Saskatoons, or Juneberries, are small bushy trees with blueberry-like fruits.
Saskatoons belong to the genus Amelanchier which is found across Europe, Asia, and North America. In Europe Amelanchiers are primarily grown for their attractive spring blossom and the autumnal tints of their leaves, and are commonly known as Snowy Mespilus.
The fruiting species Amelanchier alnifolia originates from the western regions of North America, and was well-known to native Americans. Today Saskatoons are grown commercially in central Canada - including around the city of Saskatoon in the province of Sasketchewan. In the USA they are generally known as Juneberries.
Saskatoons are often compared to blueberries, since the fruits look similar. However Saskatoons are not berries, in fact they are more closely related to crab-apples. They are also much easier to grow than blueberries. The fruits are quite similar in taste and appearance to blueberries though, and can be used for similar purposes. Saskatoons can be eaten fresh, or made into preserves, dried, juiced, or used in pies and crumbles. Saskatoons are highly regarded for their antioxidant and nutritional properties, and are often considered to be a "super food". Saskatoons are a common ingredient in the native American "pemmican" trail food.
The bush-like trees are very cold-hardy and will grow in most well-drained soils - but avoid clay or water-logged soils. They prefer neutral or slightly acidic conditions, but will tolerate slightly alkaline soils. The flowers, which appear during May, are susceptible to frost damage, so avoid planting in areas prone to late frosts. Perhaps the key requirement for successful Saskatoon fruit production in the UK is that they should be planted in a sheltered situation in full sun. This is not surprising, given the origins of this species in the intense sunshine of the western states of North America.
In UK conditions Saskatoons are likely to grow to about 2m - 3m tall, with a similar spread, and will start bearing after 3-4 years. They are grown from seed on their own roots (i.e. not grafted). Fruit production on a mature bush is likely to be 2kg-4kg.
If you don't like pruning then it is useful to know that routine pruning is not essential with Saskatoons. However pruning back in early spring is beneficial to encourage more shoots - because the best quality fruit is produced on younger wood. It is also a good idea to cut out the thickest shoots after 5 years or so, to make way for younger growth.
Saskatoons are best left to grow in their natural form, which is as a bush. Over time multiple stems may develop. An alternative approach is to allow the plant to grow in a loose fan shape, supported on a south-facing wall.
The fruits follow quickly after the blossom - hence the common name 'Juneberry' although in most parts of the UK the fruits are more likely to ripen in July. Like cherries, they are attractive to birds, so it helps to net the fruit.
All Saskatoons are reliably self-fertile but will crop more heavily if several bushes of different varieties are planted together.