Our landscaper planted two serviceberries. I wasn’t happy with them.
They look very sparse and almost dead looking. Please help.


Thank you for contacting Toronto Master Gardeners.

I am sorry to hear your Serviceberry, Amelanchier, are not doing well. There are many different reasons this could be happening. You do not mention how long they have been in the ground. From the picture they do look like they are dying or are already dead. I cannot see how the trunks look and if the bark is intact. It you gently scratch a branch with your finger nail you can see if there is green under the outer layer of bark. If there is green then the branch is still alive. If it is brown and dry the branch is dead.

The most common cause of trees dying young is not being planted correctly in the first place. There are two main planting issues

  • Trees should never be buried deeper than their root flair. If you look at a tree you will see at the base of the tree the trunk is thicker right before roots start. The tree should be placed in the ground so the soil only starts right where the roots start branching off. If the tree has mulch around its base (which it should have to help with moisture retention) the mulch should be in a doughnut around the tree with the wood chips not touching the bark. If there is mulch or dirt up against the trunk above the root flair the bark will become moist and start breaking down. Within a couple of years the bark can deteriorate enough to stop the flow of nutrients and water up the tree and the tree will die.
  • If the root ball is put in the ground still wrapped in its container or with the roots still in the shape of the container, the roots will continue growing in the hole but not start reaching out to the surrounding soil. If any of these roots are wrapped around the trunk they will start to strangle the plant. If any fertilizers or amended soils were added to the hole when planting that will further discourage roots from branching out as the roots will stay in the highest concentration of nutrients. The hole should always be refilled only with the soil that came from the original hole. It can take several years for the trees to die if planted this way. Often when trees do not have their roots spreading out properly from the trunk you can still wiggle the tree quite easily as it has no support; this can be true even a few years after planting.

You do not mention what care was taken of the trees once planted. New trees need to have the doughnut of mulch around the base and need to be watered when the soil under the mulch dries out. The tree should be watered slowly and deeply. Using a soaker hose for an hour works well. Small frequent waterings will lead to shallow roots that are easily damaged.

You will need to look at your trees and see if they are planted correctly and you will need to determine what is still alive. If the branches show any signs of life, setting buds for next year and green under the bark then you may be able to fix planting issues and hope for next year. If the trees are fully dead then there is not much that can be done for them.

I am including a link to LEAF a Toronto based program that specializes in tree planting and has guides to help you with planting.  Good luck.