Useful for making pies, syrup, and jam, elderberries are fragrant and versatile fruits. Moreover, elderberry wine is a well-known restorative and pleasant refreshing drink, and the jelly makes a change from other summer delights.
The plant produces purple-black berries and white spring/summer flowers that attract pollinators to the benefit of your garden. Below are some tips on how to grow elderberry bushes to produce fine harvests.
There are different varieties of elderberries, so a site needs to be chosen accordingly for the type to thrive.
Most elderberry shrubs need a warm spot with up to 6 hours of direct sunlight per day to produce plenty of flowers and berries but other cultivars require partial shade.
To begin with, the American elderberry is a good choice as it enjoys full sunlight to partial shade. You can grow as a potted plant on your patio if you have a large pot and plenty of space.
It’s important to prepare the soil before planting. Well-drained loamy soil will give the elderberry plants a good chance to develop. Also, these plants thrive best in soil that is slightly acidic at a pH of 5.5 to 6.5.
Increase acidity by adding some compost or sphagnum peat. Leaf mold can also be added or even pine needles if pines are native to the area. Additionally, incorporate plenty of organic matter if the soil is sandy.
How to Plant Elderberries
Elderberries can be successfully raised from seed or propagated from cuttings.
Growing From Seed
Collect the seeds at the end of summer or the beginning of fall when the berries are fully ripe (plump and dark purple). The seeds have a hard outer shell; therefore, they will need stratification for good germination .
Gathering the Berries
To harvest elderberry seeds, gather bunches of berries and place them in a container. Next, rub and crush them until the seeds separate from the pulp. Afterward, cover the crushed berries in water and soak for at least a day.
While soaking, mix occasionally. The seeds that aren’t good, as well as the pulp, will float to the top of the water. Throw away the unusable seeds and then use a sieve to strain out the water to collect the good seeds.
Next, spread seeds on newspapers for drying. You can then store them in a cool dry place until they are ready for stratification.
Chilling the seeds (stratification) is essential because they can take up to five years to germinate without treatment.
Soak them in water for three days before wrapping them in a paper towel and placing them in a sealable plastic bag. Next, place in the refrigerator for 60 to 90 days.
The best time to plant elderberry seeds is in late fall. Cover the seeds in moist fertile soil. Additionally, keep watering during the first frost to ensure the soil does not dry out.
To pot out, carefully pick out the seeds and sow them into trays of a potting medium at a depth of half an inch.
Seeds need to be 2 inches apart, misted and covered lightly with mulch. Keep in a constant warm bright room with temperatures above 68 degrees. Additionally, check for moisture every few days and mist (not soak) if drying out.
If temperatures remain ideal, germination should be in 4-6 weeks, though it can still take several months for seedlings to appear.
Transplanting Elderberry Seedlings
Grow the seedlings under nursery conditions for at least a year. Shelter them from strong winds and give them proper lighting until their roots develop properly.
Afterward, plant out in the garden in fertile, well-draining soil and space 6 to 10 feet apart. Also, water regularly and place some mulch around the roots.
Elderberry trees do not require much fertilization as they get most of their nutrients from organic matter in the soil.
Propagating From Cuttings
To grow elderberry from cuttings, you can propagate by both softwood and hardwood cuttings. However, most people choose softwood cuttings over hardwood.
Take cuttings from healthy pest/disease-free plants. Early in the day, select and cut a pliant new branch — one that is just hardening up from green to brown.
Next, cut the branch into small segments (4 to 6 inches long) and remove the lower leaves with one top set remaining. In a bucket, prepare a sterile medium from peat moss and sand with a 50/50 ratio and moisten until crumbly. Do not use regular soil.
Transfer the mix to 2-4 inch pots and dip the bottom third of each cutting in rooting powder. Now, use a pencil or piece of stick to poke holes in the medium. Insert the end of the branch in the hole, being careful not to rub off the rooting compound.
Cover the pots with clear plastic bags and secure them with elastic bands. Keep the pots in a bright warm area but away from direct sunlight. Also, remove the bag every few days and mist the cuttings with water. Just remember to cover them back.
When the roots feel firm after a gentle tug, it is time to move the cuttings to a bigger pot into quality potting soil. Water regularly and remove the plastic bags for good, keeping the developing elderberry plants in the same warm conditions.
Use an all-purpose water-soluble fertilizer once a month until ready to plant out into a sunny, humus-rich soil in the garden.
Caring for Elderberry Bushes
- The plants do like plenty of water, especially in hot spells, but should not become sodden.
- Elderberries are not especially particular about humidity but cool and moist is preferred to hot and dry.
- Again, these plants thrive without too many added nutrients if initially planted in soil with plenty of organic matter forked in.
- Weed control. Keep the elderberries free of weeds with careful weeding as the roots are shallow and should not be disturbed.
- Pests and diseases. Scale insects, mealybugs, elder borer, and aphids can attack these plants. They can also be prone to canker, powdery mildew, leaf spot, and other diseases . Various organic methods of control should eliminate them.
- Remove dead, diseased, or damaged canes at the trunk. Ensure that the elderberry bush is at least three years old before pruning.
Harvest when berries turn dark purple to black. Cut big clusters with a pruning shear. Next, collect them in a bucket or plastic bag. Finally, remove the berries from the toxic stems and leaves.
You can now freeze, dry, make syrup, pie, etc. We have an upcoming article on how to preserve and use elderberries.
Elderberries add much to the garden and kitchen with bright green glossy leaves, a lovely spray of white flowers, and delicious fruits.