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Serviceberries For the Birds (And Me!)

One day last year I found myself driving down the road with leafy stems bouncing around my head, wondering what I would say if I were pulled over by a state trooper. Tree branches filled the front seat of my car, reaching out to explore the front windows and seeking to find escape through the roof. Two slender trunks occupied the center space between the seats. At the very back of the car their roots were contained within large plastic pots, lying on their sides and wedged against the rear lift gate. 

When I purchased the two Serviceberry trees, I asked the attendant if he thought he could fit them into my mini van. No problem, I can do it, he said.

And he did. Yes, he did.

Amelanchier, AKA Serviceberry or Juneberry or Shadbush and a few other names as well, is a small tree with many North American species and some European ones. The fruit attracts bluebirds, cardinals, robins and other songbirds. The sweet, juicy berries look a lot like blueberries, but, unlike blueberries, they contain soft, almond flavored seeds. Humans like the berries, too, and they can be used instead of blueberries to make muffins, cobblers, preserves and jam. The berries are not often offered commercially, and it's not so easy to find the trees, either. So I was happy when I found two locally at a reasonable price. 

I hope I will soon have berries like these, shown in this public domain photo.

I haven't personally tasted the fruit yet. My two young trees produced only a handful of berries last year, which quickly disappeared. This year my trees are filled with blooms, so I am hoping for a more abundant crop. I am thinking one tree for the birds and one for me, though I suspect the birds won't abide by my thinking.

Serviceberries add ornamental value to the garden year round. Species may grow as shrubs or as small trees up to 25' tall. The branch structure is beautiful and the tree bark is often distinctive, with vertical fissures developing with age. In early spring, the branches are filled with clusters of white, five-petaled flowers, each bloom about 3/4" across. The flowers are followed by shiny green, 2" long leaves. The tasty fruit usually ripens in June, thus the common name Juneberry. Fall color is excellent, with brilliant orange and gold color that persists for weeks.

With different species growing in zones 2-9, Amelanchier is usually easy to grow. Plant in moist but well draining soil in a site protected from strong winds. Full sun is best, but they will adapt to a partly shady location. Fertilize in November and maintain a 2"-3" layer of mulch around the base, making sure the mulch does not actually touch the bark. Water frequently during drought. Then enjoy your berries, if you can get to them before the birds. (Warning: deer also like them!)

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Reader Comments (18)

Those blooms and berries are lovely Debs!

February 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMark and Gaz

Debs, I have driven under these very same conditions, once with a Rowan tree poking through the open sun roof. We also have an Amelanchier,, I had all but forgotten about it when I saw a few flowering branches poking through other stuff, I am always cramming too much into the garden as well as the car. Our Amelanchier has never had berries though.

February 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAlistair

I do love this beautiful little tree. I can't grow them here, since the untended areas around us have lots of Eastern red cedar growing wild, and that is the alternate host for cedar rust. It really devastates the crabapples and serviceberries and hawthorns nearby. The trees live, but they get defoliated in late summer and look awful. I will want to see yours in all its glory, growing beautifully!

February 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLaurrie

Hi Deb.....I had to laugh because I could just picture you driving with the trees. I've been in that same situation. The things we do for our plants!! It sounds like this tree offers so much. I love plants that have berries for the birds!

February 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterChristy

I've never heard of Serviceberries, or any of the other names! I'm glad I'm not alone in overloading vehicles. I've done some properly stupid things, including once putting stuff on the roof of a car (with no roof rack), typing a bit of rope to it, feeding the ends through opposite car widows, and having Mrs IG hold it tight while I drove home!

February 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterThe Idiot

You are right - these are not easy to find! (I've looked, to no avail.) I would have stuffed them into my car, too! I bet if you had passed any police that were gardeners, too, they would have definitely stopped you - just to ask you about the plants and talk garden!

February 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterHolleyGarden

These are my favourite trees, we already have 2 and I'm thinking of where I can put a third! We never get any berries because the birds get there first, but we don't mind. They really earn their space in the garden, super interest for 3 seasons, what more could we ask from a tree!?

February 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPauline Mulligan

Hey, Deb. I love that plant. Hope mine survives the brutal New England winter and comes back at approaching the beauty of yours.

February 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterLee May

I have done the same thing, once or twice even I had the roof open on a Toyota MR2 (2 seater sports car) I had with the trees pushing out of the roof! In the UK this tree is freely available but is known purely as an ornamental. In Italy, on the other hand, it is available from the part of catalogues devoted to eadible fruits although I have heard very contradictary reports as to their palatability. Let us know. I would grow it for the flowers, form and autumn colour alone. Christina

February 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterChristina

I'm not familiar with these but they look gorgeous. I've never met a berry I didn't like! Jeannine

February 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJeannine

Hi Deb
Great visual in the first part of the post! Gardeners are truly unstoppable, when they want to get a particular plant home.
Serviceberries are one of the ultimate best shrubs around - 4 season interest and relatively maintenance free.
I have never thought to pick and eat the berries. Knowing me, by the time I'd get around to it, the birds would have eaten them all anyway….

February 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAstrid

Serviceberries are absolutely one of my favorite shrubs! I currently have six (one died), and would plant many more if allowed to by my spouse. All of my plants are the variety 'Autumn Brilliance'. I need to try some other varieties and species. In the right place, this plant really has everything - flowers, wildlife, foliage,etc.

February 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJason

Good to know about the deer. I have a small one and hope it grows bigger soon and produces berries to try. It is in a dry sunny spot and we water it and hope it will grow and grow this year.

February 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDonna@Gardens Eye View

Why don't we (people in general) plant more of these lovely native shrubs and plants? Serviceberries are so pretty and useful and would fill the niche supplanted so often with non-natives like Burning Bush. I didn't plant my landscape shrubs (with the exception of some foundation Hydrangeas). But if I was starting from scratch, I would plant Serviceberries. I was reading that they can be grown in zones 2-9, which is a pretty diverse and widespread area. And they're native to the lower 48!

February 19, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterPlantPostings

Some serviceberries grow wild here and I love them, even though they often get defoliated before they can show off their fall colors, although not always. These two trees will be a wonderful addition to your garden!

February 19, 2013 | Unregistered Commentersweetbay

I love Serviceberry. I don't grow it, but when I was designing my Mother's garden on the east coast, as a wildlife garden, it was an absolute must plant tree. That was more than 10 years ago now, and of everything we planted in her garden, she still loves that tree to pieces. It was a bit gangly, and needed support the first couple of years, but now it's nothing short of magnificent. I know these will do wonderfully well in your garden, and your birds will be thrilled!

February 20, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterCurbstone Valley Farm

They sound adorable....love the description of you driving home with them. Now don't quote me, but i think that they are natives here.....

I will have a look for a few this summer.


February 21, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJen @ Muddy Boot Dreams

I love my service berry and so do the robins that pick it clean of berries each spring. I haven't sampled the fruit either. As quickly as it appears it is gone.

February 26, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJennifer
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