How to grow an amelanchier

By Val Bourne

Read gardening expert Val Bourne on the amelanchier, a beautiful flowering shrub or small tree that's ideal for small gardens.
Amelanchier blossomAmelanchier blossom

What is an amelanchier?

An amelanchier is a hardy small tree or shrub, mostly from North America, and they are sometimes called shadbush, June service berry or snowy mespilus. The name snowy mespilus refers to the white, starry flowers that appear in late spring - mostly on bare wood.

The fresh copper-red leaves emerge just as the flowers finish and the foliage turns green in summer before reddening up again in autumn. This moisture-loving tree can also produce edible, currant-like fruits in autumn. Generally amelanchier is a good choice for a small garden as they rarely exceed five metres in height. The shape they grow into will depend on the variety - some turn into large globular shrubs and some develop into small trees.

Growing conditions for amelanchier

These ornamental trees and shrubs enjoy growing on clay in an open position. They are not fussy, but they don’t do well on limey soil.

If you have clay soil, read our suggestions for trees and shrubs for clay soil.

Pruning an amelanchier

If you are growing a tree-like amelanchier, you could restrict it by pruning the canopy using a pruning saw. This should be done when the tree is dormant, between November and late February, when you can also see the shape of the branches. However winter pruning will always be at the expense of next spring’s flower. 

Dealing with an overgrown amelanchier shrub

If it’s a shrubby suckering form you could try stooling (ie cutting down to the ground) straight after flowering. But I would err on the side of caution and just do half in the first year. Or you could 'lift the skirt' of the shrubbier sorts by removing the lower branches to a height of two feet. This will allow you to plant right up to the main stem, but only with shade lovers. Whichever method you use, your amelanchier will grow back to its former size (or larger) relatively quickly. If this isn’t acceptable, remove it.

Planting companions

An amelanchier's white blossom and dark foliage make a perfect foil for dark, sultry tulips or a mixture of pink and purple tulips. These could be plantied in November or December. Choose late-April or May-flowering varieties to coincide with the amelanchier flowers.

You could also plant pulmonarias with pink-toned flowers. 'Leopard' is a brick-pink with green foliage marked with regular silver splashes and 'Raspberry Splash' is a small flowered raspberry pink with narrow leaves. Or use a blue variety like 'Trevi Fountain'.

The best three amelanchiers

Amelanchier x grandiflora 'Robin Hill'

(6 - 8 m)

A recently introduced cultivar which has clusters of pink buds that open into pale pink flowers in spring. These flowers then fade to white before falling. Edible berries follow from June until August. The young leaves are an attractive bronze colour when they first emerge, darkening to a lush green in late spring and summer. In the autumn they turning vivid shades or orange/deep-red before falling. Forms a small garden tree.

Amelanchier lamarckii 'Ballerina'

(4 - 5 m)

A delightful, low maintenance shrub or small tree which is covered with large white flowers in spring. In spring/summer, the leaves are an attractive, cool green turning shades of bright red/orange /gold in the autumn before falling. A superb choice for planting as a either a stand-alone specimen or as part of a mixed border.

Amelanchier ovalis 'Edelweiss'

(3 - 4 m)

A slower-growing amelanchier, a native of Central and Southern Europe, has six-inch long panicles of white flowers in late spring. The leaves are a pink-bronze when young, darkening to cool green in spring and summer before turning to eye-catching shades of orange, red and yellow in a crisp autumn. Once established, this tree produces small black fruit in mid to late summer which are popular with birds. A superb ornamental plant which is suitable to gardens of most sizes.

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