Margaret Lauterbach: Saskatoon shrubs bring plenty of tasty berries

Special to the Idaho StatesmanJune 13, 2014 

One of the things I love most about my Saskatoon shrubs is the stutter of ripe fruit. By that I mean a few berries ripen at one time, some much earlier than others. Right now fewer than a dozen are ripe on each bush, just enough for a sweet snack when I'm working in the garden.

Since few berries are plump and blue, birds don't bother them - yet. Later, when all of the berries are ripe, birds (and my dogs) will eat all they can get to. Branches and twigs are too slender to support bird weight, so they have to eat on the fly. Dogs close their mouths on a bunch, then back off, stripping berries into their mouths.

Saskatoons are identified botanically as Amelanchier alnifolia, and popularly as Pacific or western serviceberry, dwarf or alder-leaf shadbush, chuckley pear or western juneberry. It also used to be called pigeon berry.

Best of all, it's native to western America and tougher than a 15-cent chicken.

It's cold hardy to minus-60 degrees, and tolerates alkaline or slightly acid soils, although it shows its resentment at the alkaline barrier against iron by sporting chlorotic (yellow) leaves.

One spray of chelated iron doesn't correct the problem, so repeated sprays are necessary. The first and succeeding sprays should be applied just as leaves are barely out; otherwise the leaves become glossier and resistant to that foliar treatment.

Saskatoon prefers full sun, and although early blossoms may succumb to frost, I think we've had fruit from ours every year for more than 25 years they've been in place. It doesn't require copious water, either, making it easier to grow in our arid climate.

Berries have seeds, but they're soft and chewable. Flavor is similar to that of blueberries, perhaps not quite as sweet.

Most Saskatoons are self-fruitful and don't need a pollinator, but a variety called Altaglow appears to be self-sterile, so should be planted with another cultivar. Saskatoons are said to grow six to 30 feet tall, but in my yard they're less than 4 feet, perhaps due to limited water.


It happens in gardening that when you solve one problem you create another. Wretched raccoons dug at least one sprouted sweet potato per night, knocking off the sprouts, until I put solar lights in that bed. Last week I discovered some resting moths, beautiful golden moths, hiding among pots on the deck. They may be cutworm parents, attracted to my lights. If they are such parents and they laid eggs in that bed, I may not know until next spring when I find fat cutworms in my soil or damaged seedlings.


What does Americans' food future look like? American Farmland Trust reports: "More than 90 percent of our fruits and nearly 80 percent of our vegetables are grown on farmland under pressure from development."

Perhaps headlines reporting a rise in farmland acreage lead us to believe that there's an infinite area of land that can grow food. There is not much untilled flat land that's still available and is irrigable. We are not presently in drought, but that could change, and if the Southwest water shortages worsen, Idaho may be required to be the nation's salad and vegetable provider.

Subdivisions spread out, replacing what used to be arable, irrigable land, reducing the area that grew food. Worse yet, developers record plats containing conditions that prohibit growing food in front yards. A recent report about a rise in farm acreage did specify that the rise did not occur in Ada County. In fact, Ada lost 47,000 acres to development (including 100 fewer farms).

What could we do about that? British Columbia has an Agricultural Land Reserve that preserves farm use. We collect taxes to preserve access to hiking trails, so why couldn't we use tax money to buy and save agricultural land to secure food for future generations?

Send garden questions to or Gardening, The Statesman, P.O. Box 40, Boise, ID 83707.

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