. Also, the kernels are not digested without being chewed, so the poison cannot enter the body.
Serviceberry trees contain cyanogenic glycosides as well as many substances that are extremely healthy. Flavonoids, for example, have an antioxidant effect, potassium makes for beautiful skin, vitamin C strengthens the immune system. Serviceberry fruits also contain tanning agents, magnesium, iron, and phosphorus.
Serviceberry species and varieties
Worldwide the Serviceberry genus comprises 33 species. Also, there are countless varieties of each species. The most interesting species for garden cultivation are presented below. We also give tips on the varieties for each species.
This species is one of the two species native to Europe and can occur at altitudes of up to 2000 meters. It does not grow higher than three meters and does not grow as luxuriantly as its relatives from North America. That’s why you can rarely find them in our country. Nevertheless, this species also blooms beautifully in spring and is a drought-resistant, attractive flowering shrub.
In May it produces numerous white flowers, which are arranged in groups of three to six in compact, upright flower clusters. The fruits are edible. The best-known variety of this species is ‘Helvetica’: this variety forms narrow, compact shrubs, one to three meters high, which are also well suited for growing in pots.
The botanical name of the Copper Serviceberry goes back to the French botanist Jean-Baptiste de Lamarck, who first described this species in 1783. Originally it comes from eastern North America. How and when this Serviceberry species came to Europe is not known.
However, since the climate in our country was so pleasant, it spread very quickly and became overgrown. In the 19th century Amelanchier lamarckii was cultivated in the USA as a fruit tree and has been appreciated ever since – and still today it is one of the most popular Serviceberry species in our country. It can grow up to ten meters high and loves a sunny to semi-shady location.
The leaves are bronze-tinted, in autumn they turn a striking orange to carmine red. From April to May, this species bears white flowers, which are heavily flown by insects. In July and August, it then shows purple to blue-black, tasty fruits, which not only taste good to us but also serve as food for many birds like tits or thrushes.
This species, which originates from North America, is used both as an ornamental and fruit shrub. In Canada, there are even orchards with this Serviceberry species and Canadian Indians have been collecting its fruits for 3000 years. As a wild shrub, Amelanchier alnifolia prefers to grow on riverbanks, in forests, or the steppe.
This species has the greatest variety of Serviceberry varieties:
- Fastigiate: This variety grows in columns and with many stems and can grow up to four meters high.
- Frostburg: This very high-yielding variety bears large and thick fruits that taste sweet and delicious.
- Great berry Garden: This variety is especially appreciated for its tasty fruits.
- Northline: This variety grows up to four meters high and flowers very early.
- Obelisk: This variety has a slender, upright growth and can grow up to three meters high. It can also be planted as a column.
- Saskatoon Berry: This variety is particularly well suited as a solitary tree because it has an upright habit and can grow up to four meters tall.
- Smokey: The shrubs of this variety grow up to 4.4 meters tall and bear delicious fruit.
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The Serviceberry tree forms particularly large shrubs, which can grow to a height of 8 to 13 meters. However, it is not bald, as the name might suggest. The leaves also change their color beautifully in autumn. Some recommended varieties of this species are:
- Ballerina: One of the most popular varieties of Serviceberry. It grows as a tall, upright shrub and produces countless tasty fruits.
- Edelweiss: The shrubs of this variety can grow up to five meters high. Also, they convince with a splendid flowering in spring.
- Snowflakes: This variety forms large shrubs. It bears large, juicy fruits that can grow up to two centimeters thick.
As the name suggests, tree serviceberry of this species grows particularly high to form large shrubs or small trees. Some specimens of this species can even grow up to 20 meters high. The best-known variety of Amelanchier Arborea is ‘Robin Hill’: this variety can grow up to six meters high and is particularly suitable for tall trees.
The Canadian Serviceberry (Amelanchier Canadensis) is native to eastern North America. It is characterized by its large growth heights of up to eight meters and is largely restricted to wet locations. The fruits are also edible. Some interesting varieties of Amelanchier Canadensis are the following:
- October Flame: This variety owes its name to the bright red color of its leaves in autumn.
- Prince William: The numerous, beautiful flowers and especially large fruits are the distinguishing features of this variety.
- Rainbow Pillar: This variety grows in columns and also produces edible, sweetish fruits.
In the following section, you will learn where the Serviceberry feels particularly well, what to look out for when planting it, how to proceed, and how you can also plant your Serviceberry as a high-stem plant.
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The right location for Serviceberry
The Serviceberry is undemanding as far as its location in the garden is concerned and can grow almost anywhere. If it stands in a sunny to semi-shady place, it will thank you for it. The soil should be moderately dry to moist. Serviceberries are also tolerant of pH values: an acidic to slightly alkaline value is no problem for them. The shrub does well in uncut, wild hedges, but can also be planted as a solitary plant or high stem.
Summary: Which location does Serviceberry like?
- Sunny to semi-shady
- Well-drained, moderately dry to moist soil
- pH value: 5 – 7.5
How To Plant The Serviceberry
The best time to plant Serviceberry is in spring, as soon as there are no more frosts, or in autumn. Water the root ball of the shrub for about an hour by placing it in a bucket of lukewarm water. During this time you can prepare the soil by loosening it up deeply and removing all larger stones. Then enrich the soil with compost or a fertilizer with long-term organic effects.
Next, dig out the planting hole. This should be at least twice the size of the root ball. The shrub is placed in the middle of this hole. Make sure that the root ball is only placed as deep into the soil as it was in the pot. Then you can fill the hole with the excavated material and water it.
Serviceberry planting: Step-by-step instructions
- Loosen the soil deeply.
- Compost or a fertilizer with long-term organic effect into the soil.
- Water the root ball.
- Dig a planting hole; at least twice the circumference of the root ball.
- Place in the center of the hole.
- Place only as deep as the plant was standing in the container.
- Fill the hole with excavation.
Serviceberry As High Trunk Plant
Whether as an ornamental shrub or fruit tree – you can also plant your Serviceberry as a high-stem plant. In this case, you should pay particular attention to the planting distance, otherwise, the shrub may be overshadowed by other trees or shrubs and will not develop as well.
Therefore, plant it at a distance of eight to ten meters from other trees or place it on its own in the meadow as a solitary plant. To make it easier for the shrub to grow, you can cut back the above-ground shoots by a third before planting. Then proceed with planting as described above. It is important for the high stem that you pay attention to a proper nutrient supply from the beginning.
This will provide your future high stem with the best conditions for good growth. After the young shrub has been planted, you should bury a support rod deep enough into the soil in the immediate vicinity. Serviceberry is then tied to the pole with a piece of string – this will give it sufficient support.
What Should You Pay Attention To When Planting Serviceberry As A High Stem?
- Planting distance to other trees: 8 – 10 meters
- Or plant as a solitary tree
- Cut back above-ground shoots by a third
- Proceed as described above when planting
- Tie the plant to a pole to support it
Once the Serviceberry has been planted, you don’t need to do much more and can enjoy the shrub above all. In the next section, you will learn what to look out for when fertilizing, watering, and cutting Serviceberry.
Serviceberry Water And Fertilize
Serviceberries are super easy to care for and can actually cope well with dry and nutrient-poor conditions. Therefore, the motto for the care of Serviceberries should always be: Less is more. Serviceberries do not actually need to be watered. Serviceberries should only be kept sufficiently moist after planting; the same applies to young ones.
During long dry periods, you must of course save your Serviceberry from drying out. You should also not be too generous with the fertilizer. One fertilizer application per year is sufficient. For this purpose, you can add compost or a fertilizer with a long-term organic effect to the soil in spring. In this way, the Serviceberry is provided with long-term nutrients and there is no risk of over-fertilization.
Summary: Fertilizing and watering like the Serviceberry
- Less is more
- Water only when young and during long periods of drought
- One-time fertilizer application in spring
- Serviceberry cut
- You may already have guessed it: Serviceberries are easy to care for when they are cut. Its beautifully shaped crown forms all by itself, so you don’t have to use garden scissors.
- Older shrubs should never be cut back radically, as new shoots will only grow back very slowly.
Serviceberries that grow too densely can be cut back in winter by cutting off individual shoots directly above the ground to thin out the crown. You can then also remove dead shoots in the same operation.
How To Cut Serviceberries?
- Crown forms on its own
- Regular back or shaped cut therefore not necessary
- Older plants should never be cut radically
- Thin out too dense growth in winter
- Cut off shoots close to the ground
- Remove dead shoots
Serviceberries can be propagated by sowing, cutting, or grafting. Propagation by sowing works especially well with wild species. The seeds must be exposed to a cold period, otherwise, they cannot germinate.
Cuttings can be cut in spring, preferably in April or May. Choose a fresh shoot, which should already be 5 to 15 centimeters long at that time. All leaves are removed from this and then placed in a special cutting substrate. Serviceberries, however, are difficult to propagate by cuttings and are rarely successful.
For grafting, rowanberry seedlings can easily be used as rootstocks.
Serviceberry is hardy and absolutely frost-tolerant. Even particularly icy winters cannot harm the shrub. All Serviceberry species can overwinter in your garden without any problems and do not need any special protection.
Serviceberry Fruits Harvest And Store
Serviceberry fruits begin to ripen in summer between June and August. But be patient and do not harvest the vitamin bombs too early, because they do not ripen and do not taste unripe. You can tell whether the fruits are really ripe for harvest by their coloring: depending on the degree of ripeness, they become darker and darker and can be harvested when they are dark blue to black, depending on the variety.
Serviceberry fruits ripen successively on the bush, which means that not all fruits are ready for harvesting at the same time. Therefore, you can pick ripe fruits from the shrub again and again over a longer period of time.
Serviceberries can only be kept for a few days in the refrigerator. But there are many ways to preserve healthy fruits. Together with other berries such as raspberries (Rubus idaeus) or currants (Ribes), Serviceberries can be boiled down to make jam, jelly, juice, or compote.
Those who like it alcoholic can also make a homemade liqueur or wine from the fruit. Serviceberries can also be used as tea when dried.
- Harvest time: June – August
- Do not harvest too early
- Darker coloration shows harvest maturity
- Time and again re-harvesting
- Fresh only a few days in the refrigerator
- Wide range of processing possibilities: jam, compote, liqueur, tea