Now that spring is finally here, many gardeners naturally begin to think about all the new and exciting choices that are soon to be available for planting at their local nurseries. While I’m always up for a trip to look for new plants (I admit it - I’m like a kid in a candy store on my first few forays to the garden center in the spring), I know how important it is to do your research before you go so you are prepared to buy a plant that is perfect for your garden.
There’s nothing worse than buyer’s remorse – who hasn’t fallen in love with a showy tree that’s in bloom and catches your eye as soon as you drive through the gates of your favorite nursery – only to find out it’s a one-hit wonder that adds nothing of interest to your garden after it’s finished blooming (think Weeping Higan Cherry).
Wouldn’t you be happier growing a multi-season beauty that will bring interest to your garden all year long? How about a small native spring-flowering tree that is covered in fragrant white flowers in the spring? Or maybe you’d rather grow a native tree that is adorned in the summer with edible berries that will bring a bevy of songbirds to your garden all summer long? How about a deer-resistant native tree whose leaves turn brilliant shades of red, orange and yellow in the fall? Perhaps you’re looking for a native tree with an interesting bark pattern that changes as the tree matures? Now, what if I said you could have those benefits in just one tree…
Amelanchier (common names are Shadblow, Serviceberry and Juneberry) is a native in zones 4 – 8 that is ideal for a woodland or naturalized garden setting. It grows in full sun to part shade and tolerates a variety of soil and moisture conditions. In the wild, it is often seen growing in wet, boggy areas but in the garden it will thrive in soils that are not that moist. A mature Shadblow is about 20′ tall and 15′ wide. It is one of the first trees to flower in the spring and since it flowers before the leaves open, it is quite showy.
Gardeners who are trying to attract wildlife to their gardens will adore Amelanchier. Researchers have documented that 26 different kinds of wildlife feed on Serviceberries. Songbirds in particular find it’s summer berries delectable. The berries, which start out red and mature to a deep blue, are edible for humans too. You can make jams, jellies and even pies out of the berries, if you can get to them before the birds do. Here in Connecticut, robins, northern catbirds, wood thrushes and scarlet tanagers all feed on Serviceberries.
The fall is the time when most Amelanchiers come into their own. Their leaves turn all shades of yellow, orange and red as the temperatures start to cool down. Leaves have a tendency to drop early which is fine since the bark of Serviceberries adds an interesting feature to your winter garden. Young trees have a smooth gray-striped bark but as trees mature the bark gets hard and develops deep furrows (who doesn’t love something that looks better with age?).
Sure, Serviceberry may not stop you in your tracks like some one-hit wonders but I promise you won’t be sorry if you bring one home to plant. Think about how smart you’ll be as you enjoy your Serviceberry all year long. Just try not to gloat in front of your neighbor who only gets to enjoy that strange weeping tree for a few weeks each year.