The serviceberry shrub, also referred to as the juneberry, saskatoon or shadbush, produces showy flowers and edible berries. As a native plant, serviceberry works well in just about any garden, especially in open woodlands where it thrives under oaks or pine trees. More of a small tree than a bush, gardeners find serviceberry adds texture, form and beauty to most gardens or landscapes.
A small deciduous tree or shrub, serviceberry grows up to 20 feet in height and spreading up to 10 feet wide. In the spring, the tree is covered with short-lived but beautiful white blossoms. The tree features erect stems from which multi-stemmed clumps grow, creating a dense thicket as the tree matures. Two-inch leaves with fuzzy white coatings cover the clumps before the leaves mature into shiny green foliage. Once the flowers disappear, green berries start to form, turning into purple or red waxy fruits when mature. The berries taste like ripe blueberries. In the fall, the leaves turn brilliant colors of red, yellow and orange.
Several species of serviceberry work well in gardens and landscapes including Alleghany serviceberry, a bush native to eastern North America. Alleghany features drooping white flower clusters that appear in late spring, followed by bronze-purple leaves that turn dark green in the summer. Downy serviceberry grows as far south as Florida and features small red fruits that ripen in June. Apple serviceberry is a hybrid of Alleghany and downy bushes. It thrives in shady locations and features large pink flowers.
Planting and Pruning
Most serviceberry trees thrive in hardiness zones 4 to 7. The tree grows in almost any soil type as long as it’s planted in full to partially-sunny areas in well-drained soil. Serviceberry grows best when it’s planted under other deciduous trees or pines. The tree requires regular watering until it’s well-established. While some gardeners prune the tree to create more of a tree than a shrub, the tree requires little pruning except to remove dead branches.
Birds find the fruits of serviceberry trees irresistible. Blue jays, chickadees, cardinals, robins, goldfinches, titmice and brown thrashers all flock to the tree to eat the mature fruits. Deer, bear and squirrels as well as foxes and beaver also rely on serviceberry as an early summer food.
Native Americans and early settlers used serviceberries as an important food source, especially when other fruits were unavailable. Even today, some gardeners grow the trees to gather the berries for use in baked goods, jellies, jams, and dessert toppings. Most gardeners use the trees to add texture and form to their spring and summer gardens as well as for their show-stopping, colorful foliage in the fall.