Note: Each section on this page contains multiple topics. Click on the tabs for more information.
- Saskatoon berries (Amelanchier alnifolia Nutt) are also known as a june berry, service berry, alder-leaf shadbush or shadberries.
- Commercial saskatoon production in Canada is second only to strawberries.
- As they grow in thickets, they provide habitat for animals like deer and moose.
- Saskatoons can be consumed fresh, dried, or cooked in juice, jams, pies and syrups. They are delicious toppings on ice cream and pancakes!
- While saskatoons look similar to blueberries, they are most closely related to apples and are members of the Rosaceace family (rose). Botanically speaking, saskatoon berries are pomes.
Saskatoons are considered to have high nutritional value as they are rich in antioxidants that are thought to play a role in helping our immune systems. Saskatoons also have a high polyphenols which play a role as anti-inflammatories and to prevent diabetes. Saskatoons also have calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, potassium, ascorbic acid, folic acid, panthothenic acid, pryridoxine, riboflavin, thiamin, tocopherols and fiber.
A 100g serving of frozen berries has 60 calories, 0.6g fat, 12g of carbohydrates (9g of net carbs), 3g of fiber and 1g of protein.
As the seeds are inside the berry and are consumed, saskatoons have higher fiber, protein and fat content than other fruit so they were an excellent choice to provide nutrition for Canada's indigenous people which they used as a major food staple. Summer camps were moved to good picking locations. While used in pemmican, the plant was also a source of medicine. Berries were used to treat diseases of the liver, disinfect, prevent miscarriages and the inner bark was used as a laxative. The Blackfoot peoples used saskatoons to treat diabetes.
The Canadian Food Guide recommends that roughly half of the food on your plate should be fruits and vegetables.
- Saskatoons are native to western Canada, north western USA, Alaska, Yukon and the NWT. Since the mid 1960's, commercial orchards have sold trees to European countries.
- Indigenous peoples used the berries to eat fresh, mashed or dried. Saskatoons were frequently found in pemmican.
- The leaves can be used for teas making it ideal for medicinal uses.
- The wood is flexible so it was used by Indigenous people to make arrows, baskets, etc.
- The word Saskatoon comes from the Cree word "Mis-sask-quah-too-mina" which means "tree of much wood".
Selecting your shrub
- Saskatoons are shrubs or small trees that grow about 1 - 8 m (3' - 26') tall and 3 - 6 m (10' - 20') wide if not pruned.
- Saskatoons have long vertical branches and will sucker but how much they sucker depends on the cultivar.
- Saskatoons produce flowers that are white coloured with 3 - 20 flowers per cluster in mid May with the fruit ready to harvest in mid to late July.
- Saskatoons have unique leaves that are oval to round in shape. The leaf margins get toothy on the upper half of the leaf.
- Berries are a pome and dark purple in colour. They have uneven ripening and the sizes varies widely with cultivar grown.
- Saskatoon shrubs come as small whips or larger shrubs and should be planted in hedgerows 1 - 1.5 m (3' - 5') apart. The shrubs will fill in and form a solid row within five years.
- As saskatoons flower early in the season, it is best to plant them in full sun away from any frost pockets or low laying spots to avoid late frosts damaging the blooms.
Some common cultivars are: 'Honeywood', 'Northline', 'Martin', 'Smoky', 'Pembina' and 'Thiessen'.
- 'Honeywood' - a late saskatoon cultivar. It has large fruit and low suckering.
- 'JB-30' - It has very large fruit and is a heavy producer. It has low suckering.
- 'Martin' - It has very large fruit but is not a heavy producer however it ripens uniformly. It is has moderate suckering. Dieter Martin, the breeder who developed this cultivar, was the landscaper responsible for the beautiful campus grounds at USask.
- 'Northline' - a late cultivar. It has large fruit that ripen at the same time. It suckers freely and is the most common commercial variety of saskatoons used in Canada.
- 'Pembina' - It has small fruit, is high yielding and a compact size with very little suckering which makes it a perfect choice for smaller urban gardens.
- 'Regent' - It has small fruit with very little suckering so this is a great choice for urban landscaping.
- 'Smoky' - a mid season cultivar. It has small berries with a strong almond flavor. While it is high yielding, it suckers freely.
- 'Thiessen' - an early cultivar. It has large fruit, excellent flavor, and is highly productive as the fruit ripen over a longer period of time. It is low suckering.
Any of the edible saskatoons make a lovely ornamental shrub too. 'Standing Ovation' is an ornamental saskatoon cultivar that is a good replacement for columnar aspen. It is a columnar style of shrub reaching up to 12' tall and works well in hedges provided it is in full sun. It has fine foliage that turns yellow in the fall. 'Standing Ovation' has white flowers and features deep purple berries from late spring to early summer. The berries are still edible for humans but since they are a smaller size, they are very attractive to birds. This is an excellence choice to grow in your yard if you'd like to bring in more birds and help improve our local monoculture of columnar aspen in urban areas.
Saskatoons are hardy to Zone 1 and they can survive temperatures up to -60C so there are no additional special needs for growing these successfully in northern environments.
Saskatoons do best in full sun to thrive. They can grow in part sun, but like all plants that aren't getting their preferred sun amounts, you will get fewer, lower quality fruit and the shrub will be more susceptible to problems. As the blooms appear early in the season, ensure they are not planted in a frost pocket. Saskatoons are susceptible to saskatoon-juniper rust so do your best to plant them at least 2 km away from any native junipers to avoid this disease.
They are tolerant of most soils, but do best in well drained, loam or sandy loam soil. They tolerate clay soil if the location is well-drained and adequate moisture maintained.
Saskatoons are often sold as small plugs or whips (from on-line distributors) or as larger plants in containers from nurseries.
Plant in a hole that is big enough to accommodate the entire root mass. Saskatoons should be planted about 2.5 - 5 cm (1" - 2") deeper than they were in the nursery container as this will encourage a multi-stemmed shrub rather than suckers spreading around the mother plant.
They should be spaced at least 1 - 1.5 m (3' - 5') apart from each other. When planted in a hedgerow, they will fill in the space between each plant within five years to form a solid hedge.
Keep the soil around newly planted shrubs moist (but not waterlogged) for the first 2 - 3 weeks.
Do not apply chemical fertilizer. You may apply 5 - 8 cm (2" - 3") of compost or well-composted manure at soil level, around the base of the plant before applying a 4-6" layer of woody mulch that extends at least 4 feet around the shrub. Do not mulch the crown of the shrub.
It's important not to allow grass or other plants such as perennial flowers (not to mention weeds!) within about 1 meter (3') of the stems of newly planted saskatoons. The competition from other plants can slow or stunt its growth. A better way is to space them properly and apply a 4-6" layer of woody mulch around the shrub. Avoid mulching the crown of the shrub as the trunk flare needs access to air or it will begin to rot.
Saskatoons are self fruitful so only one plant is required however saskatoons that have been cross pollinated by bees will produce more fruit.
Saskaton shrubs have a pleasing vertical shape and with beautiful fall foliage that is yellow to orange in colour. They have white flowers that bloom early in spring, often before the leaves have fully emerged.
Saskatoons form a thicket over time and look nice as part of a large, mulched island bed.
Saskatoons can also be planted as an edible hedge or used in functional wildlife habitat shelterbelts. The shrubs are highly attractive to birds and wildlife.
Caring for saskatoons
It's important not to allow grass or other plants (not to mention weeds!) within about one meter of the trunk of newly planted saskatoons. This is because saskatoons have a very shallow root system that does not compete well with other plants. Competition from other plants can slow or stunt its growth. A better way is to apply a thick layer of mulch in a wide circle around the shrub, but take care not to bank mulch on the crown - leave a little well at the base of the shrub instead.
Keep the soil around newly planted shrubs moist (but not waterlogged) for the first 2 - 3 weeks. After that apply about 2.5 cm (1") of water every week or so, unless it rains. Water new plants near the base, but as they grow, apply water at the dripline (the area below the widest part of the tree), where the feeder roots are. Once saskatoons are well established (after 2 - 3 years) they do not require a lot of water.
Do not fertilize newly planted shrubs. It is however, good to apply 2 cm of compost or well-composted manure near the base of the shrub before applying the mulch.
An annual application of compost or composted manure in spring is recommended fertilizer for established saskatoons. Both provide slow release of nutrients, perfect for saskatoons.
If using a granular chemical fertilizer, apply with caution! Saskatoons do not have high requirements for fertilizer and because saskatoons have a shallow root system, they take up fertilizer more quickly than other shrubs. If you apply chemical fertilizer, do so only once in early spring and at 1/3 to 1/5 the normal amount, using a 10-10-10 formulation.
Prune in fall or winter as it is easier to see the form of the plant. Diseased or damaged wood can be removed at any time and suckers need to be controlled.
Saskatoons can be pruned to remove a few branches at the base of the shrub to allow more light and air to penetrate the plant. Watch the video to learn how!
Once the plant gets old and unproductive, it can be chopped down about 15 cm (6") above the soil surface and allowed to re-grow. This will rejuvenate the plant.
Saskatoons are winter hardy to -60C so no winter protection is required however their bark is a preferred food source for deer and rabbits so protecting the trees from wildlife in rural areas is a must.
Saskatoons can be grown from seeds, suckers, hard or soft wood cuttings and tissue culture.
It is hard to produce fruit trees from seeds as trees have a wide genetic diversity. 'Honeywood', 'Northline' and 'Smoky' are the only cultivars that typically breed true from seed provided they have not been cross pollinated by other nearby cultivars.
The seeds of a saskatoon are inside the pome. To collect the seeds, carefully remove the pulp from around the seeds. Wash them in water to remove as much pulp as possible and allow them to air dry.
For more information on saving seeds, visit our seed saving page.
Wild saskatoon bushes are all genetic individuals so each will have their own unique flavour and qualities. If you're using a wild shrub for woody propagation, pick the best tasting shrub you can find since the "new" plant will taste similarly, providing it gets adequate sun, soil and moisture. If you're propagating from a known variety, this step has already been done for you.
In late winter or very early spring, place pruned branches in a bucket of water which will stimulate growth of roots to grow. The branches can be planted out in spring when the roots are well developed. It's a great way to bring a bit of spring into your home after a long winter.
Click on the tabs above for more information!
The birds, the bears, deer, squirrels and deer all enjoy a good feed on saskatoons. Protect your saskatoons with bird netting and if you are in a rural area, use a wildlife fence to protect your berry crop.
- Use netting over your shrubs. Ensure the holes in the netting are no larger than 1.25 cm (1/2") to prevent birds and cats from becoming entangled. Prop the netting up using poles inserting into the soil topped with a pop bottle to keep the netting propped up. Be sure to secure the bottom of the netting with something heavy like bricks or rocks, to prevent birds from crawling underneath.
The berries appear white, then turn red and finally deep purple when they ripen. They will soften when fully ripe. Nearly ripe fruit has more Vitamin C and pectin than fully ripe fruit which has high sugar content.
Saskatoons do not ripen evenly so multiple pickings are required. Saskatoons are quite easy to pick as the berries grow in bunches and the entire bunch can be pulled gently off into your hand. Saskatoon berries do not have abscission zones so the skin will tear slightly when picked. Ensure that your berries are cooled from field heat immediately upon picking and then preserved immediately to prevent any deterioration of the fruit.
Saskatoons can begin producing begin 3 to 5 years with ideal production between 6 to 8 years. If production has slowed, prune the tree back to the ground and allow it to regrow.
Yields are heavily dependent on cultivar (size of berries and level of production) and weather (early frosts destroy blossoms before pollination occurs) so planting shrubs with correct spacing and soil requirements will help greatly increase yields.
Pick saskatoon berries in the cool of morning or later in the evening. Refrigerate the fruit as soon as possible after picking. We recommend taking a cool with ice water out to the berry patch with you. Pick berries into bags that seal and place them immediately into the cooler. This removes the field heat from the berry. Flavor can deteriorate by respiration very quickly if the saskatoons are not immediately cooled and stored in a cool location.
Hand picking the berries works the best. Lift a branch to find the berries as they may be hidden under the leaves.
Berry pickers can be used on saskatoons and you can also shake the berries off the bushes into a pail or tarp. We like to use children’s paddling pools!
Click on the tabs above for more information!
With saskatoons, it is important to cool the berries as soon as they are picked. Load up a cooler with ice water in it. Pick the berries into sealed bags and place them immediately into the cool as they will not deteriorate as quickly. Saskatoons can be stored in the fridge in plastic for three to five days provided the berries were cooled soon after picking.
If you're hoping to store them longer, check the long term section.
Cooking and preserving
Click on the tabs above for more information!
Saskatoons can be made into juice, jelly, jam, compote, liqueur, wine, dried berries and fruit leather. Use saskatoons in baking cakes, muffins, cobbler, crisps and pies.
Click on the tabs above for more information!
Saskatoons are a low maintenance fruit shrub. Providing their water, light and soil needs are managed they don't tend to get a lot of issues. Occasional, light pruning is needed to keep the shrub productive.
The most common problem is birds and animals. Gardeners can either plant enough for the wildlife to enjoy too or protect the shrubs with netting and fencing.
The leaves may occasionally get sunscorch but this usually does not affect its overall health or fruit production. Saskatoons do not have many insect issues but the saskatoon bud moth, saskatoon sawfly and the woolly elm aphid can cause damage.
Diseases in saskatoons can be troublesome including black leaf/witch's broom, cytospora dieback and canker disease, entomosprium leaf spot, saskatoon-juniper rust and fireblight.
See the Common problems tab on this page for advice on these and other specific saskatoon issues.
The University of Saskatchewan fruit program holds an annual plant sale open to the public, usually in the first week of June. Details are available at the link below. We do not sell plants to the public at any other time.
This sale raises funds to hire university summer students and/or purchase equipment for the fruit program.
There is typically a variety of tissue-cultured fruit trees, haskap, sour cherries and other fruits. The plants are whips or saplings, usually in 2" - 4" pots. A plant list will be available closer to the sale date.
There may be a limit to the number of plants sold per person. This is an in-person sale only and we do not ship plants to other locations.
For details and ordering information, please check the most current information about the sale here: USask Fruit program plant sale
If you do not have a saskatoon tree and you would like to enjoy some saskatoon berries this year, you can check out your local farmer's market in mid to late July or find a U-pick farm near you. You can also purchase frozen berries in your local supermarket.
Finally, go for a hike in the river valley park system and locate some trees with the deep purple berries on them. You can also go for a drive down a dirt road, watch the ditches to spy some saskatoon bushes ready to be picked. Ditches or road allowances are property of the county so you are allowed to stand in the ditch and pick berries. Please use caution and avoid stopping in high traffic areas or where your vehicle is hidden from site. Ensure you have the correct plant before eating any wild-picked berries.
If you are not located near a park system or you-pick farm, you can pick saskatoons in the wild. You should not have to enter anyone's property to find saskatoons to pick as they do grow natively on the Canadian prairies along road allowances (ditches).
Wildlife like bears feed regularly on saskatoons so when you go to pick saskatoons, be sure to be bear safe; make a lot of noise and carry bear spray with you. Ensure you have the correct plant before eating any wild-picked berries.
Research and student activities
To view some of USask's fruit programs or research projects involving saskatoons, please click the links below:
- University of Saskatchewan Fruit program - saskatoon page
- Pruning trials in saskatoons
- Chemical composition of select saskatoon varieties
- USask saskatoon germplasm bank
- Dr. Jim Fang
- Abscisic acid induced dormancy and hardening of in vitro saskatoon berry
- Drying characteristics of saskatoon berries under microwave and combined microwave-convection heating
To view scientific research projects into saskatoon berries from around the world, please visit the links below:
- Bioactive components and health benefits of saskatoon berry
- Saskatoon variety evaluation
- Compositional and functional properties of saskatoon berry and blueberry
- Flavonoid profile of saskatoon berries and their health promoting effects
- Evaulation of saskatoon berry cultivars for their polyphenol content, antioxidant properties and storage stability