Gardening

How to grow elderberries organically (and elderflowers)

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Growing elderberries is surprisingly easy. Elderberries and elderflowers make delicious foods and beverages, plus research shows the berries contain helpful immune-boosting anti-viral compounds. Here’s a complete guide to growing and harvesting your own elderberries and elderflowers!


Elderberry, aka Sambucus, is a small, deciduous tree/shrub that grows in virtually every temperate region on earth. There are dozens of different species of Sambucus around the world. Depending on the species, elderberries may be red, blue, or black/purple.

A beautiful 5-gallon bucket full of perfectly ripe elderberries from Tyrant Farms. Growing elderberry trees by Tyrant Farms

A 5-gallon bucket full of perfectly ripe elderberries from Tyrant Farms. These berries are from American black elderberries (Sambucas canadensis).

American black elderberry (Sambucas canadensis) – an excellent species for cultivation

In this article, we’ll be focusing on how to grow one particular species of elderberry: Sambucas canadensis, aka “American black elderberry.” This is an elderberry species native to about half of the United States, can be grown almost anywhere, and produces an excellent fruit that makes it popular for home and farm cultivation alike.  

Native range of North American Sambucus nigra subspecies. Image courtesy Elbert L. Little, Jr., of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service.

Native ranges of various elderberry species in North America, which grow from Ag Zone 5-8. Sambucus canadensis range shown in green. Image courtesy Elbert L. Little, Jr., of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service.

Sambucus canadensis plants feature dark purple-black berries and produce excellent quality fruit. They also have extraordinarily high concentrations of health-boosting compounds such as anthocyanin (which gives the berries their purple/black color).

We grow Sambucus canadensis varieties, and recommend you do as well — especially if you live in the ranges on the map above where the species grows natively. Otherwise, you might also consider species that are native to your growing region.

For easier reading, we’ll simply refer to Sambucus canadensis as “elderberries” for the remainder of this article.

Growing elderberry trees in an edible urban landscape works perfectly. The two large plants at the very back of our edible landscape are elderberry trees that have just gone from flowering to fruit set in early summer.

Growing elderberry trees in an edible urban landscape works perfectly. The two large plants at the very back of our edible landscape are elderberry trees that are starting to flower. The white flowering plant in front is yarrow, not elderberries.

Where does the name elderberry come from?

The name “elderberry” comes from the Anglo Saxon word “æld,” which sounds like “old” but actually translates to “fire.” Centuries ago, the hollow, straight stems of elderberry branches were used to blow air into a hot fireplace, fueling the flame.

Given that the center of a cut and dried elderberry branch has a light styrofoam-like texture that would make an ideal fire-starting material, this feature may also have factored into the plant’s old Anglo Saxon name.

Are elderberries easy to grow? 

In our experience, growing elderberry plants organically is surprisingly easy compared to other fruit species we grow. (See: Easiest fruit to grow organically in the southeast US.)

We currently grow four elderberry plants, which is enough to produce all the flowers and fruit we need for a year.

Elderberries are also very low-maintenance plants. In fact, our elderberries are now over a decade old and have had almost zero pest or disease problems. Once established, we’ve only had to irrigate our elderberries during severe summer droughts.

This rainbow formed over the top of blooming elderflowers which is an undeniable sign that you should starting growing elderberry trees this year.

This rainbow formed over the top of blooming elderflowers which is an undeniable sign that you should starting growing elderberry trees this year.

The downside of growing elderberries

The only negative things we can say about growing elderberries are:

  1. they sometimes produce more fruit than we have time to harvest and process during peak fruiting season in early summer, and
  2. they produce lots of runners throughout the year that have to be removed unless you want a forest of elderberries.

How to grow elderberries organically: a step-by-step guide

Below is a step-by-step guide to grow elderberries organically. We’ll show you exactly what you need to know to grow huge quantities of elderberries and elderflowers without using synthetic fertilizers or pesticides.

One of the elderberry trees in our front yard (large plant in the back with white flower clusters). Growing elderberry trees by Tyrant Farms.

One of the elderberry trees in our front yard (the large plant in the back with white flower clusters). Not pictured: dozens of elderberry runners popping up near this tree that we have to pull or cut almost continuously during the warm months.

Step 1: Plan for your elderberry plants (number of plants, spacing, etc).

There are some important questions you’ll want to ask and answer before growing elderberries:

1. Are elderberries self-fertile? How many elderberry varieties do you need for best fruit production?

Technically, elderberries are self-pollinating to varying degrees. However, bred varieties don’t perform nearly as well without another variety growing nearby.

Pollinators (like our neighbor's European honeybees) LOVE elderflowers. Help your pollinators and yourself by growing multiple varieties of elderberry to enjoy larger yields. Growing elderberry trees - multiple varieties

Pollinators (like our neighbor’s European honeybees) LOVE elderflowers. Help your pollinators and yourself by growing multiple varieties of elderberry to enjoy larger yields.

Pollination with a different elderberry will increase fruit set and berry size. This means you should grow at least two varieties of elderberries.

2. What’s the ideal spacing for elderberry plants?

You should plant your elderberry trees no more than 50′ apart for best cross-pollination. If you’d like to plant your elderberry trees more densely, space them no closer than 10′ apart.

3. How big do elderberry plants grow?

Mature elderberry plants can get quite large, about 10-12′ tall x 8′ wide. They’re more a large shrub than a tree.  

One of the elderberry trees in our front yard at the very beginning of its bloom cycle.

One of the elderberry trees in our front yard at the very beginning of its bloom cycle.

4. Do elderberries need to grow in full sun? Can they tolerate part shade?

For maximum fruit production, plant your elderberries in full-sun spots (6+ hours of direct summer sunlight).

Elderberries can also tolerate part shade, but you’ll get lower yields. Yes, we know this from experience. 

5. How long do elderberry plants live?

An elderberry plant can live for up 60 years. This is about 1/10 the lifespan of Keith Richards.

6. What do elderberry plants look like? Are they attractive?

Grown in full sun and plenty of spacing, elderberry plants form a large round shape. Their elegant flower clusters also help make them a nice addition to an edible landscape.

However, elderberry branches are fairly brittle. Since the flower/berry clusters form at the tip of each branch, branches loaded with fruit tend to hang down under the weight, which makes them prone to snapping during heavy winds and storms.

An elderflower cluster starting to bloom. Each small flower will become a berry.

An elderflower cluster starting to bloom. Each small flower will become a berry.

Three of our elderberry plants are located in our front yard and they can be quite stunning during bloom in June. The ends of every branch are covered in clusters of sweet-smelling white flowers that are buzzing with pollinators.

Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis) in full bloom.

This is the entrance to our driveway when our elderberries are in full bloom.

6. What ag zone do elderberries grow in?

Sambucus canadensis elderberries grow from agricultural zones 5-8. Towards the top of this article, you can see a map depicting the zones of various species of elderberries native to North American.

Based on all the information above, make sure you have the space and ideal growing conditions before committing to growing elderberries!

Step 2: Choose elderberry seeds, cuttings, or bare root plants 

There are three ways you can source obtain or start elderberries, each with pros and cons:

Option 1. Growing elderberry trees from seed – 3 years until fruit

An individual elderberry is about 1/8 – 1/4″ in diameter. Inside the berry is about 3-5 small seeds.

Each year, mockingbirds unintentionally start dozens of elderberry trees from seed in our yard, when they eat the berries and excrete the seeds. (Coincidentally, this is primarily how elderberries spread in the wild.) Unfortunately for us, the mockingbirds don’t tend to aim for spots in our garden where we want elderberry trees growing, so we have to pull the young plants before they get established.

You can also start new elderberry plants from seeds you find in the mature berries — although we don’t recommend you use the mockingbird method due to sanitation concerns.

To start elderberries from seed, you can either:

  1. Sow each seed 1/2 – 1/4″ deep in containers BEFORE winter, then let the seeds cold stratify outdoors before germinating in the spring. Transplant them out to their final spots when they’re about 6″ tall.
  2. Take the lazy approach and sow the seeds directly in the desired spot in your garden before winter to allow for cold stratification.

Since elderberries readily hybridize, starting from seed means you’re unlikely to get plants that are exactly true to the parent. However, you’re still likely to get good fruit from your new variety and if the seeds come from locally grown fruit, they’ll be better adapted to your specific environment.

Growing elderberry plants from seed does means it will take you longer to get a harvest (3 years) than it will with the other two methods below (which will each give you fruit in 2 years).

Growing elderberry trees from seeds means you'll need to wait an additional year to get this...

Growing elderberry trees from seeds means you’ll need to wait an additional year to get fruit…

Option 2. Growing elderberry trees from cuttings – 2 years until fruit

If you know someone who has mature elderberry plants, ask them to give you some of the cuttings when they trim their plants back in late winter. Or if you know how to identify wild elderberry plants, you can source your own cuttings.

Elderberry cuttings are incredibly easy to root, as we found out the hard way years back when The Tyrant had me cut back our dormant elderberries from 12′ tall to about 6′. I took the cuttings and tossed them at the back of our property next to a path.

When spring came, we noticed that every single elderberry branch that was touching the ground had put down roots and was sending up new growth. Since we didn’t want elderberry trees growing in that spot, all of the now-rooted plants had to be pulled out of the ground.

Here’s how to grow elderberry trees from cuttings:

  1. Collect cuttings in the fall, late winter, or early spring. Hot, dry summer conditions can reduce your elderberry transplanting success.
  2. Use woody sections of branches (not the green new wood) that are 1/2″ – 1″ in diameter. Cut them into 3-4″ long cuttings. Be sure you’re using living branches, which will have a green streak under the brown bark.
  3. Next, either: a) stick the cuttings 6″ deep in containers with potting soil, or b) stick them 6″ in the ground in their final location. If you go with option b, be sure to first amend the soil with ~40% compost to native soil. Then top-dress around the plant with 2-3″ of mulch/wood chips.
  4. Water in the elderberry cutting. Keep the soil moist (but not wet) until you see new growth on the cutting by ensuring that it gets at least 1″ of water per week via rain or irrigation.
You'll never forget picking your first ripe elderberry cluster.

You’ll never forget picking your first ripe elderberry cluster!

Option 3. Growing elderberry trees from bare root or potted plants – 2 years until fruit

If you order elderberries from an online plant nursery, you’ll either get small potted or bare root plants in the fall or spring. These are ready to go in the ground immediately.

Amend the soil and keep their soil damp until the plants are established. 

The benefits of growing elderberry trees from bare root or potted elderberry plants are:

  1. You can order specific high production named varieties from a plant nursery/breeder,
  2. You can be absolutely certain you’re getting multiple varieties to ensure good fruit production.

These are the reasons why we originally bought our elderberry trees as bare root plants.

Which elderberry varieties are best? 

We grow ‘Adams’, ‘Johns’, and ‘Nova’ elderberry varieties. ‘York’ is another popular variety that we have yet to grow.

Frankly, we can’t tell much difference between any of our elderberry varieties in either taste, fruit size, or yield. However, all of the bred varieties we grow produce significantly larger berries and larger yields than the wild elderberry plants we see in our area.

Where to buy elderberry plants:

Here are links to highly rated Amazon nursery sellers where you can purchase each recommended variety of elderberry mentioned above:

*When purchasing, remember to order at least two varieties for ideal pollination and berry production!

This Carolina mantis says that all varieties of elderberry are its favorite.

This Carolina mantis says that all varieties of elderberry are its favorite to hunt on. No, mantises don’t eat the berries but we see lots of them on our plants trying to catch any other insects that might be around. 

Step 3: Maintain and manage your elderberry plants 

Elderberry water requirements:

During the first year that your elderberry trees are in the ground, make sure they get 1″ of water per week via irrigation or rain during the warm months when they’re actively growing.

After year 1, your elderberry trees should be well-established and need no (or very little) additional irrigation if you live in a temperate climate region where it rains regularly. We’ve irrigated our mature elderberry trees once: during a “150 year drought” three summers ago when we didn’t get rain for almost 3 months and temps remained in the 90s.

Caveat: if you want to keep your elderberry plants extra happy and maximize yields and fruit size, make sure they get at least 1″ of water per week in the summer. We just take a lazier hands-off approach.  

Soil fertility for elderberries:

In the late winter-early spring before they break dormancy, put a 2-3″ layer of compost around your elderberry trees. Don’t till it in, let nature do the work. Then top-dress the compost with a 3″ layer of wood chips/mulch. Repeat these steps yearly.

This practice will give your elderberries all the nutrition they need to remain healthy and productive. If for some reason you notice your elderberry trees looking nutrient-deprived (yellowing leaves, stunted growth), give them a nutrition boost with a good organic fertilizer.

Pruning elderberry trees:

You don’t need to do any pruning during the first two years of an elderberry tree’s life. Frankly, pruning is optional from year 3+, although you’ll probably want to prune as follows:

  • Cut out any dead or weaker shoots or branches in the late winter;
  • In late winter before the trees break dormancy, cut the branches back to about 6′ tall. This way, you’ll be better able to reach the flowers and fruit in the center of the plants with a ladder in the spring and summer.

Controlling elderberry suckers/runners

Mature elderberries will send off lots of underground suckers from the parent plant. If not maintained, these can end up turning the area into a dense thicket of elderberry trees. In our experience, removing elderberry suckers is the maintenance chore that requires the most time of all when growing elderberry trees. 

Cut back to the ground, runners will re-sprout. Ideally, you can dig them out instead. 

Elderberry pests and diseases:

We live in one of the most humid, disease-prone and insect-infested regions in the US. Another nice thing about growing elderberries: they have few pest or diseases.

A few issues worthy of mention:

Japanese beetles – Japanese beetles do enjoy eating the leaves, but you can control their populations using organic methods as we’ve detailed elsewhere

Another reason not to use insecticides when growing elderberry trees? They're covered with pollinator and other beneficial insects, especially when they're flowering. Here's a beautiful question mark butterfly (Polygonia interrogationis) resting on one of our elderberry trees.

Need another reason not to use pesticides when growing elderberry trees? They’re covered with pollinator and other beneficial insects, especially when they’re flowering. Here’s a beautiful question mark butterfly (Polygonia interrogationis) resting on one of our elderberry trees.

Birds – As mentioned earlier, birds do like elderberries. We have so much fruit (including dozens of pounds of ripe elderberries each day in the summer), that birds don’t make a noticeable dent in our elderberry production. Since birds are also great insect predators, we’re perfectly happy to share our bounty with them.

If birds are putting a sizable dent in your elderberry production, try hanging aluminum pie pans in your elderberry trees. You can also put out an inflatable scarecrow owl – just move it around every couple days so the birds continue to think it’s real.

Elderberry diseases – If you encounter a plant disease on your elderberry trees, first make sure you’re using the compost + mulch method recommended previously. Unhealthy plants are much more prone to pests and diseases.

Next, consider using probiotic foliar sprays. DIY actively aerated compost tea made from worm castings or compost will both help in disease prevention and reduction while giving your plants a quick nutrient boost as well.

Step 4: Harvest your elder flowers and elderberries 

Now comes the best part – eating your elderberries! But first… 

Is it safe to eat elderberries? Are elderberry plants poisonous?

Do keep in mind that the leaves, twigs, branches, seeds, roots, and unripe (green) berries of elderberries contain sambunigrin, a cyanogenic glycoside which can be toxic to humans and animals. 

Elderberry clusters ripening on our trees. The only parts of elderberry plants that are safe to eat are the flowers and ripe berries.

Elderberry clusters (umbels) ripening on our trees. The only parts of elderberry plants that are safe to eat are the flowers and ripe berries.

Ripe elderberries are safe to eat as are the flowers — although you probably don’t want to eat large quantities of the whole raw berries. Elderberries aren’t that great eaten fresh but are downright magical once cooked and lightly sweetened, so cook your elderberries and strain the seeds out before consuming.  

*We’ve read that the mad geniuses at SOMA have utilized lacto-fermented green elderberries in their dishes. The lacto-fermentation process apparently degrades the toxins, rendering them safe to eat. We’ve never tested or tried this method, so can’t vouch for it. 

Video: how and when to pick elderberries: 

When you’re new at something, it’s helpful to watch a video in addition to reading about it. Thus, here’s a quick video showing you exactly when elderberries are ripe and safe to eat: 

 

*video may not display if you have ad blocker software running

How and when do you harvest elderflowers (elderberry flowers)?

One of the best things about growing elderberry trees is getting elderflowers, which are an absolute delicacy.

A harvest basket full of elderflower clusters.

A harvest basket full of elderflower clusters.

The first year your elderberry trees produce flowers (year 2 or 3 after you start them), you’ll have a decision to make: should you harvest the flowers?

  • The more flowers you harvest, the less berries you’ll get.
  • If you harvest all the elderflowers, the plant will put more energy into future growth, but you’ll get no berries that year.

As your elderberry trees mature, you’ll likely have more flowers and fruit than you can handle. Given how brittle elderberry branches are, we focus our flower-harvesting efforts on the outside branches and the weaker branches, e.g. the branches most likely to snap in a storm when they’re fully loaded with berries.

In our ag zone (7B in Greenville, SC), elderflowers can be harvested in late May – early June.

To harvest elderflowers, cut the entire flower stalk at the base. Repeat until you have all the flowers you want.

How to process elderflowers

Processing elderflowers is not a quick or easy process, but it’s worth the aggravation. 

Freshly harvested and processed elderflowers, ready to be dehydrated or used fresh in recipes.

Freshly harvested and processed elderflowers, ready to be dehydrated or used fresh in recipes. The subtle yet indescribably delicious flavor of elderflowers makes the effort of picking them more than worth it.

Elderflowers do not shake loose from the flower stalk very easily. Instead, they have to be pulled off by hand, or more precisely with the tips of your fingers. 

Once you’ve removed the elderflowers from the stalk, you can either dry them for long term storage OR make them immediately into magical concoctions.

Example: check out our decadent sparkling elderflower syrup/cordial recipe:

Tyrant Farms' fermented elderflower cordial is our favorite use of elderflowers. Get our recipe here! Growing elderflower trees

Tyrant Farms’ fermented elderflower cordial is our favorite use of elderflowers. Go to recipe.

How do you harvest elderberries (fruit)?

When are elderberries ripe? How do you pick them? 

In our ag zone (7B in Greenville, SC), elderberries ripen from early to late July, depending on the variety and how warm the season is.

Ripe elderberries are so dark purple that they appear black. After cutting off the berry clusters, you'll need to remove the berries from the stems.

Ripe elderberries are so dark purple that they appear black. After cutting off the berry clusters, you’ll need to remove the berries from the stems.

Wait until your elderberries are fully ripe before picking them. The berries should be dark purple-black in color.

Here are ripening elderberry clusters on the same tree. The first clusters will ripen up to two weeks before the final clusters ripen.

Here are ripening elderberry clusters on the same tree. The first clusters will ripen up to two weeks before the final clusters ripen.

On a single large cluster/umbel of elderberries there may still be a few unripe berries that you can pull off and discard before processing.

Just as with the elderflowers, harvest ripe elderberries by removing the entire umbel from the plant.

Freshly harvested elderberry clusters at Tyrant Farms, ready to have the berries removed from the stems.

Freshly harvested elderberry clusters at Tyrant Farms, ready to have the berries removed from the stems.

Easiest, fastest way to process elderberries

Cutting an elderberry umbel (the umbrella shaped cluster of berries) from the plant is the easy part. Removing all those tiny berries from the umbels is the part that growers typically dread because it’s so time-consuming. (Remember: you don’t want to ingest the stems, so you can’t cook them with the berries.) 

It used to take us about 4 hours to remove a gallon of elderberries from the stems/umbels in order to make elderberry syrup. Now it takes us less than 5 minutes. 

How? We now use a steam juicer to process our elderberries, which means the stems don’t have to be removed first.

A steam juicer makes it infinitely faster and easier to process elderberries into juice and syrup without having to pull the berries off the stems.

A steam juicer makes it infinitely faster and easier to process elderberries into juice and syrup without having to pull the berries off the stems.

How much fruit can a single elderberry tree produce?

The annual average elderberry yield is about 12-15 pounds per mature plant.

What do raw elderberries taste like?

Raw elderberries taste similar to a watery blackberry. Not great. 

However, when you cook elderberries, some amazing chemistry takes place that turns their flavor into a rich blackberry/grape jam-red wine flavor that’s quite delicious. Lightly sweetening cooked elderberries with honey, stevia, sugar, etc also vastly improves their flavor.  

How long will raw elderberries keep?

Elderberries are quite delicate so you’ll need to refrigerate or freeze your processed fruit immediately. They’ll last in the fridge for up to one week before they’ll start to go bad. However, frozen elderberries can last for several years.

What can you make with elderberries?

Elderberries can be made into jams, pies, gummies, ferments, adult beverages, and pretty much anything else you can dream of making with berries. Our personal favorite is making elderberry syrup (here’s our elderberry syrup recipe), which we drink throughout the winter to boost our immune system and help avoid getting sick.

Tyrant Farms' elderberry syrup. Dang delicious, and a potent medicine as well.

Tyrant Farms’ elderberry syrup. Dang delicious, and a potent medicine as well.

Do elderberries have medicinal properties?

Elderberries and elderflowers have been used for centuries for their purported medicinal benefits. Recent studies have started to prove that elderberries do in fact have medicinal benefits that mirror their historical use.

For instance:

Elderberry nutrition:

Aside from their medicinal benefits, elderberries are also high in vitamins, minerals, and other healthful compounds.

As per Wikipedia: “Raw elderberries are 80% water, 18% carbohydrates, and less than 1% each of protein and fat. In a 100 gram amount, elderberries supply 73 calories and are a rich source of vitamin C, providing 43% of the Daily Value (DV). Elderberries also have moderate contents of vitamin B6 (18% DV) and iron (12% DV), with no other nutrients in significant content.” 

Here's how elderberries compare to other common fruits on select vitamins and minerals. Elderberry nutrition.

Here’s how elderberries compare to other common fruits on select vitamins and minerals.

Elderberries are also one of the highest antioxidant fruits on earth, even ranking higher than blueberries and cranberries.

As a Purdue University analysis stated:

“Our body uses antioxidants from plant origins to neutralize harmful free radicals and elderberry total antioxidant capacity is one of the highest of all the small fruits. In one study including the black elder (Fig. 2), this species came third for its antioxidant capacity as measured with the FRAP method (Halvorsen et al. 2002). Using the ORAC technique to measure the antioxidant potential of various small fruits, Wu et al. (2004a,b) showed that the American elder had a much higher potential than cranberry and blueberry, two fruits praised for their high antioxidant capacity (Fig. 3). Such a high antioxidant potential in American elderberries has been confirmed in our laboratory.” 

A gorgeous bowl of elderflowers. Tasty medicine.

A bowl of gorgeous elderflowers. Tasty medicine.


Growing elderberry trees organically is relatively easy. Now you know how to do it AND how to harvest elderberries and elderflowers!

We highly recommend these easy-to-grow medicinal plants to home gardeners and diversified farmers alike. Now get growing! 

How to Grow Elderberries - The Complete Guide: Growing elderberry trees for their edible and medicinal berries and flowers is surprisingly easy. Here's a step-by-step guide to growing elderberries organically.

KIGI,

Dive deeper into elderberries with these related articles:

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35 Comments

  • Reply
    Jules Tringali
    August 19, 2022 at 1:30 pm

    Hey there! This is very informative! I have a question about the shape of the berries. I have several elderberry trees that produce the normal round dark berries. However, I also see a tree next to them that look like elderberry trees but the berries are more oblong and not a circle. Still elderberries?!?

    • Reply
      Aaron von Frank
      August 21, 2022 at 5:19 pm

      Hmm, we’re not comfortable with a potential elderberry identification based solely on description. Please send photos to aaron at tyrantfarms dot com (spelled out to avoid spam bots).

  • Reply
    Charles Mitchell
    November 11, 2021 at 4:34 am

    hi Aaron, I desperately need help with my elderberry. Everyone, including you says cross pollinate for bigger fruit production. But what can I cross pollinate Sambucus canadensis (American elderberry) with? Can I cross pollinate American Elderberry with The European ones such as black lace or can I only cross pollinate with other native north American varieties.I prefer to plant a Sambucus nigra or Sambucus racemosa to cross pollinate with my Sambucus canadensis. Will I be okay doing this? Or can you give me a list of elderberry varieties I should be cross pollinating my American elderberry with with to maximize fruit production. Unlike, some of your readers I grow them specifically for birds. They are popular with Waxwings, Grosbeaks and Catbirds.

    • Reply
      Aaron von Frank
      November 12, 2021 at 7:11 am

      Hi Charles! There is tremendous genetic variability within the species Sambucus canadensis, you just don’t want genetically identical plants. For instance, if you had a single elderberry plant that you then propagated via branch cuttings or digging runners, you’d have genetically identical plants which wouldn’t be ideal for fruit production. And that’s how specific cultivars/varieties are propagated.

      Ideally, you just need more than one different cultivar/variety of S. canadensis in order to get optimal pollination. You could get entirely different species of elderberry, but that’s not necessary.

      Does that make sense and answer your question?

      • Reply
        Charles Mitchell
        November 15, 2021 at 5:06 am

        Thanks for your reply. It kind of answers my question. I think I have an Adam’s sambucus canadensis and would like to plant black lace or black beauty varieties– so non-native. Will cross pollination work with these, meaning native with non-native? Or do I need another variety of Sambucus canadensis as you suggested above? If you’re saying any variety, native or foreign, will work then that would be great and leave me with many options.

        • Aaron von Frank
          November 15, 2021 at 9:52 am

          Gotcha. Those elderberry species *may be* genetically proximate enough for their pollen to be compatible but we can’t say for certain. However, if they don’t have the same bloom time, they won’t pollinate each other – even if they are compatible. If you want to be certain to boost fruit production, you’re better off getting different cultivars within Sambucus canadensis. Example: ‘Adams’, ‘Nova’, ‘York’, etc.

  • Reply
    Pone
    March 30, 2021 at 7:22 am

    How deep will the roots of an elderberry (Sambucus) grow? Are they putting out deep roots or is it like a Rhododendron putting out a wide shallow root system? Any tap root?

    I purchased one of the Black Lace Elderberry from Proven Winners. I wanted a show plant for the landscape. What would be the correct sister plant for that species to cross pollinate, and who sells that plant?

    • Reply
      Aaron von Frank
      March 30, 2021 at 1:04 pm

      Elderberries have a fairly shallow, dense root system. As best we can tell having moved quite a few young ones and remove a mature one growing in a bad spot, they don’t have much of a tap root. The roots also produce quite a few runners, but not sure if that’s true of every variety or just the ones we’ve grown.

      As for a partner plant for your Black Lace elderberry: if you want to increase fruit set/production, any other variety of elderberry will do. If you’re just after beauty and aren’t interested in fruit production, you don’t need to worry about getting another elderberry variety. They’re fairly common plants in the wild, so you may already have them growing close enough to cross-pollinate with your Black Lace.

      • Reply
        st
        May 2, 2021 at 10:56 am

        We’re wondering if buying a pollinator to have in our yard would result in a huge amount of debris and bird poop (i.e. are there any potential disadvantages to living with pollinated berry trees?). We’re newbies and we planted a black lace elderberry last year.

        Thanks!

        • Aaron von Frank
          May 3, 2021 at 7:29 am

          Hi! Buying a pollenizer for your Black Lace elderberry would presumably result in you getting berries on two elderberry trees once they both reached reproductive age. As for the potential mess the berries would cause: if you harvest and use the berries, mess will be minimized. There are likely to be birds attracted to your elderberries, which means some bird poop in the general area. If birds are a problem, you can also put up bird deterrents such as these: https://amzn.to/3vCsyTn. Hope this info helps!

  • Reply
    Karen Scugoza
    June 23, 2020 at 11:04 pm

    Thank you for sharing your experience and expertise. I do have a question if you would be so kind. I live in zone 5b, southern Michigan. I bought 2 Niger Sambucus elderberry last year, they had quite a bit of flower on them. I did not get them covered to keep the birds away, it seemed the flowers either were eaten by something or dropped off. I had no berry at all on either plant. This spring they are full of flower once again, I notice the flower seems to be dropping off both plants. Possibly something is eating the flower, I’m not sure but it’s bare where the flowers were. Both seem healthy and pest free from what I can tell. I want to cover them both (I might be too late) to make sure the raccoons or opossums are not eating the flower as they are still low to the ground, about 2′ high. I just finished your article and now I’m wondering do I need a different strain of elderberry tree to insure success? I’ve searched the internet for answers and can’t seem to find anything regarding flower loss. Thank you for your time and consideration.

    • Reply
      Aaron von Frank
      June 26, 2020 at 8:29 am

      Hi Karen! It’s highly unlikely that anything is eating your elderflowers. Each individual flower only lasts for a few days before it dries up and falls off – regardless of whether it’s been pollinated. If you cover the flowers, pollinators can’t get to them. My guess is that you have two of the same exact elderberry varieties, which means you either won’t get any fruit set or you won’t get good fruit set. The exception to that rule would be if you have wild elderberry plants growing around you that were flowering at the same time, in which case cross-pollination could occur.

      You’ll want to have at least two different cultivars planted to ensure you get good fruit set. You’ll know pretty quickly whether the flowers were pollinated because small green immature fruit will appear shortly after the flowers drop. Those will mature into ripe elderberries over the course of ~1 month.

      Side note: I’ve never heard of an elderberry plant generating flower clusters at 2′ high – do you have some type of dwarf cultivar?

  • Reply
    Sam R
    April 19, 2020 at 11:31 am

    Not quite sure about the elderberry suckers and can you grow them instead of tossing? Need any rooting hormone? Also reading that elderberry sambucas nigra does not produce many suckers yet mine are “running over” with them – if I cannot grow them do I just pull them or cut them? Bought plants from reputable source as organic sambucas nigra. GREAT article!

    • Reply
      Aaron von Frank
      April 23, 2020 at 1:12 pm

      Thanks Sam! Yes, elderberry suckers root super easily IF they have developed brown bark. The green-stemmed suckers won’t root. In fact, the cuttings and runners with more mature bark root TOO easily. I’ve tossed cuttings on the ground along the back of our property line and found them rooted and sprouting a year later. No rooting hormone required. 🙂

      You don’t have to remove your elderberry runners if you don’t want to. You’ll just end up with a dense and unruly patch of elderberry plants if you let them do their own thing. We have ours in specific spots in specific beds, so we cut down the shoots that come up from the runners throughout the spring and summer.

      Also, interesting to hear about your experience with Sambucus nigra plants!

  • Reply
    Holly Karpinski
    April 13, 2020 at 12:53 am

    I have an Elderberry plant I believe it’s a black lace, it has dark leaves almost looks like a Japanese maple. Are these types good for fruit and and make syrups and such?? Also the one is going on it’s 3 year that we have had it and planted it and the very first year we had it, it shot up and one very center middle branch shot up by like 3ft or so, is this common??

    • Reply
      Aaron von Frank
      April 14, 2020 at 12:40 pm

      Hi Holly! Yes, you can eat the berries from ‘Black Lace’ elderberries, but they’re not the best variety/species for berry production. You’ll also need another Sambucus nigra elderberry cultivar nearby to pollinate your Black Lace or you won’t get fruit. If that’s not in the cards for you, you can also use the edible flowers.

      As far as the growth habit, we’ve never grown that particular elderberry species or cultivar before so can’t say for certain what’s normal. Our Sambucus canadensis plants are incredibly fast growing. Cuttings will easily grow to 6-8′ tall in the first year, with multiple additional shoots emerging from the base around the main stem.

      Hope this info helps!

  • Reply
    scot_belle
    March 14, 2020 at 3:09 am

    I want to grow Elderberry trees, and I know they grow here in Klickitat Co. WA, but first….what I need to know is…if the deer will leave them alone. If not, then…I will just have to put up deer fencing, but my budget would like to know ahead of time…. I have 20 acres here, so their size…is not an issue.
    Many thanks for your article.

    • Reply
      Aaron von Frank
      March 14, 2020 at 9:32 am

      We’re surrounded by deer but have never seen so much as a nibble on our elderberry plants – perhaps because there are better food choices for them in our area. That being said, our experience is anecdotal and other people on social media have said deer have eaten their young elderberry plants to nubs. Our two cents: better safe than sorry – plan on at least putting up temporary fencing to keep deer off of your plants until they’re established and too large for deer to harm.

  • Reply
    scot_belle
    March 14, 2020 at 3:09 am

    I want to grow Elderberry trees, and I know they grow here in Klickitat Co. WA, but first….what I need to know is…if the deer will leave them alone. If not, then…I will just have to put up deer fencing, but my budget would like to know ahead of time…. I have 20 acres here, so their size…is not an issue.
    Many thanks for your article.

  • Reply
    Eric Hines
    March 10, 2020 at 7:27 am

    The one problem with your article is that you are in fact growing Sambucas canadensis not Sambucas nigra. Adams, Johns, and Nova are all canadensis varieties. While close they have different growing habits. Canadensis suckers while nigra does not technically sucker. It seems you aremixing information on both varieties in your article.
    Sincerely,
    Eric

    • Reply
      Susan von Frank
      March 10, 2020 at 7:37 am

      Thanks for catching that mistake, Eric! It’s been corrected.

    • Reply
      Aaron von Frank
      March 10, 2020 at 2:40 pm

      Thanks for catching that mistake, Eric! It’s been corrected.

  • Reply
    Koromir
    January 24, 2020 at 2:12 am

    Hey I hope you see this. I want to try growing elderberry for syrup. I originally thought it would be like a raspberry bush. Some issues. I do have a small yard front and back and I live in an HOA and renting. So if I tried I can only have one kind and it will have to be in a big planter pot. Will that work? I am getting starters from a mature plant soon but I’m unsure of the variety. This will be my second year gardening and I really hope to have a purposeful garden even if it is a little small. Thanks.

    • Reply
      Aaron von Frank
      January 25, 2020 at 12:37 am

      Hi! Elderberry plants are MUCH larger than raspberry canes as you can hopefully tell from the photos in this article. Growing a plant this size in a container is going to be difficult. You can certainly start them in containers then transplant them to their final in-ground locations, but we don’t want to tell you that you’re going to have much luck growing mature elderberry plants in a pot. Another option if you can’t grow them on your property is to guerrilla garden them in a wild spot nearby that: a) you have easy access to, b) isn’t sprayed by pesticides, and c) won’t be objected to by whomever owns the property.

      Elderberries also make fairly attractive landscape plants so you can ask your landlord if they mind if you plant some on the property you’re renting? Nobody in your HOA is likely to notice or mind a large flowering shrub.

  • Reply
    Marsha McGuire
    January 20, 2019 at 6:50 pm

    I have a Novus and a York Elderberry that are going into their third spring. They are about 6-7 foot tall. But they are too close together and I need to move one of them. Do you have any suggestions/best practices for how to do this? I live about 45 miles from you in NC. Thanks for any help or ideas.

    • Reply
      Aaron von Frank
      January 20, 2019 at 8:24 pm

      Hi Marsha!

      Few thoughts: We’ve never moved an elderberry before but we did try to get rid of one that we put in a bad location, and we had nowhere else to move it to. That was three years ago, and it still has runners coming up in the bed despite being cut down all the way to ground level multiple times.

      Point being: elderberry trees are some seriously robust and hardy plants. I’d be surprised if you kill yours while moving it if you do a halfway decent job of digging it up and preserving some of its root system. If you’re concerned about losing it, you could root a few cuttings for backup, so you’re not stressed about it. (See instructions on starting elderberries from cuttings towards the middle of the article.)

      Hope that helps, and please let me know if you have other questions.

      • Reply
        scot_belle
        March 14, 2020 at 3:11 am

        TIP: for the plant you needed to remove, but keeps having suckers coming up.
        Pour straight vinegar over that area. It’s safe for anyone, except that specific plant.
        Caution, don’t use a spray, because whatever it touches…will get burned.

        • Aaron von Frank
          March 14, 2020 at 9:33 am

          Suckering elderberries are virtually impossible to kill. You just have to trim them out. Highly suspect vinegar wouldn’t do the trick, but it would increase the acidity of the soil for a period.

        • scot_belle
          March 14, 2020 at 2:36 pm

          My mother’s 1st cousin, Frank Raffel, was the original owner of the Port Stockton Nursery in Stockton CA. THIS was a tip he shared with my mother …..many many years ago. Sadly, he passed away about 30 years ago.

          Using straight vinegar was one of Frank’s “go to” items for TEMPORARILY sterilizing soil, and killing “determined” weeds. Vinegar, in diluted form, when added to Epsom salt…also makes a great fertilizer. STRAIGHT …its high acid base will kill whatever plant it touches, but it won’t harm pets and/or children. I am now…70, and knowing this aspect of vinegar has been very very helpful to me…and for many years.

          In today’s chemical world, I prefer to use vinegar rather than all the anti-bacterial items in the store. It kills bacteria, virus’, deodorizes anything that it is used on. So…I use it to wash eggs from my hen house, clean all kitchen/bath counters, and put it in a spray bottle (1TBSP + 1 GAL. water) …for fighting flu bacteria. YES, it will work on coronavirus. 🙂

  • Reply
    Peggy
    January 19, 2019 at 11:40 am

    All of your articles are great. So informative and detailed. Do you have any articles on growing figs? Thanks so much.

    • Reply
      Aaron von Frank
      January 19, 2019 at 11:52 am

      Thanks, Peggy! Glad to hear you enjoy our articles including this how to grow elderberry trees article. Each one takes a long time to put together, so we appreciate your kind words.

      We don’t have any articles about growing figs yet, but that’s something we’ll add to our future articles list. We do grow a couple different fig varieties here, and will be putting more out at a farm I manage over the next year or so. Are there specific fig questions you have that we might be able to help you with in the meantime?

  • Reply
    Serena Swift
    January 18, 2019 at 7:06 pm

    5. How long do elderberry trees live?
    60 years, or about 1/10 the lifespan of Keith Richards.

    LMAO!!!!

  • Reply
    Sharon Goodenough
    January 18, 2019 at 2:15 pm

    Excellent article!!! Thank you 🙂

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