Articles by Jim Gainan

As published in the Billings Gazette

Gardening Today: Juneberries

The Juneberry or saskatoon is a native fruit-bearing shrub of the Northern Great Plains with its range extending northward through the Canadian prairie provinces into the southern Yukon and Northwest Territories. This extremely adaptable plant will grow under a wide range of climatic conditions.

Referred to as a berry, the saskatoon (Amelanchier alnifolia Nutt.) is actually a pome fruit. Other names given to the fruit include: serviceberry, mountain juneberry, western shadbush, and Rocky Mountain blueberry. The Juneberry is one of over 25 species of Amelanchier found in North America.

The bush or small tree grows to a height of 18 feet at ideal sites and bears masses of white flowers in early spring. The fruit is borne in clusters of six to twelve and mature to a purple, red or almost black color. Some ornamental cultivars have cream colored fruit. Fruit size of wild Juneberries ranges from 1/4 to 3/8 inch in diameter with some cultivated varieties having fruit sizes up to 5/8 inch.

Eaten fresh the fruits are tasty and may also be used for wine, home canning, fresh frozen, in pies, jams and fruit rolls. Juneberries are attractive as an ornamental shrub or may be trimmed as a hedge. There is growing interest in the Juneberry as a commercial fruit crop for the fresh fruit market, commercial processing and freezing industries. Several Amelanchier species are used for game range restoration and wildlife plantings, windbreak plantings, and low maintenance or native plant landscaping.


Planting and Production
Juneberries will grow in all types of soil, except poorly drained heavy clay soils lacking in humus, and several named cultivars are available from prairie nurseries. Selections may also be successfully transplanted from the wild, if the shrub is pruned to near ground level after transplanting. Land capable of producing a good commercial strawberry crop will be ideal for this fruit. Research has shown that sandy loam soils give better success than clay loam soils, which is consistent with the natural habitat of this plant.

Northeast slopes for planting are less subject to spring frosts, as Juneberries bloom from late April to early May. Vigorous plants about 12 to 14 inches tall are ideal for transplanting. Transplant the young bushes when they have developed strong roots and tops, trying not to destroy the fibrous roots. Firm the soil around the roots and prune off about a third of the top growth. For commercial plantings, Juneberries are spaced 12-15 feet apart, on 3 to 6 feet centers, depending on cultural and yield goals. The encouragement of suckering is a desirable goal for maximum yields.

After two to four years of establishment, Juneberries will come into bearing. The fruits possess the characteristic of ripening all at once approximately 38 days after petal drop. High yields per plant are 10 pounds; some years, no fruit production is realized due to spring frosts at time of flowering.


Shallow cultivation and hand weeding are required for weed control. Herbicides are available for preplant and fall weed control in windbreaks. Deep cultivation can damage roots and encourages suckers to develop.


Juneberries require regular pruning to maintain healthy plantings and optimum fruit production. Flowers and fruit develop on previous years' growth and older wood. Vigorous new growth results in the highest production of quality fruit. Weak, diseased and low spreading branches should be removed annually. Prune plants before growth begins in the spring to develop young vigorous branches.


Juneberries grown as yard plantings by homeowners require little if any irrigation. One or two annual irrigations will be beneficial in drier regions. Trickle irrigation is most efficient and economical because of the wide row spacings. Once installed it can stay in place should supplemental irrigation be needed during dry periods.


Juneberries are subject to a number of diseases, few of which are of significance to the homeowner. Commercial Juneberry production requires careful disease monitoring and prevention measures. Diseases are more prevalent in areas of higher rainfall than in dryer regions. Control recommendations emphasize cultural methods such as pruning since no chemicals presently are registered for Juneberries. Pruning tools should be disinfected after each cut in order to prevent infection of healthy tissue. A good disinfectant solution for pruning tools is Lysol at 3/4 cup/gallon or household bleach at 1 1/2 cups/gallon of water.

Mummy Berry - (American Brown Rot-Monilina amelancheris). To minimize losses from this disease, remove and destroy all mummified berries, fallen berries, leaves, infected twigs and pedicels.
Juniper Rust - (Cedar-Apple Rust-gymnosporangium juniperi-virginianae and other Gymnosporangium species). Spores are windborne to junipers, the alternate host, where woody galls are formed on the branches. Removal of all junipers up to a distance of 1/2 mile reduces disease incidence to a tolerable level.

Apiosporia Witches' Broom - (Black leaf-Apiosporina collinsii). To control black leaf, rogue and destroy infected seedlings, cuttings and root sprouts. On established bushes prune all twigs, shoots and branches exhibiting symptoms of witches broom about 8 inches below the site of brooming. This may be done in early spring, prior to bud break, but is more easily done in fall immediately following leafdrop, since infected leaves tend to persist. Plants with infected root crowns must be rogued and destroyed.

Fireblight - ( A Bacterium-Erwinia amylovora). The affected leaves usually remain on the bush well into winter. Fruits on infected shoots become leathery and turn brown, dark brown or black. The shrivelled fruit usually remains attached to the bush. Pruning of diseased twigs and branches is the only effective method of control. During the dormant season (late fall to early spring) prune out and destroy all diseased branches, being sure to cut significantly below the diseased area.
During the growing season prune and burn all infected twigs or branches in the same manner cutting below the infected area. Make regular inspections during the summer to detect and remove new infections. Juneberries that are severely infected with large cankers in the trunk should be removed and burned immediately. 

Bird Damage
Bird damage can be a serious problem in growing Juneberries. Screens and netting may be used and will effectively protect covered fruit. Noise guns, radio and bird distress signals are noted as deterrents to fruit predators.


Nutrition and Use
Juneberry fruit has been analyzed for nutritional content. Fruits have been found to be higher in levels of protein, fat, fiber, calcium, magnesium, manganese, barium, and aluminum when compared with blueberries or strawberries. Juneberries are also a source of manganese, magnesium, and iron for the human diet.

In food products such as jams, pie fillings, and fruit leathers which incorporate the entire Juneberry fruit, the seeds within the berry are part of the finished product.