Growing Saskatoons

The saskatoon bush (Amelanchier alnifolia) is a native to the prairies which produces small, blue fruits that resemble blueberries. The bushes are useful in the landscape, with different varieties growing between six and fifteen feet; larger bushes can be trained as small trees. White flowers appear in early spring, the blue-black fruit usually ripens in early July, and most plants will exhibit a striking yellow to red fall colour. The bushes are self-pollinating, so unlike blueberries, only one variety is required.

Saskatoons in flower

Although saskatoons (also known as juneberry, serviceberry, and shadbush) have been enjoyed by those living on the prairies since First Nations people added it to their pemmican, they are only recently beginning to gain popularity as a commercial crop. All prairie provinces have commercial plantings and exports of saskatoon products are promising. Surprisingly, Great Britain's Food Standards Agency ruled in 2004 that the berries were a "novel" food that must undergo rigourous safety testing before being imported. Fortunately, the ban was quickly deemed unnecessary.

Breeding work continues on saskatoons, but most varieties exhibit good production and flavour. Lee #3 and Lee #8 are smaller bushes (about six feet) with exceptionally flavoured berries. Martin is a selection of the older Thiessen variety, with large early fruit, and reaching about ten feet. Honeywood and Northline are also good choices, with Honeywood being the larger bush and Northline featuring sweeter fruit. 

Saskatoons need well-drained soil, and will tolerate some dryness. They should receive even moisture for best fruit production, however. There are several pests and diseases that affect this plant, including fireblight and saskatoon-juniper rust, so avoid junipers nearby, if possible. 
As a native plant, saskatoon bushes are extremely hardy and should give good production most years. These attractive plants with their tasty fruits are worth including in your edible landscape.

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