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Juneberries – They Go Where Blueberries Can’t

By Jim Ochterski

Many small farm operators and fruit enthusiasts see blueberries as Plan A.  We all know that blueberries are popular, tasty, and they practically market themselves.  But if you do not have very well-drained, acidic soils, you have to go with Plan B.  It would be great if there was a productive berry that very much looked and tasted like a blueberry, but was not so fickle about soils.  That’s where juneberries come in.  And it turns out, juneberries have several advantages over blueberries.

Commercial juneberries are very productive and appealing. Photo by Jim Ochterski.

The juneberry (known commonly elsewhere as a “saskatoon berry”) is a dark-colored fruit that is grown on the Canadian prairies for wholesale processing, with some fresh market and you-pick sales.   The species of commercial interest is Amelanchier alnifolia, a close cousin of our Eastern serviceberry (Amelanchier canadensis), which is found as a tall shrub in our local forests.  Juneberries are currently considered an “uncommon” fruit with virtually no commercial cultivation in the Northeast US.  In comparison, juneberries are grown on almost 900 farms covering more than 3,200 acres of production in Canada.

Juneberries are an early season fruit crop with self-pollinating, frost hardy flowers.   Mature fruit is ready for harvest 45 to 60 days after the very early bloom; they ripen in mid-June to early July in most parts of New York State.  This medium-sized shrub tolerates a wide range of soil pH conditions (4.8 – 8.0) and soil textures (coarse sand to silty clay).  They will not tolerate soggy ground or standing water, but will tolerate many of the soil types unsuitable for blueberries.

The juneberry is native to North America, more particularly to the upper Midwest and northern prairie region of Canada – a bitterly cold and dry climate with low-fertility soils.  The Northeastern climate appears to be favorable for juneberry production, although high humidity can lead to problems with powdery mildew and fungal diseases on young plants.

The ripe juneberry fruit is dark purple, with several tiny soft seeds, and very closely resembles a highbush blueberry.  The fruit is best eaten fresh, but even after prolonged freezing, it retains its firmness and overall shape without becoming mushy.  Juneberries have a flavor reminiscent of dark cherries or raisins, and is generally milder than blueberries.

Nutritionally, juneberries seem to be naturally designed for athletes more than anything else:

  • A typical juneberry is 18 percent sugar, and about 80 percent water.  Juneberries have a lower moisture content than blueberries, so they have relatively higher amounts of calcium, natural fiber, proteins, carbohydrates and lipids in them.
  • Juneberries are an excellent source of iron – each serving provides about 23% RDA for iron (almost twice as much iron as blueberries). They contain high levels of phenolic compounds, particularly anthocyanins, and, they provide healthy amounts of potassium, magnesium and phosphorous.
  • Juneberries have about as much vitamin C, thiamin, riboflavin, pantothenic acid, vitamin B-6, folate, vitamin A and vitamin E as blueberries, and also trace amounts of biotin.

They key to successful establishment of a juneberry orchard is thorough weed control.  Having evolved in a fire-oriented ecosystem, juneberries need two or three years of zero competition from other plants while they become established. There are many ways to maintain this “barren soil” environment, and black fabric mulch appears to be best (you know – so it looks as though a prairie wildfire had swept through).

With all these great features, juneberries are primed to grow from a minor berry to a more common high-value fruit crop in the coming years.  Consumers are ready for a new fruit, especially one with a familiar and appealing taste.  During a juneberry tasting session, we received many positive responses from more than 1,500 samples.

Juneberries will be a good fit for you-pick fruit farms. Photo by Jim Ochterski.

If you want to get juneberries in the ground, start by developing your rows well in advance of ordering or delivery.  Rows should be spaced 10 – 12 feet apart, planning for about 4 feet between bushes.  The first crop will be ready three years after planting, and bushes will yield 4 – 6 pounds of berries annually.

Plant material for small-scale commercial plantings can be hard to find, since it is a new crop.  Most plants are currently purchased from Canadian nurseries, but several Michigan-based operations are increasing their inventory of juneberry plants.

Cornell Cooperative Extension of Ontario County is leading a detailed project to give small-scale fruit growers a realistic sense of the agronomic suitability of juneberries and how well this crop might or might not go over with consumers.  The project has been made possible by the Northeast Sustainable Agriculture Research and Education program (NESARE).  Four farms signed on to provide testing grounds for more than 400 juneberry plants of four different varieties.

Jim Ochterski is the project leader to introduce juneberries in the Northeast.  He is based at the Cornell Cooperative Extension office in Canandaigua, NY (Ontario County) and has an ongoing interest in sustainable, native crops with significant commercial potential.  Jim can be reached at 585-394-3977 x402 or jao14@cornell.edu.

Comments

36 thoughts on “Juneberries – They Go Where Blueberries Can’t

  1. Anne Rangere says:

    I live at the southern end of Letchworth Park in western NY. I am planning on planting one long row of juneberries on one side of my yard. Probably 50ft. row. Where would be the best place to get young plants and when is the best time to plant them?

  2. vws7@cornell.edu says:

    Hi Anne,
    You’ll need to contact the author of the article directly with your question! Thanks!

  3. Janice Martin says:

    I am looking for frozen juneberries for desserts for my catering company. Do you know any suppliers that would have them?

  4. alan says:

    I live in central Illinois. Would juneberries be a good crop to grow here, considering the possibility of powdery mildew & other diseases?

  5. jack munt says:

    what are my options for desease control in the third year? I planted 200 bushes lost 165 the first year supplier replaced them next year last year we had a small crop and they sold very well

  6. rmw95@cornell.edu says:

    Depending on what diseases you’re trying to manage, this website of common diseases for juneberrry crops might be useful: http://ipmguidelines.org/BerryCrops/Chapters/CH11/default-2.aspx

  7. William Wilson says:

    I have some property that is silty clay that does hold moisture in the spring but usually dries out in the summer unless we have a really wet year than it will stay wet and there have been years where it has remained wet. I was wondering if this would be a candidate for June berries. I thought I could find a soil map but couldn’t locate it. I live in north central PA 16946.

  8. julie says:

    Do juneberries need to be protected from birds and do deer tend to browse on the plant?

  9. arw225@cornell.edu says:

    Hi Julie,
    Great questions! Please feel free to reach out to the author of the article. Jim can be reached at 585-394-3977 x402 or jao14@cornell.edu.

  10. Chuck Kottke says:

    Mike suggested that I start a juneberry farm here in NE Wisconsin, though I wonder if there is a sufficient market for these delectable berries?
    Some of the wild ones growing on the hillside above the brook have good size and a most excellent flavor, akin to thick sweet apple-blueberry sauce, and I am wondering if I would be better off simply reproducing these plants using tissue culture methods?

  11. Kathleen Johnson says:

    In answer to Julie about birds and deer. We have a long 100 ft row of Juneberries growing as the front row in our farm shelter belt in North Dakota. The birds love Juneberries and we always need to pick them before the birds get them. The deer also love the Juneberries and after a few years of deer browsing and eating all of the tops off the branches resulting in no flowering and consequently no berries, my husband set up a one string electric fence around the row using solar power to produce the electricity. It kept the deer away so the bushes were able to flower and we started to get Juneberries in the first part of July. The deer population has abated somewhat in our rural area (thanks to the deer hunters) and for a couple years we have had no deer trouble and the fence has come down. I should mention I also had an electric fence around my perennial and lily garden that kept the deer from destroying it. But now because the reasons above, I can finally garden without the fence. I just picked 8 quarts of Juneberries yesterday and today.

  12. Wendy Feldberg says:

    Hi Jim,

    My Saskatoon has scarcely any berries this year. It was transplanted fully grown to a new garden three summers ago. It was in shock the first summer and lost many leaves; it recovered the second summer and this year, depsite few berries, has put out strong new growth. It is planted on the slightly sloping edge of a woodland area and is surrounded by woodland type perennials like dicentra, violets, hosta, etc. it is usually not watered or fertised. What causes the low berry count?

  13. Sarah Diana Nechamen says:

    Hi Wendy,

    I’ve forwarded your question on to the author, Jim Ochterski, and he gave this response:

    “Saskatoons or juneberries (Amelanchier alnifolia is used for commercial production) are full-sun plants. Any shading will reduce berry production. It’s not clear of the woodland edge is shading this one. It may be our more local species Amelanchier canadensis, which does often not have many berries. Another consideration is that this bush is genetically a low-producing plant; some are just like that. Varieties used for commercial juneberry production have been selected for consistent vigorous production. Not knowing the geographical location, the bush may be in a warmer climate, which reduces berry production. Hard to tell. For this bush, apply fertilizer now. A 10-10-10 fertilizer would be appropriate.”

  14. Janice Dehod says:

    I am looking for a cultivar of Saskatoon Berry to plant near Kenora Ontario….. (It is traitorous to call them Juneberries here)Can you suggest a variety…. it is Canadian shield country zone 2b.

  15. Sarah Diana Nechamen says:

    Hi Janice,

    I’ve forwarded your question on to the author of the article.

  16. Walter says:

    I am starting to grow them here in central Pennsylvania. For close to 15 years the birds wipe them out every year. I ate about 3 this year.

  17. Michel Soucy says:

    We’ve discovered a lot of Juneberries/Saskatoon berries in the back end of our new property in Cape Breton and we love them in our smoothies mixed with wild blueberries.

    I’ve come to discover that there are cyanide-like toxins…we like them raw or frozen, is there a daily quantity that would be considered hazardous for one’s health? At the moment we average 1/2 cup per 2-cup smoothie.

  18. arw225@cornell.edu says:

    Hi Michel, The toxins in leaves and pits are a trace amount, so you shouldn’t be worried about consuming too much, unless you have an allergy. Cooking or drying destroys these toxins.

  19. Walter says:

    Michel S. I would not worry about the “cyanide”. It may be part of a harmless to normal tissue, Amygdalin, or vitamin B17 (active ingredient in “laetril”. In its compund state, it is harmless to normal tissue, but a special enzyme found only in cancer cells cause it to break into its components, become toxic, and poisons the cancer cell. I learned this on the “thetruthaboutcancer.com” program, “the quest for the cures”. The “cyanide” is not in a harmful state, but actually is very healthful as a cancer prevention aid.

  20. Carole Ford says:

    A Juneberry jam recipe I found tells me to “grind” the berries before adding to the sugar and cooking. Does this mean to mash? Use a blender? Thanks for any help.

  21. Joe parato says:

    a local vendor has a juneberry for sale, Janet cultivar. Have you any information on the Janet cultivar? Thank you.

  22. Carli Fraccarolli says:

    Hi Carole,

    From the recipes I’ve found online, you can mash the juneberries with a potato masher or other device. Unfortunately the author of this article has taken a new position and will not be able to answer your question. Check out juneberries.org for more information about juneberries!

    Carli – Cornell Small Farms Student Intern

  23. Lucien Hamernik says:

    I have been growing a common selection of amelanchier alnifolia in my garden in northeast Nebraska with success though I planted them too close together. Now I would like to find a US supplier of seedlings for the improved selections of Smoky, Northline,Thiessen,
    Honeywood, JB30, etc. who offers a reasonable retail price. Thanks.

  24. Tara Hammonds says:

    Hi Lucien,
    Cabin Creek Nursery has some of the varieties you are interested in, and they are based in Idaho. I’d encourage you to check it out!

  25. Kathleen Barthelmes says:

    I would like to buy two or three June berry plants. I live in Westchester County just north
    of NYC. Where can I buy them? by mail order?
    a nursery?
    thanks, kay

  26. Claire Cekander says:

    Hi Kathleen,

    The Horticulture department of CCE Westchester reccomended you look here for mail order juneberry plants. Hope this helps.

  27. CAROLE says:

    Good morning
    I live in the NY area and would like plant a junberry tree. Where can I buy one and is October to late to plant such a tree?

    thanks,
    Carole

  28. Claire Cekander says:

    Hi Carole,

    I put you in touch with the author of this article via email. He should be able to help!

  29. Victoria Belik says:

    I live in Brooklyn, NY and would like to plant a juneberry. Where can I get them?

  30. Claire Cekander says:

    Hi Victoria,

    Check out this website for information on where to buy juneberry plants: http://www.cceontario.org/cce-site-documents/juneberry/Sources-juneberry-saskatoon-plant-material.pdf

  31. John Paul says:

    Victoria Belik: I run an edible nursery in Staten Island, NY and offer Juneberries for sale – the website is http://www.mandala.farm

  32. Lucien Hamernik says:

    Hi Tara,
    I just now found your response to my inquiry about specific cultivars–I think. Thank you. The suggested nursery’s web site is down right now but I will keep trying.

  33. donna says:

    I have found a Juneberry bush in my back yard. I first noticed it last year and I tasted one. It was very good. This year it is covered with berries. Never heard of Juneberries until we googled the description and found the match. Very excited about this new fruit that I can add to my diet.

  34. Louise Gagnon says:

    Hello,

    I am writing a book about berries and I would like to have your reference about nutritive value. I would like to get the full portrait. Thank you!

  35. Tara Hammonds says:

    Hi Louise,
    You’ll have to contact the author of this article, Jim Ochterski, directly at 585-394-3977 x402 or jao14@cornell.edu. Thanks!

  36. Louise Gagnon says:

    Hi, I’m sorry but after trying twice, the email address doesn’t work. And as I I’m not fluent in english, I would rather write to mister Ochterski than to call him. I would appreciate if you could help me. Thank you.

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