Are you looking for new trees for your garden, maybe even a house tree, and would you like to plant deciduous trees that are something special? The service tree is a good candidate in this case. In the following article you will learn a lot about planting and caring for the almost forgotten “Sorbus torminalis”.

plant serviceberries

If you have decided to plant a service tree in your garden, it is initially a good decision because the service tree is an old German tree species that is now threatened with extinction. The service tree in your garden will therefore make a contribution to the preservation of biodiversity in Germany.

But it is also a good decision because the service tree is an extremely frugal tree. And because it’s a tree that’s in the process of expanding its natural range in our favor.

In fact, serviceberries used to grow in Germany only in the warmer regions. Their natural distribution area was centered between southern central Europe and northern southern Europe. In northern Germany and in the mountains, the service tree has already reached its cold limit. That is why it has gained great importance, especially in France and Austria, as a forest tree and as a source of aromatic fruit.

This is changing in the course of climate change, the regions in Germany that are favorable for the service tree are increasing. A current study by the Bavarian State Institute for Forests and Forestry assumes that the regions in Bavaria that are favorable for the service tree will expand due to climate change. From a climatic point of view, the cultivation of service berries is already possible in the southern Bavarian hill country. Today, however, it is basically possible to plant serviceberries anywhere in Germany, even in northern Germany. The service tree has now even made it to southern Scandinavia.


The location for the service tree should be chosen with some foresight. The pome fruit will eventually be around 25 meters high, have a trunk diameter of around 60 cm at breast height and a growth width of 5 to 7 meters. The deciduous deciduous tree with golden yellow to wine-red autumn colors is a beautiful house tree. It is quite reminiscent of an oak tree with its light gray and small-scaly bark when fully grown and its small, ripe brown fruits. The leaves are more reminiscent of a maple. The flowers appear in May/June, are white and adorn the tree in upright, loose corymbs. Also important for the choice of location: the checker tree is a deep rooter. It is usually more than a hundred years old, but it grows rather slowly.

Especially when young, a service tree develops much faster in a sunny location. Then the growth will be about 50 cm per year, later it can decrease to 15 cm.

Otherwise, the service tree prefers a location with rather dry soil, which can be clayey and definitely nutrient-rich. The pH of the soil may be calcareous to slightly acidic. In terms of water and heat, the service tree is quite tolerant, especially if the soil is sufficiently alkaline and the temperatures do not drop too much, it also does well in wetter locations and heavy clay soil.

The care of the service tree

Foresters don’t plant serviceberries until they are at least three years old, and they do so with good reason.

The young serviceberry is quite sensitive. It does not yet tolerate dry phases without any complaints. The Sorbus torminalis also prefers it to be sunny and warm, free-standing on all sides. It is officially classified as a “semi-light tree species” that can withstand shading quite well when young, but a sunny solitary spot ensures optimal positive development and fully exploits the considerable youthful growth potential of the service tree. Later, growth becomes more leisurely all by itself, even in a sunny location. This growth development is very advantageous for a house tree. The small tree quickly becomes a “real house tree”, but then shifts down a gear, so it takes a long time before it threatens to become too big for you.

You should therefore water a young service tree during periods of long drought. You should also fence in the Sorbus torminalis. Roe deer love the serviceberry. Once rooted trees need no more care, except for pruning:

Prune serviceberries

If you want your service tree to develop a correctly balanced crown, you can design it from the start. Side branches that come off at regular intervals are selected, those that grow too densely are removed, and the entire crown should always be kept well translucent.

Otherwise you only need to remove diseased and weak shoots, the service tree does not tend to form excessively long, thin water shoots. If you have taken over a service tree that has already overgrown, you can still grow a beautiful crown with repeated pruning measures over the years.

Use the fruit of the service berries

The serviceberry bears fruits of the same name, which are roundish and at first look quite similar to olives in terms of size, shape and olive-green colour. From October the fruits become ripe and brown. The more mature they become, the more the vegetable tanning agent is broken down. You can see that the breakdown of tannins (tannins) is in full swing when more and more birds feast on the service berries. The overripe fruits are the most popular with birds. The tannin tastes slightly bitter and also has an astringent effect. But the tannins also have their good sides. The astringents dry out when they come into contact with the skin or mucous membranes due to protein precipitation and thus have a blood-thickening, haemostatic and anti-inflammatory effect. That’s why even the birds start with the “harvest” with the half-ripe service berries.

If you want to harvest the fruit in order to process it into “Alisier”, serviceberry brandy or Adlitz berry schnapps, you should not wait until the tannin has completely broken down, as it has a major impact on the taste of the brandy. Incidentally, these brandies are really precious spirits that could really tax your patience for collecting. Serviceberries have to be harvested by hand, the fruit cannot be shaken off. For two liters of schnapps you need 100 kg of fruit (100 liters of mash).

If that is too tedious for you, you can also use the service berries to make jam. Here, too, you are free to decide whether you want to harvest fully ripe, sweet serviceberries or pick them a little earlier. Actually, a complete breakdown of the tannins is not desired here either for reasons of taste. Something else can apply if children are supposed to eat the serviceberry jam, they are usually just more into “just sweet” and don’t have much use for tannins. If you let the serviceberries hang on the tree until the first frost, the fruit will no longer taste of tannin.

diseases and pests

The service tree is ecologically beneficial for the new environment because it gathers its own special range of species around it, a further contribution to the preservation of biodiversity. Service berries are used e.g. B. various butterflies, arrow owls, trapeze owls, beech belted moths and yellow hawthorn moths, as caterpillar food plants. The checker tree is more of a single plant that, due to its natural rarity, does not require any very special accompanying fauna and flora. A wide variety of beetles, butterflies and other arthropods populate the tree.

Due to its isolated occurrence, there are no diseases and pests specific to the service tree. However, like any whitebeam, it is not a plant for an area that is currently threatened by fire blight. The common annoyances such as non-specific pests and inclement weather are usually dealt with very well by the checker tree with its insensitivity. Only voles should be controlled at some point. They feel so comfortable under serviceberries that they won’t move out on their own.

Background information on the service tree

The service tree is not only a useful and good-looking tree, but also an interesting one. It has the botanical name Sorbus torminalis and is one of our native deciduous trees. It is a pome fruit from the whitebeam (Sorbus) family. What is interesting about a service tree is that it was voted “Tree of the Year” in Germany in 2011 and received the same honor in Austria in 2012.

First of all, it is special that the service tree is one of our traditional, native trees. A once very popular and well-known tree, from around 1500 ff. B. communicated that Mrs. Luther always wanted to have serviceberries in the house and that she often asked Martin Luther to get her the fruit.

How well known the service tree was can be seen very well from the many names that have been given to the service tree over the centuries. It is discussed as an atlas tree and atlas berry, aris berry or arles berry, Els rowan berry or Elzbeere, Alzbeere and Adlitzbeere.


They are also known (known) under the name Ruhr pear, because the fruits were considered a well-known remedy for the bacterial intestinal disease dysentery (today known as Shigella infection or Shigellosis and notifiable). Because of other beneficial properties, they were called Beautiful Else, Swiss Pear Tree and Wild Sparrowhawk Tree.

If you think about how many service berries grow in the natural environment around you, you will quickly realize that the service berries are no longer so famous. The service tree is now threatened with extinction and is on the red list in many parts of Germany.

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