How to Grow a Serviceberry from Seeds

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The serviceberry tree is a popular ornamental and fruit tree that grows in moist conditions, and serviceberry seeds and berries attract a range of birds and insects into the garden. While it is more common to purchase a serviceberry sapling from a garden center, it is possible to grow a tree from a serviceberry seed. Seeds become available in late summer and early fall, when they can be easily gathered from wild plants and planted in containers. It is rare for serviceberry trees to be grown from cuttings, as seeds and seedlings are abundant.

Gathering Serviceberry Seeds

Serviceberries are very popular with birds, so gardeners eager to gather serviceberry seeds may have to compete with wildlife.

It is necessary to remove the seeds from the berry before sowing, as planting whole berries will probably result in the seeds fermenting and failing to germinate. This can be done through stratification--which involves the chilling the seeds--or by using well-drained gravel or sand to strip pulp from the seeds.

If winter is not cold enough, or it does not appear that the serviceberry seeds are germinating, then it is possible to treat the seeds in a fridge. Put the seeds into a mix with double the amount of peat moss or damp sand. Seal into a plastic bag, and leave in a temperate room for about a week. After this, place in the fridge and monitor often for signs of germination, such as the seed case splitting or shoots/roots appearing. Keep the moss or sand damp and if necessary, couple with periods of warmth (placing the plastic bag in a warm room for a week or so). If seeds fail to germinate after this, it may be necessary to wait until the following summer to try again.

Planting Serviceberry Seeds

During August, collect ripe berries, and place in a pail of clean sand. Crush the berries between the fingers while mixing them into the sand; once this is done for all the berries, sieve through a mesh or window screen, removing the larger pieces of pulp. Before planting the seeds, prepare the containers by filling yogurt-sized pots with about three inches of soil, and watering well. Alternatively, seed containers can be bought from local garden stores, and filled to the recommended level with a mix of soil and compost. When all of the sand and seeds have been sifted, plant the remaining seeds into the containers, keeping to about 3 serviceberry seeds per inch of soil. The containers should be kept moist throughout the winter, and once spring arrives, mulched or fertilized until seedlings appear.

Growing the Seeds

Serviceberry seeds planted in this manner will germinate the following spring. While seedlings will probably grow from less than 50% of planted seeds, serviceberries grow rapidly from this poor start, and can easily grow a foot a year after planting.

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