Serviceberry Tree: A Small Tree You Should Know and Love
These trouble-free trees and shrubs are easy to grow and provide fall color, spring flowers and edible berries.
Photo courtesy of Bailey Nurseries, Inc.
Serviceberry trees are graceful trees that are underused in landscapes. Native to North America, these moderate-size trees are easy to grow and give a yard or garden three seasons of color, producing fragrant white flowers in early spring, edible berries in the summer and blazing orange, yellow and red leaves in the fall. They grow slowly, seldom need pruning and don’t have invasive roots, so they’re a good choice for small yards where they’ll be close to driveways, sheds and water mains.
Serviceberry comes in both tree and shrub (multi-trunk) forms, and pruning determines its shape. They grow 1' to 2' a year, so they’re a good choice if you want a tree that won't grow like crazy and take over your yard.
Serviceberry reaches a mature height 15' to 30' tall with a spread of 15' to 25', and has an airy, rounded shape. Its bloom time is shorter than most flowering trees, with blooms lasting just 3 or 4 days but it makes up for the brief show of color in spring by making colorful leaves in the fall. Serviceberries are one of the best small trees for fall color.
A common understory tree in the southeastern forests of the U.S., serviceberry is found in the wild from Louisiana to Newfoundland and as far west as Washington. There are 20 species of serviceberries, including downy serviceberry, Canadian serviceberry and Allegheny serviceberry.
Botanical Name: Amelanchier sp.
Common Name: Serviceberry
Other Names: shadbush, juneberry, sarvisberry, saskatoon, wild plum, sugarplum
Hardiness Zones: 4 to 9
Bloom Time: March and April, depending on location
Growing Serviceberry Trees
You’ll want to grow a serviceberry from a transplant, because most of us don’t have the patience to grow a tree from seed. Serviceberry trees come in containers or in a balled burlap sack. Both are easy to transplant.
When To Plant
Early spring or fall are the best times to plant a serviceberry tree. Cooler temperatures make a less stressful environment for the young tree and give it time to get established before summer heat sets in.
Where To Plant
- Serviceberry trees need at least 4 hours of direct sun each day. They can tolerate partial shade, so you can plant them in a yard with larger trees or at the edge of a woodland and they’ll still get enough light.
- They need moist, well-drained, acidic soil, but they tolerate a wide range of soils.
Caring for Serviceberry Trees
- Water a newly transplanted tree or shrub several times a week, putting 1 to 2 gallons of water at the root zone. Keep the soil evenly moist but don’t overwater.
- Once a serviceberry is established, usually in its second year, the plant shouldn’t need water from you unless the weather is very dry or very hot.
- Serviceberries seldom need pruning, but they do grow suckers, little shoots that sprout near the base of the plant and will become new branches if left unpruned. If you want your serviceberry to stay in its place and not turn into a thicket that spreads through your yard, lop off the suckers once a year.
Pests and Diseases
- Serviceberries sold in nurseries for landscape use are hybrids bred to be resistant to bugs and diseases. You won’t need to spray them preventatively like you do other fruit trees.
- Any plant can get sick, though, so watch for signs of rust, leaf blight, fire blight, powdery mildew and insects.
Serviceberries ripen in early summer, which is why one of the common names for the tree is juneberry.
- Serviceberries are similar to blueberries in size, morphing from green to red to nearly black when fully ripe. They taste like really sweet blueberries. Humans don’t eat them much these days, but ...
- Birds adore serviceberries, so you’ll get a lot of winged visitors to your yard if you leave the berries on the tree. Feathered friends or pies, it’s your choice.
‘Autumn Brilliance’ was bred for disease-resistance and lots of blossoms. Its leaves turn bright orange in the fall, hence its name, so it’s a marvelous choice for autumn color.
‘Princess Diana’ has pinkish-red leaves in the spring that turn dark green in summer and brilliant red in the fall.
‘Strata’ has more horizontal branches than most serviceberries, so it’s wider and heftier, spreading to 30 feet wide.
‘Rubescens’ produces pale pink blooms in the spring with purple-bronze leaves that turn green in the summer.
Garden Design Suggestions
- Serviceberry trees attract bees, birds and other pollinators, making them an ideal choice for a wildlife or pollinator garden, or to foster a yard with a healthy little eco-system.
- Use them as a substitute for Bradford pears, the overused nuisance tree that usually plays the role of insta-tree in a landscape for impatient homeowners. Serviceberries are prettier, easier to grow and more eco-friendly.
The Origin Of The Name
The University of Kentucky College of Agriculture says serviceberry, also called sarvisberry, is named for funeral services. See, “sarvis” was how English settlers pronounced “service” in the 18th century, when they first encountered the trees in the Appalachian woods. The Europeans dubbed the trees serviceberries because the tree flowers very early in spring, a couple of weeks before dogwood, and its blooms were a signal the ground was warm enough to dig a grave for a funeral service. Wouldn’t you be glad to see a tree bloom if it meant you could finally put that winter corpse in the ground?