Canadian Classic Plant: Saskatoons
Sakatoons, the beloved native North American blueberry of the north, is one of the hallmark small fruits of our land. It is hardy and easy to grow. Amelanchier alnifolia – that’s its scientific name – resembles blueberries, belongs to the rose family and interestingly, is related to the apple family. Saskatoons have a crazy hardiness range and are long lived. These shrubs grow as tall as 15 feet can survive winter temperatures of -50 to -60C and they commonly live for 30 years. Some cultivars live as long as 70.
Saskatoons produce a deep purple, richly flavored berry. These shrubs bloom with simple white flowers in early spring, sometimes so early that a late spring frost can damage their fruit setting, and berries begin the ripen in early to late July. Like apples, saskatoons can be picked slightly unripe because they continue to ripen. The fresh berries are delicious all by themselves and they combine well with cream and ice-cream. Saskatoon berries freeze and dry well and are very versatile, lending themselves to berry pies, tarts, scones, muffins, salads, salad dressings, and fruit leathers. The berries are rich in vitamin C, antioxidants, fiber, and protein.
Saskatoons played a role in Canadian history and survival. The berries, bark, roots, and leaves were used by the indigenous populations of Canada for many purposes ranging from nutritional (helped in the prevention of scurvy), to medicinal, and bow making.
Look for varieties with a long track record of good performance. ‘Smoky’ is the most dependable and widely grown variety. ‘Martin’, ‘Thiessen’, ‘Honeywood’, and ‘Northline’ are good performers in Saskatchewan & Alberta. There are new cultivars out in the industry, but their track records have not yet been well established yet.
Saskatoons prefer a full sun location but they are shade tolerant. When determining a location, remember that the more sun, the more productive they will be. They can be planted in the fall or in the spring. Saskatoons have broad soil tolerances but sandy loam is their favorite. They don’t like poor draining clay soil because their roots will rot in the constantly wet environment.
Establish Saskatoon shrubs well by keeping them evenly moist. Avoid letting them dry out or getting too wet. Once established, natural rainfall is all they need but keep in mind that if there is a drought, additional watering is recommended to help fruit.
Saskatoons begin bearing fruit between 3-5 years of age. It has been found that 2-4 year old stalks have the best fruit production. For the first 3 years, prune out dead, damaged or diseased branches. After 3 years, thin braches to improve light diffusion and air movement.
For additional information, check out the sources cited below.
Sources: http://saskatoonberryinstitute.org/saskatoons/, http://www.prairieberries.com/berry.php, https://www.gov.mb.ca/agriculture/crops/production/fruit-crops/saskatoon-berries.html