The amelanchier tree is not only extremely decorative but also bears delicious fruit. Here we show what you need to know about planting, care and harvesting.
Juneberry trees (Amelanchier), also know as serviceberry, delight the gardener’s heart all year around: In spring their lush white flowers shine in the garden, in summer the healthy fruits can be nibbled and in autumn the leaves shine in all imaginable shades of red and orange. If you do not yet have a juneberry in your garden, in this article we provide you with all the information you need if you want to get an amelanchier soon. Here we tell you everything about the origin, varieties, planting, care and harvesting of this popular shrub.
- Amelanchier: origin and characteristics
- Amelanchier species and varieties
- Planting amelanchier trees
- Amelanchier plant care
- Overwintering amelanchier
- Harvesting and storing amelanchier fruits
Amelanchier trees belongs to the rose family (Rosaceae). The botanical genus name Amelanchier derives from the French Breton term “amélanche” for Amelanchier ovalis, native to Brittany. The word “amélanche”, on the other hand, is of Celtic origin and means something like “little apples”. But the juneberry tree is neither an apple (Malus), nor a pear (Pyrus communis). The ripe fruits of the shrub are rather reminiscent of blueberries (Vaccinium) and also taste similar, with the addition of a hint of marzipan. In the past, they were an important fruit crop. This can also be seen in the fact that the shrub is still called “wild currant” or “wild raisin” Namely, the fruits were collected, dried and then used like raisins.
Amelanchier: origin and characteristics
Most species are native to North America. At least one species is native to every U.S. state (except Hawaii) and every Canadian province and territory. Only three species are an exception: two are native to Europe, only one to Asia.
Amelanchier trees are deciduous shrubs. The shoots are thin and olive green. While all species grow upright at the beginning, they broaden more and more in the course of their life and form spreading crowns. The leaves are three to seven centimetres long, alternate and elliptical. The leaf blades are often covered with delicate hairs. In some species, the leaves show a reddish colour as soon as they sprout, and then later change to a greenish colour. In autumn, the leaves turn bright orange to dark red.
In spring, all species form a multitude of white, star-shaped flowers that grow together in cluster-like flowerheads.
In summer, the fruits ripen as berry-like pome fruits. They are red to purple, almost black and can have a diameter of 5 to 15 millimetres. Depending on the species and variety, the fruits taste bland and bitter or pleasantly sweet.
Amelanchier fruit: edible or poisonous?
Most people have certainly often eaten apples or raspberries. Less often, however, you can enjoy wild fruit, such as blackthorns or elderberries. And few people are likely to have ever tasted the fruits of the juneberry because the myth is still widespread that the amelanchier is poisonous and should not be eaten.
It is true that the leaves and seeds of the fruits contain cyanogenic glycosides, which are very toxic. When the leaves or seeds are bruised, prussic acid is released. However, the amount of toxin in the seeds is very small and the seeds are not digested unchewed, so the toxin can not enter the body. Nevertheless, it is very important to always enjoy amelanchier fruit only in small quantities! Especially children and pregnant women should not eat excessive quantities of the fruit; apart from that, it is safe to eat. An excessive amount of the toxin will because diarrhoea and vomiting in the worst case.
However, besides cyanogenic glycosides, serviceberry fruit contains many substances that are extremely healthy. Flavonoids, for example, have an antioxidant effect, potassium ensures beautiful skin, and vitamin C strengthens the immune system. In addition, the fruits contain tannins, magnesium, iron and phosphorus.
Amelanchier species and varieties
Worldwide, the genus includes 33 species. In addition, there are countless varieties of each species. The most interesting species for cultivation in the garden are presented below. In addition, we provide tips on the varieties for the respective species.
Snowy mesplius (Amelanchier ovalis)
This species is one of the two species native to Europe and can be found at altitudes of up to 2,000 metres. It does not grow taller than three metres and its growth is not as lush as that of its North American relatives. That is why they are rarely encountered in our country. Nevertheless, this species also blooms beautifully in spring and is a drought-resistant, attractive flowering shrub. In May, it forms numerous, white flowers arranged in threes to sixes in stout, 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 metres high, which are also well suited for growing in pots.
Juneberry (Amelanchier lamarckii)
The botanical name of the juneberry goes back to the French botanist Jean-Baptiste de Lamarck, who first described this species in 1783. Originally, it comes from the east side of North America. How and when this species came to Europe is not known. However because it liked the climate here so much, it spread very quickly and ran wild. In the 19th century, Amelanchier lamarckii was cultivated in Europe as a fruit tree and has been appreciated ever since – and even today it is one of the most popular serviceberry species in our country. It can grow up to ten metres high and loves a sunny to semi-shady location. The leaves have a bronze tinge and in autumn they turn a striking orange to crimson. From April to May, this species bears white flowers that attract large numbers of insects. In July and August it produces purple to blue-black, tasty fruits, which not only taste good to humans but also serve as food for many birds such as tits or thrushes.
Alder-leaved shadbush, also known as Saskatoon berry (Amelanchier alnifolia)
This species, native to North America, is used as both an ornamental and fruiting shrub. In Canada, there are even orchards with this species and Canadian Indians have been collecting its fruit for 3,000 years. As a wild shrub, Amelanchier alnifolia grows preferentially along riverbanks, in forests, and even in the steppe. This species includes the greatest diversity of varieties among the amelanchiers:
- ‘Fastagiata’: Column-shaped and multi-stemmed, this variety grows up to four metres high.
- ‘Forstburg’: This very productive variety bears large, thick fruits that taste sweet and delicious.
- ‘Greatberry Garden’: This variety is appreciated mainly for its tasty fruit.
- ‘Northline’: This variety grows up to four metres high and blooms especially early.
- ‘Obelisk’: This variety boasts a slender, upright growth and can reach a height of up to three metres. In addition, it can be planted as a standard.
- ‘Saskatoon Berry’: This variety is particularly well suited as a specimen tree, due to its upright growth and a height of up to four metres.
- ‘Smokey’: The shrubs of this variety grow up to 4.4 metres tall and bear delicious fruit.
Smooth shadbush (Amelanchier laevis)
Smooth shadbush forms particularly large shrubs that can grow from 8 to 13 metres high. But it is not bald, as the name might suggest. Its leaves turn beautifully colourful in autumn. Some recommended varieties of this type are:
- ‘Ballerina’: One of the most popular juneberry varieties. It grows as a tall, upright shrub and produces countless tasty fruits.
- ‘Edelweiss’: The bushes of this variety can grow up to five metres high. In addition, they boast a magnificent display of flowers in spring.
- ‘Snowflakes’: This variety has large shrubs. It bears large, juicy fruits with a diameter of up to two centimetres.
Downy serviceberry (Amelanchier arborea)
Varieties of this species grow especially high to large shrubs or small trees. Some specimens of this species can even grow up to 20 metres high. The best-known variety Amelanchier arborea is ‘Robin Hill’: this variety can grow up to six metres high and is particularly suitable for obtaining standard trees.
Canadian serviceberry (Amelanchier canadensis)
The Canadian serviceberry is native to the eastern part of North America. It is characterised by its large growth heights of up to eight metres and is largely restricted to wet areas. The fruits are also edible. Some interesting varieties of Amelanchier canadensis are the following:
- ‘October Flame’: The name of this variety comes from its fiery red leaf colouration in autumn.
- ‘Prince William’: The numerous, beautiful flowers and especially large fruits characterize this variety.
- ‘Rainbow Pillar’: This variety has a columnar-like growth and also provides edible, sweetish fruit.
Planting amelanchier trees
In the following section, you will learn where the juneberry tree feels particularly at home, what to look out for when planting, how to proceed, and how you can also plant your tree as a standard.
The right location
The amelanchier tree is undemanding when it comes to its location in the garden and can thrive almost anywhere. If it stands in a sunny to semi-shady spot, it will thank you. The soil should be moderately dry to moist. Sandy soils that are too light can be improved with the addition of a high-quality potting soil, such as our Plantura Organic All Purpose Compost. The tree is also tolerant when it comes to pH: an acidic to slightly alkaline value is no problem for it. The shrub does well in untrimmed, wild hedges but can also be planted as a specimen plant or standard.
Summary: Which location does the serviceberry tree like?
- Sunny to partial shade
- Well-drained, moderately dry to moist soil
- pH value: 5 – 7.5
Tip: You can even cultivate your tree in a container if you choose a small-growing species, such as Amelanchier spicata, and place it in a large enough planter. In this case, it is best to use a high-quality soil such as our peat-free Plantura Organic All Purpose Compost, mixed with 1/2 sand. Make sure that the water can drain out of the bottom of the pot, otherwise your amelanchier will suffer from root rot very soon.
Planting amelanchier trees
The best time for planting is in the spring, as soon as frosts are no longer expected, or even 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 deeply and removing all large stones. Then enrich the soil with compost or a slow-release fertiliser. Our Plantura All Purpose Plant Food creates the best conditions for your serviceberry tree to grow.
You then need to dig the planting hole. This should be at least twice the circumference of the root ball. The bush is inserted in the centre of this hole. Make sure that the root ball is placed in the soil only as deep as it was in the pot. Then you can fill the hole with the dug out soil and water it.
Planting juneberry trees: step-by-step instructions
- Loosen soil deeply
- Work some compost or slow-release fertiliser into the soil
- Water the root ball
- Dig a hole twice the size of the root ball
- Place in the centre of the hole
- Set only as deep as the plant was also in the container
- Fill hole with dug out soil
To plant your amelanchier in a container, first choose a large enough planter. Then lay a drainage layer in the pot, for example, expanded clay or shards of clay, so that the irrigation water in the pot can drain away well. Then mix the substrate with our Plantura All Purpose Plant Food with long-term effect to ensure the ideal nutrient supply for your tree from the start. Then fill the container one-third with the substrate, place the plant in the centre, and fill it with the substrate. After that, you only need to water. Now nothing will stop the plant from growing.
Summary: how to plant amelanchier in a pot?
- Select a sufficiently large planter
- Create a drainage layer
- Mix the substrate with Plantura All Purpose Plant Food
- Fill one third of the planter with substrate
- Put plant in the middle of the pot
- Fill the pot with substrate
Planting serviceberry tree as a standard
Whether as an ornamental shrub or fruit tree, you can also plant your amelanchier as a standard. In this case, special attention should be paid 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 metres from other trees or place it alone in the meadow as a specimen plant. To help the shrub grow, you can cut back the above-ground shoots by a third before planting. After that, proceed to planting as described above. For standards, it is important that you pay attention to a proper supply of nutrients from the very beginning. To do this, work our Plantura All Purpose Plant Food with organic long-term action into the soil before planting. In this way, you will provide the best conditions for your future standard to grow well. After the young shrub is planted, in the immediate vicinity, you should bury a stick deep enough into the ground for support. With a piece of string, then tie the plant to the stick to ensure sufficient support.
What to look for when planting amelanchiers as a standard
- Planting distance from other trees: 8 – 10 metres
- Or plant as a specimen tree
- Cut back above ground shoots by one third
- When planting proceed as described above
- Basic fertilisation with Plantura All Purpose Plant Food
- to tie the plant to a stick to support it
Amelanchier plant care
Once the tree is planted, you do not need to do much and can above all get pleasure from the shrub. In the next section, you will learn what to look out for when fertilising, watering and pruning amelanchiers.
Watering and fertilising
Amelanchiers are super easy to care for and actually do well in low-nutrient and dry conditions. Therefore, the motto when caring for the tree should always be: Less is more. Therefore, you do not really need to water your serviceberry tree. Only after planting, the soil should be kept sufficiently moist; likewise, this applies to young trees. During prolonged periods of drought, of course, you need to save your amelanchier from drying out. You should not be over generous with fertiliser, either. It is enough to fertilise once a year. To do so, work some compost or organic slow-release fertiliser into the soil in spring. Our Plantura All Purpose Plant Food releases the valuable nutrients slowly and gently to the plant. In this way, the serviceberry tree is supplied with nutrients in the long term and there is no risk of over fertilisation.
Summary: how to fertilise and water amelanchier
- Less is more
- Water only in the initial stages and during prolonged drought
- One time fertiliser application in spring
Pruning serviceberry trees
You might have guessed it: the amelanchier is also low-maintenance when it comes to pruning. Its beautifully shaped crown forms all by itself, without the need to reach for your pruning shears.
Older bushes in any case should not be radically cut back because new shoots will grow back very slowly after that.
If you ever find a serviceberry tree growing too densely, you can cut off individual shoots just above the ground in winter to thin out the crown. At the same time you can then also remove dead shoots
How to prune amelanchiers?
- Crown forms on its own
- Regular pruning or shaping is therefore not necessary
- Do not radically prune older plants
- Thin out excessively dense growth in winter
- Cut off shoots close to the ground
- Remove dead shoots
Amelanchier trees can be propagated by sowing, cuttings or grafting.
Propagation by sowing works particularly well with wild species. It is important that the seeds have been exposed to a cold period, otherwise they will not germinate.
You can cut cuttings in spring, preferably in April or May. Choose a fresh shoot that should already be 5 to 15 centimetres long by then. Remove all the leaves from it and then put it into a special cutting substrate. However, propagating cuttings of weeping pears is difficult and rarely successful.
For grafting, rowan seedlings can be used as a base.
The serviceberry tree is winter-hardy and absolutely frost-tolerant. Even particularly icy winters cannot harm the shrub. All types of amelanchier can overwinter in your garden without any problems and do not need any special protection.
Harvesting and storing amelanchier fruits
In summer, between June and August, the fruits of the weeping pear begin to ripen. Be patient, however, and do not harvest the vitamin bombs too early, because they do not ripen and do not taste good when unripe. You can tell whether the fruits are really ripe for harvesting by their colouring: depending on the degree of ripeness, they become darker and darker and – depending on the variety – can be harvested when they are dark blue to black. The fruits of the 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 bush again and again over a longer period of time.
Tip: Juneberries are not only very popular with humans, but also with birds. So if you want to enjoy the fruits, you have to be quicker with the harvest than crows and co or protect the bush from predators with a net in summer.
Unfortunately, fresh amelanchier fruits can only be kept in the fridge for a few days. However, there are many ways to preserve the healthy fruits. Together with other berries such as raspberries (Rubus idaeus) or currants (Ribes), they can be made into jam, jelly, juice or compote. If you like it alcoholic, you can also make a homemade liqueur or wine from the fruit. When dried, serviceberry fruits can also be used as a tea.
Overview: Harvesting and storing serviceberry fruit
- Harvest time: June – August
- Do not harvest too early
- Darker colouring indicates harvest maturity
- Harvest again and again
- Can only be kept fresh for a few days in the fridge
- Can be processed in a variety of ways: Jam, compote, liqueur, tea