Everything to know about growing juneberries
We’ve all heard of blueberries. They’re tasty, full of antioxidants, and hugely popular.
But blueberries have a problem. They’re picky. Unless your soil is incredibly well-drained and acidic, you’ll never get them to thrive. Fortunately, there’s an alternative.
Juneberries might not be as famous as blueberries, but their fruit is every bit as nutritious and tasty.
Even better, they’re much less fussy. If you want an easy-to-grow berry that will thrive in conditions other berries won’t, juneberries make an excellent choice.
Here’s everything you need to know about how to grow, care for, and use juneberries.
An Introduction to the Juneberry
The Juneberry is a hardy, early-season fruiting shrub that’s native to Canada and the northern regions of the US. It goes by several names, including Saskatoon berry, serviceberry, sugar pear, and Indian pear.
The most widespread variety is the Amelanchier Canadensis, a large, hardy shrub that grows wild across the western parts of North America.
The other common variety (and most popular from a commercial perspective) is the Amelanchier Alnifolia, a highly productive species used for cultivation.
Unlike the blueberry, the juneberry hasn’t reached a level of fame where it practically markets itself.
In Canada, it’s extremely popular, with around 900 farms currently focused on its production. The berries are available wholesale, at pick-your-own farms, and in grocery stores.
Elsewhere, it’s a different story, with very little commercial cultivation throughout the US. But that could be about to change.
As increasing numbers of people catch onto to its benefits, word about the juneberry plant is starting to spread. It might still have a long way to go before it catches up with the blueberry’s popularity, but it’s inching closer all the time.
Although primarily grown for its fruit, the appeal of the juneberry goes way beyond that.
With its statuesque form, showy white blossoms, and brilliant fall foliage, the juneberry is a hugely attractive ornamental shrub that makes a wonderful addition to any garden.
Common Varieties of Juneberry
Amelanchier Canadensis and Amelanchier Alnifolia might be the two most common varieties of Juneberry, but the species boasts multiple other varieties that are worth getting to know. Some of the most popular types include:
The upright Smoky is a little smaller than other varieties, typically maxing out at around three meters high.
It produces exceptionally sweet fruit and is a consistently excellent cropper. It’s among the most common juneberry varieties used in commercial production.
The Thiessen is one of the earliest and largest fruiting juneberries. A reliable cropper, it yields large quantities of sharp, tangy berries.
The JB30 is a high-yielding plant that produces plump, flavourful berries. The fall colors on this variety are particularly striking.
The Northline is an upright, spreading variety that produces large clusters of dark purple fruit with a deep flavor. Growers can expect excellent yields after just 3 years.
The Honeywood is a late-blooming variety that yields huge clusters of plump, flavorful fruits with very few seeds.
Although the Pembina is one of the less productive juneberries, it makes an attractive ornamental addition to the landscape.
Key Features of the Juneberry
Whether we’re taking form or function, the juneberry has it covered, These hardy, high-yielding plants always put on a good show.
Growers can expect showy, fragrant white flowers in spring followed by juicy, purple berries in summer and golden-orange foliage in fall.
The key features of the plant include:
The juneberry is a shrub-like, multi-trunked tree that can grow to a height and width of around 15- 25 feet.
The plant is self-pollinating and deciduous, producing new, purplish foliage during the spring which turns bright green in summer. In fall, the foliage turns an attractive reddish-orange before dropping off.
Although it begins cropping after around 3 years, the juneberry doesn’t reach maturity until 6-7 years old.
During early spring, the juneberry puts on a stunning display of white, star-shaped flowers.
Although the shrub is a self-pollinator, the flowers still provide a rich source of food for pollinators such as early bees.
The flowers may be attractive, but it’s the juneberry’s fruit that is the real star attraction. You can expect the first yield around three years after planting. After that, the bush should produce around 4- 6 pounds of berries each fall.
According to some people, the fruits have an almost meaty smell, which may be down to their high protein content.
With their sweet, pleasantly nutty flavor and abundant antioxidants, the berries make an excellent addition to jams, jellies, smoothies, and other foods.
The fruit is best enjoyed fresh but retains a good shape and texture after freezing.
How to Plant and Propagate a Juneberry?
One of juneberry’s main selling points is how easy it is to grow. This is an undemanding plant that will thrive in a variety of different environments.
Providing you get the basics in place, you could soon be harvesting your very own juneberries.
If you’re itching to get started, here’s what you need to know.
A major benefit of growing juneberries is the absence of special soil requirements.
Unlike blueberries, which only thrive in acidic soils, the juneberry can tolerate a wide variety of pH levels and soil types.
Gravel, clay, sandy, or loamy… it’s all the same to them. The only thing they really don’t like is wet feet, so avoid planting them in boggy areas.
As well as being tolerant of a range of soil types, the juneberry also has a flexible attitude to climate.
Each variety is frost-hardy in USDA zone 4 and above, but the most commonly cultivated variety tends to prefer the slightly warmer temperature and less extreme winter temperatures found in USDA zone 9.
When you’re deciding which area of the garden to plant your juneberry, it’s wise to consider its size. What starts as a tiny sapling can eventually grow to around 25 feet in height and width.
Even the smallest variety can easily reach 1.8 meters. It’s also worth remembering that juneberries hate being crowded, so try to avoid planting them too close to other plants.
Juneberries like the light and should be planted in full sun if possible. They’ll also cope with partial shade, although their growth may be less vigorous as a result.
If you’re planning on growing several juneberries, start planning and developing your rows before you even think of planting. As juneberries don’t like to be crowded, space the rows around 12 feet apart, allowing 4 feet between each plant.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that while juneberries are self-fertilizing, they tend to be more productive when grown in groups. However, if you don’t have the space for more than one, you can still expect a lovely addition to the landscape regardless.
The best spot for juneberries is on a gentle slope with good water drainage, plenty of healthy air circulation, and full sun.
Although most varieties can tolerate low temperatures, it’s best to avoid plating them in a frost pocket.
Growing from Seed
Juneberries can be grown from cuttings, runners, and crowns, but the most budget-friendly way to grow them is from seed.
If you intend to propagate from the berries, gather the fruit as soon as they’re ripe (typically, June through July), and scrape away the fruit pulp from the seeds. If you don’t have access to a tree, the seeds are readily available online.
Sow the seeds in late summer or the start of fall in a pot with high-quality seed compost. Sow the seeds 1cm into the soil. Place the pots in a cold frame ready to plant out the following spring.
If you prefer, you can sow the seeds directly outdoors. To start, prepare the planting area by removing any weeds.
Sow the seeds 1cm into the ground. Cover with a layer of organic mulch to keep the area weed-free and moist. The seeds should begin to germinate the following spring.
Propagating from Suckers
Although most people choose to propagate from seed, you can also propagate juneberries from seed suckers.
Gather the plant material in early spring before the plant flowers.
Dig out the suckers, being careful to maintain their root integrity, Cut them back to around 5cm and plant. Keep the soil well-watered until the plant is established.
Propagating from Cuttings
Juneberry plants can be propagated from either softwood (spring) or hardwood (dormant) cuttings. Here’s how:
Softwood cuttings should be taken in late spring.
As a general rule, it’s best to take cuttings early in the morning. The plant is usually still full of water at that point, which gives the cutting a better chance of rooting successfully. Don’t cut more than one or two stems from each shrub.
The cutting should be taken during the first flush of spring growth when the stems have developed some woody tissue but are still flexible.
The leaves should be on the borderline between half-grown and almost mature.
Avoid taking cuttings if the stems are either still very flexible and young or have entered the second flush of growth, both of which will result in poor rooting.
Select a healthy stem from the new season’s growth. Use a sharp, sterilized knife to trim the stem from the upper part of the plant. You can sterilize the knife by using 1-part household bleach to 5 parts water.
Trim the cutting at a 45-degree angle into sections measuring around 5cm in length.
Trim just above a bud at the top of the cutting and just below a bud at the base. Remove the lower leaves, leaving two or three terminal leaves on the cutting.
You can either plant the cutting directly outdoors or in a pot. If you prefer to plant outdoors, choose a spot that will give the cutting the best chance of rooting successfully.
Ideally, this should be in a warm, well-drained location with full sun.
Use a spade to create a small slit in the soil. Add a layer of grit or sand to the base of the slit. Insert the cutting into the hole, at a depth of one-half to two-thirds of its length.
If you are planting multiple cuttings, allow around 20cm between each one. Firm up the soil and water well. The cuttings should be ready for transplanting within a year.
If you prefer to root the cutting in a pot, prepare a propagation medium using a 1:1:1 blend of coarse sand, ground pine bark, and peat moss.
Pot the cuttings with the bottom third to half-buried in the pot. Firm up the soil around the cutting and water.
Place the pot in a bright spot outside. Keep the cuttings moist using a sprinkler until they’ve rooted.
After they’ve rooted (this should take around 4-5 months), switch to a water mister instead. The cutting will be ready for transplanting in a year.
Although spring is the most common time to take cuttings, you can also collect them during the dormant season (typically, late January through to the end of February).
Select shoots of around 12 to 36 inches in length from the previous season’s growth.
The stronger and healthier the shoots, the better chance they have of rooting well. Cut the shoots into sections measuring 5 – 6 inches in length with a sharp, sterilized blade. Remove any flower buds.
Prepare a pot with a propagation medium (a 1:1:1 blend of coarse sand, ground pine bark, and peat moss work well).
Insert the cutting into the soil up to one-half to two-thirds of its length. Keep one shoot bud exposed.
Water the cutting and continue to keep the soil moist but not soggy. The plants should be ready for transplanting the following year.
Transplanting Germinated Seeds/ Mature Plants
If you’re transplanting a fully germinated seedling or a mature plant from a pot, it’s best to do it in early spring before flowering starts.
If you are transplanting multiple juneberries, remember to leave around 4 feet between each plant.
The planting hole should be twice as wide as the plant’s root ball. The depth should be equal to its potted depth. As the root system of the juneberry is delicate, be very careful as you remove the plant from its pot.
Place the plant in the hole and backfill with compost-amended soil. Pat the soil down and give it a good soaking.
How to Care for a Juneberry shrub?
Juneberries might be relatively low maintenance, but they still need some TLC from time to time. If you want to enjoy consistently good yields, you’ll need to bear in mind the following:
Juneberries don’t require regular fertilization. That said, a slow-release 10-10-10 formula added at the start of each growing season will promote healthy flowering and abundant fruit yields.
As juneberries hate competing for space, add a few inches of organic mulch (grass clippings will be fine) to repress weeds as well as improve moisture levels.
Weed control is especially important during the first two or three years of the plant’s life.
Although it has its disadvantages as well as its advantages, a black fabric mulch is best for creating a barren environment during those first few years.
Depending on the variety, juneberries can grow up to around 25 feet. If you’d rather maintain them at a more manageable size, regular pruning from the time the plant reaches the age of 6-7 is a must.
Pruning should be done in late winter or early spring before flowering starts. Cut each branch back by around one-third. Remove the lower branches and thin out the center to keep the plant open.
To maintain a tree-like form, keep all but 2 to 3 of the main stems pruned from the time the plant is still young.
If the plant becomes less productive in old age, cut it right back to the ground to encourage fresh, healthy new growth.
Like all plants, juneberries thrive best when they’re provided with just the right amount of water to meet their needs.
They prefer even soil moisture (particularly when they’re being established) and around 15-25mm of water per week. Rainfall will take care of most of their requirements, but they may need a helping hand in droughts.
Pests and Problems
Juneberries are remarkably hardy, but even robust plants can occasionally encounter problems.
While serious diseases are rare, juneberries can sometimes develop fungal diseases such as powder mildew and fire blight in wet conditions. A fungicidal spray will help keep the problem under control.
Although pests rarely attack the juneberry, birds do. They won’t hurt the plant, but they will steal as much of its fruit as they can.
If you’d rather keep the harvest for yourself, cover the plant with netting just before the berries begin to ripen. Once you’ve harvested as much as you’re going to use, remove the nets to let the birds feast on what’s left.
Another common problem for juneberries is small mammals. Rabbits and mice love chewing on the bark, which, as you’d suspect, doesn’t do much for the shrub’s health.
To keep critters at bay, dissolve one shaved bar of Irish Spring soap with one-quart hot water, dilute the solution in two gallons of water, shake, then spray liberally over the tree.
How to Harvest Juneberries?
Juneberries will start to produce fruits at around the age of 3-4. The first few years will typically produce quite low yields, but don’t panic.
Once the shrub hits maturity at the age of around 6-7 years old, you should notice a significant increase in the yield.
Most juneberries produce around 4-6 lbs. of berries each year. Occasionally, you might be lucky to find one that produces up to 10lb.
You can judge the right time to harvest the fruits by their color, as soon as they turn from pink to a deep purple (this will usually be around mid-June to early July, depending on location), you can start plucking them.
Unlike many other types of fruits, juneberries tend to ripen at the same time. As a result, you should be able to pick all or most of the fruits at the same time.
How to Use Juneberries?
Although it makes a lovely ornamental landscape feature, the juneberry is mainly grown for its fruit.
Sweet, plump, and full of goodness, the berries pack a mean nutritional punch.
As they have a slightly lower moisture content than blueberries, they offer higher quantities of calcium, protein, carbohydrates, fiber, lipids, and vitamins.
Each serving contains around 24% RDA for iron (which is almost twice as much as blueberries), along with healthy amounts of vitamin C, thiamin, riboflavin, pantothenic acid, vitamin B-6, folate, vitamin A and vitamin E.
The berries can be used in the same way as you’d typically use blueberries. Pies, muffins, salads, crumbles, sauces, meat glazes, jams, jellies, smoothies, and pancakes… whichever takes your fancy, it’ll taste all the better with a handful or two of juneberries.
How to Store Juneberries?
Unless you want to eat several pounds of fruit in one sitting, you’ll need to find a way to store all your freshly harvested juneberries. If you prefer fresh fruit, you can store the fruit in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.
If you have more fruit than you can use in two weeks, freezing makes a good option. Unlike some fruits, juneberries maintain their firmness and integrity after freezing.
Lay the fruits in a single layer on a flat tray and flash freeze. After that, you can transfer the berries to a plastic bag for freezing without worrying about them clumping. Once frozen, they can be used for 12 months.
If you don’t want to freeze the fruit, consider dehydrating it to make a tasty, healthy snack instead.