by Erin Harper, University of Illinois Extension
Serviceberries, also known at Juneberries or Saskatoon, are native to Illinois and many of our neighboring states. There are several different varieties of serviceberry with variations in height, fruit ripening time, and fall color. The Downy Serviceberry (Amelanchier arborea) is a large shrub or small tree which reaches 15-20 feet in height. They do tolerate pruning so you can use several planted together to form a living shrub fence or prune into a tree shape as a single small tree.
The Downy Serviceberry has silvery fuzzy buds in late winter. These become sweetly fragrant white blooms in the spring (April). The berries begin to take shape through May and ripen in late spring to early summer (June). The berries change from green, to pink, to red, and then a dark purple when they are fully ripe. Throughout the summer the serviceberry has beautiful full medium sided simple leaves. These leaves change to a brilliant gold to red in the fall. And this lovely tree leaves you with a nice silvery gray bark for the winter months. There are several cultivars that have been bred to accentuate these various features.
Autumn Brilliance apple serviceberry (Amelanchier x grandiflora ‘Autumn Brilliance’): 20 to 25 feet high and wide; red fall color.
Cole’s Select apple serviceberry (Amelanchier x grandiflora ‘Cole’s Select’): 20 feet high and 15 feet wide; upright, spreading habit; orange-red fall color; thick, glossy summer foliage.
Forest Prince apple serviceberry (Amelanchier x grandiflora ‘Forest Prince’): 20 feet high and 15 feet wide; oval habit and red-orange fall color.
Princess Diana apple serviceberry (Amelanchier x grandiflora ‘Princess Diana’): 20 to 25 feet high and 15 to 20 feet wide; upright habit, excellent red fall color.
Robin Hill apple serviceberry (Amelanchier x grandiflora ‘Robin Hill’): 20 to 25 feet high and 12 to 15 feet wide ; upright-oval habit, red to yellow fall color.
Trees and shrubs can be planted in the spring or the fall. Planting in the spring will give the trees a lot of rainfall and time to get settled before the heat of the summer hits. The summer can stress the tree in long stretches of no rainfall. If you have newly planted trees (3-5 years) be sure to water your trees during the drier times of the year. Fall planted trees (September-October) will have time to take up water and establish before winter. Fall is also the time of year plants put energy into their root system growth so this is perfect for establishing new plants. At this point in the year (beginning of June) I would recommend waiting for fall to plant new trees or shrubs. (https://extension.illinois.edu/blogs/good-growing/2016-03-30-plant-tree ; https://www.mortonarb.org/trees-plants/tree-and-plant-advice/horticulture-care/fall-planting-trees-and-shrubs).
Trees and shrubs should be pruned in later winter (February and early March) before they start to form new leaves. Since the serviceberry can be a shrub or a small tree you need to have your end shape in mind from the very start. If you want a shrub, leave several branches coming from the base; if you want a tree trim all of the branches around the base except for one, this will become your tree trunk. In general when pruning you want to start by removing broken or dead branches, then remove unwanted base shoots and branches along the bottom main stem (if growing a tree), and then step back and make your final cuts to create the shape, size, and thickness desired. Check out this YouTube video for more on tree pruning (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_2ZwfqMCT0E).
Birds will be your biggest problem. Because service berries are native they don’t have many insect pressures or diseases a healthy tree can’t fight through. They are not salt tolerant so planting too close to a driveway, sidewalk, or road can cause stress to the shrub or tree. When the berries start to ripen the birds will eat the berries. If you are growing this tree to attract wildlife this is not a problem, it is a blessing. If you are growing this tree for a food source for yourself, you will want to keep a close eye on the berries ripening and harvest them quickly. In my experience, there are plenty of berries to feed myself and still leave a lot for the birds.
Serviceberries can be eaten raw; in my opinion, they taste a bit like a pear. You should always wash your produce well before consuming it. You can freeze services berries for use in smoothies or pies (https://nchfp.uga.edu/how/freeze.html). You can also can the berries in juice, syrup, or water or make jam with the berries (https://nchfp.uga.edu/publications/usda/GUIDE02_HomeCan_rev0715.pdf). For jam making, it is always good to have some of the fruit be under-ripe because underripe fruit has more pectin. This is also helpful for picking the berries before the birds get them. For more information on food preservation check out the upcoming Fill Your Pantry webinar series (https://illinois.zoom.us/meeting/register/tJ0uf-2grjotH9a3CtIIWzlfEpNMdaiwmqmG).