How To Plant Elderberries [ Full Guide ]

Elderberries are a versatile, easy-to-grow shrub with a multitude of uses including culinary, medicinal, and ornamental. Planting elderberries in your garden is a rewarding endeavor, but it requires careful consideration of the variety, planting location, soil preparation, and timing. This comprehensive guide will provide you with all the necessary information and steps to successfully plant and grow elderberries in your garden.

Quick Answer: How To Plant Elderberries

To plant elderberries, follow these quick steps:

  1. Choose the right elderberry variety suitable for your region and purpose.
  2. Select a suitable planting location with full sun and well-drained soil.
  3. Prepare the soil by incorporating organic matter and ensuring proper drainage.
  4. Plant the elderberry bushes in early spring using healthy, dormant bare-root plants or potted plants.
  5. Provide regular watering, mulching, and necessary care to support the growth of elderberries.

Now, let’s delve into each step in detail.

Choosing The Right Elderberry Variety

Before you begin the planting process, it’s crucial to select the appropriate elderberry variety. There are several elderberry varieties available, each with distinct characteristics that make them suitable for different regions and purposes. Here are some considerations for choosing the right elderberry variety:

Consider Your Climate And Region

When selecting an elderberry variety, consider the climate and growing conditions in your region. Some elderberry varieties are more cold-hardy, while others thrive in warmer climates. Consult with local gardening experts or extension services to identify the best elderberry varieties for your specific climate zone.

Purpose Of Planting

You should also consider the purpose for which you are planting elderberries. Are you primarily interested in harvesting the berries for culinary use, making jams, or medicinal purposes? Different elderberry varieties may vary in berry size, flavor, and suitability for specific uses. For example, if you’re aiming to harvest elderberries for culinary purposes, consider choosing varieties known for their larger and sweeter berries.

Popular Elderberry Varieties

Here are some popular elderberry varieties known for their distinct characteristics:

  • Adams: A popular variety with large, flavorful berries that are excellent for culinary use.
  • York: Known for its high productivity and large clusters of berries, suitable for making jams and wines.
  • Nova: A Canadian cultivar known for its cold-hardiness and resistance to diseases, making it suitable for colder climates.

Research and select the elderberry variety that aligns with your climate, intended use, and available space in your garden.

Selecting The Ideal Planting Location

Selecting an appropriate planting location is crucial for the successful growth of elderberries. Elderberries thrive in locations that provide ample sunlight and well-drained soil. Consider the following factors when choosing a planting location for elderberries:


Elderberries require full sun to produce an abundant harvest of berries. Select a location in your garden that receives at least 6-8 hours of direct sunlight each day. Avoid planting elderberries in shaded areas, as it can hinder their growth and berry production.

Soil Drainage

Elderberries prefer soil that is well-drained to prevent waterlogging, which can lead to root rot and other issues. Avoid low-lying areas where water tends to accumulate, and opt for well-drained soil to provide optimal growing conditions for elderberry bushes.

Space And Air Circulation

Ensure that the planting location allows sufficient space for the elderberry bushes to spread out as they mature. Adequate spacing will promote good air circulation around the plants, reducing the risk of diseases and ensuring healthy growth.

Consider these factors to identify a suitable planting location that meets the sunlight, soil drainage, and spacing requirements for elderberries.

Preparing The Soil For Elderberries

Once you’ve chosen the planting location, it’s essential to prepare the soil to create a favorable growing environment for elderberry bushes. Here are the steps for preparing the soil for planting elderberries:

Soil Testing

Before planting elderberries, conduct a soil test to assess the pH and fertility of the soil. Elderberries thrive in slightly acidic to neutral soil with a pH range of 5.5 to 7.0. Amend the soil as necessary to achieve the appropriate pH level for optimal growth of elderberries.

Incorporating Organic Matter

Incorporate organic matter, such as well-rotted compost or aged manure, into the soil to improve its structure and fertility. Mix the organic matter into the planting area to enhance the soil’s ability to retain moisture and nutrients, creating an ideal growing environment for elderberries.

Ensuring Good Drainage

Ensure proper drainage in the planting area by amending the soil with organic matter and creating raised beds if necessary. Adequate drainage will prevent waterlogged soil, which can be detrimental to the health of elderberry plants.


After planting, apply a layer of organic mulch, such as straw or wood chips, around the base of the elderberry bushes. Mulching helps conserve soil moisture, suppresses weed growth, and regulates the soil temperature, promoting healthy growth of the plants.

By preparing the soil with proper amendments and enhancements, you can establish an optimal growing environment for elderberries to thrive.

Timing: When To Plant Elderberries

The timing of planting elderberries is crucial to ensure the success of their establishment and growth. Ideally, elderberries should be planted during the dormant season, which allows the plants to establish their root systems before the onset of vigorous growth. Here are the recommended timing and steps for planting elderberries:

Planting Time

The best time to plant elderberries is in early spring, before the buds break and new growth begins. Planting elderberries during the dormant season, typically from late winter to early spring, allows the plants to acclimate to their new environment and establish strong root systems before the growing season.

Planting Method

Elderberries can be planted using two primary methods: bare-root plants and potted plants. Bare-root plants are dormant plants with exposed roots, commonly available during the dormant season. Potted plants are container-grown elderberry bushes that can be planted throughout the growing season, but they are best planted in early spring to maximize root establishment.

Planting Process

When planting elderberries, dig a hole large enough to accommodate the roots of the plant, ensuring that the roots are spread out evenly. Gently place the plant in the hole at the same depth it was previously growing, backfill with soil, and tamp it down to remove air pockets. Water the newly planted elderberry thoroughly to settle the soil around the roots.

Watering And Care

After planting, provide regular watering to keep the soil consistently moist, especially during the initial establishment period. Monitor the soil moisture and provide supplemental watering when necessary to support the growth of newly planted elderberry bushes.

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By planting elderberries at the appropriate time and following proper planting techniques, you can set the stage for their successful establishment and growth.

Planting elderberries in your garden offers an array of benefits, including a bountiful harvest of nutritious berries and an attractive landscape feature. By selecting the right elderberry variety, choosing a suitable planting location, preparing the soil, and planting at the optimal time, you can establish healthy elderberry bushes that will thrive and produce an abundance of delicious berries. With proper care and maintenance, your elderberry plants will reward you with years of enjoyment and valuable harvests. Follow the outlined steps and tips to embark on a successful journey of planting and growing elderberries in your garden.

Propagation Methods: Seeds, Cuttings, Or Transplants

Elderberries (Sambucus) are a versatile and beautiful addition to any garden. These deciduous shrubs produce clusters of small, dark purple berries that are not only delicious but also packed with nutrients. Planting elderberries in your garden can provide you with a bountiful harvest and enhance the overall aesthetic appeal of your landscape.

Elderberries are relatively easy to grow, and with the right care and attention, they can thrive in a variety of climates.

There are several ways to propagate elderberries, including seeds, cuttings, or transplants. Each method has its own set of advantages and considerations, so let’s take a closer look at each one.

1. Seeds

Growing elderberries from seeds is an affordable and straightforward method, but it does require a bit of patience. Here’s how you can propagate elderberries from seeds:

  1. Collect the seeds: Harvest ripe elderberries in late summer or early fall, and remove the seeds from the berries. Wash the seeds thoroughly to remove any pulp or debris.
  2. Cold stratification: Elderberry seeds have a hard outer shell that needs to be scarified to promote germination. You can do this by gently nicking the seed coat or rubbing it with sandpaper. After scarification, place the seeds in a plastic bag with a moist paper towel and refrigerate them for 90-120 days. This process is called cold stratification and helps break the seed dormancy.
  3. Sow the seeds: After the cold stratification period, sow the elderberry seeds in well-draining soil in pots or seed trays. Plant the seeds at a depth of ¼ inch (6 mm) and keep the soil consistently moist.
  4. Transplanting: Once the seedlings have grown to a suitable size (6-8 inches tall), transplant them into larger pots or directly into the ground. Make sure to choose a sunny spot with well-draining soil for the best results.

2. Cuttings

Propagating elderberries from cuttings is a quicker method compared to seeds and allows you to clone the characteristics of a specific elderberry plant. Here’s how to propagate elderberries from cuttings:

  1. Timing: Take cuttings in late winter or early spring while the elderberry plants are still dormant. Look for healthy, disease-free branches that are about ¼ to ½ inch (6-12 mm) in diameter.
  2. Preparing the cuttings: Cut a 10-12 inch (25-30 cm) long section of the branch with sharp and sterile pruning shears. Remove any leaves from the bottom half of the cutting.
  3. Rooting hormone: Dip the bottom end of the cutting into rooting hormone powder or gel to enhance root development.
  4. Planting: Insert the cutting into a pot or container filled with a well-draining rooting medium, such as perlite or vermiculite. Make sure the cutting is inserted at least 2-3 inches (5-7 cm) deep into the medium.
  5. Caring for the cuttings: Place the container in a warm, humid location with bright, indirect light. Keep the rooting medium consistently moist but not waterlogged. Mist the cuttings regularly to maintain humidity.
  6. Transplanting: After several weeks, the cuttings should start developing roots. Once the roots are around 2-3 inches (5-7 cm) long, transplant the cuttings into individual pots or directly into the ground.

3. Transplants

If you don’t want to start from scratch, you can also purchase elderberry plants from nurseries or garden centers. Transplanting established elderberry plants is an excellent option if you want to skip the germination process or if you are working with a specific elderberry variety. Here’s how to transplant elderberry plants:

  1. Selecting healthy plants: Choose healthy-looking transplants that have strong stems and leaves. Avoid plants with any signs of disease or pest damage.
  2. Preparing the planting site: Elderberries prefer full sun but can tolerate partial shade. Choose a spot in your garden with well-draining soil. Remove any weeds or grass from the area and amend the soil with organic matter if needed.
  3. Digging the hole: Dig a hole that is slightly wider and deeper than the root ball of the transplant. Make sure the hole is large enough to accommodate the entire root system without overcrowding.
  4. Planting process: Gently remove the elderberry plant from its container and place it in the prepared hole. Backfill the hole with soil, making sure the plant is positioned at the same level it was in the container. Firmly press down the soil around the root ball to eliminate any air pockets.
  5. Watering: Give the elderberry plant a thorough watering immediately after planting to settle the soil and ensure proper hydration.

Step-by-Step Guide: Planting Elderberries

Now that we have explored the different propagation methods, let’s dive into the step-by-step guide for planting elderberries:

  1. Prepare the soil: Elderberries thrive in well-draining soil with a pH between 5.5 and 6.5. If your soil is heavy or clay-like, amend it with organic matter, such as compost or well-rotted manure, to improve drainage and fertility.
  2. Select a suitable site: Elderberries prefer full sun but can tolerate partial shade. Choose a location in your garden that receives at least six hours of direct sunlight per day. Ensure that there is enough space for the plants to grow, as elderberries can reach heights of 6-12 feet (1.8-3.6 meters) and spread up to 10 feet (3 meters) in width.
  3. Dig the planting holes: Dig holes that are slightly wider and deeper than the root balls of the elderberry plants. Space the holes approximately 6-8 feet (1.8-2.4 meters) apart if you are planting multiple elderberry bushes. This distance ensures adequate airflow and reduces the risk of disease.
  4. Remove the plants from their containers: Carefully remove the elderberry plants from their nursery containers, taking care not to damage the roots. Gently tease out any circling or tangled roots to encourage outward growth.
  5. Place the plants in the holes: Position the elderberry plants in the holes, making sure they are centered and upright. The top of the root ball should be level with or slightly above the surrounding soil.
  6. Backfill the holes: Fill the holes with soil, firming it gently around the plants to eliminate air pockets. Avoid compacting the soil too tightly, as this can restrict root growth and water drainage.
  7. Water thoroughly: Give the newly planted elderberry plants a deep watering to settle the soil and ensure good root-to-soil contact. Apply enough water to moisten the root zone but avoid waterlogging.
  8. Mulch the area: Apply a layer of organic mulch, such as wood chips or straw, around the base of the elderberry plants. Mulching helps conserve soil moisture, suppress weeds, and regulate soil temperature.
  9. Install support structures: If you are growing tall or sprawling varieties of elderberries, install support structures, such as trellises or stakes, to help the plants maintain an upright and organized growth habit. Attach the branches to the supports using garden ties or soft twine, being careful not to cause any damage.
  10. Prune and shape: In the first year, prune the elderberry plants lightly to encourage branching and bushier growth. Remove any dead or damaged branches. Once the plants are established, prune them annually during late winter or early spring to maintain their shape and remove any weak or overcrowded growth.
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Watering And Irrigation Techniques

Proper watering is crucial for the health and productivity of elderberry plants. While elderberries are relatively drought-tolerant, they still require consistent moisture, especially during the flowering and fruiting stages. Here are some watering and irrigation techniques to keep in mind:

  • Watering frequency: Water elderberry plants deeply once a week during dry spells or when there is no rainfall. Slow, deep watering promotes healthy root development and ensures moisture reaches the entire root zone. Adjust the watering frequency based on weather conditions and soil moisture levels.
  • Mulching: Apply a layer of organic mulch around the plants to conserve soil moisture and reduce water evaporation. Mulching also helps suppress weed growth, which can compete with elderberries for water and nutrients.
  • Drip irrigation: Consider installing drip irrigation to provide a slow and targeted water supply to the roots of your elderberry plants. Drip systems reduce water waste and minimize the risk of disease by keeping the foliage dry.
  • Avoid overwatering: Elderberries are susceptible to root rot if the soil is constantly waterlogged. Ensure proper drainage and avoid overwatering to prevent the roots from sitting in stagnant water.
  • Monitor soil moisture: Regularly check the moisture level of the soil by inserting your finger or a moisture meter into the root zone. If the soil feels dry beyond the top inch (2.5 cm), it’s time to water.

Fertilizing Elderberry Plants

To ensure optimal growth and fruit production, elderberry plants benefit from regular fertilization. Here are some tips for fertilizing elderberries:

  • Soil testing: Before applying any fertilizers, conduct a soil test to determine the nutrient levels and pH of your soil. This information will guide you in choosing the appropriate fertilizer and making any necessary amendments.
  • Organic matter: Incorporate organic matter, such as compost or well-rotted manure, into the soil before planting elderberries. Organic matter improves soil structure, enhances nutrient retention, and promotes overall soil fertility.
  • Slow-release fertilizer: Apply a balanced slow-release fertilizer with an NPK ratio of 10-10-10 or similar in early spring. Follow the package instructions for the correct application rate based on the size and age of your elderberry plants.
  • Avoid over-fertilizing: Elderberries are generally moderate feeders and can be sensitive to excessive nitrogen. Avoid over-fertilizing, as it can lead to excessive vegetative growth and may reduce fruit production.
  • Mulching with compost: Top-dress the soil around the base of the plants with compost or well-rotted manure each spring. This natural mulch will gradually release nutrients into the soil, nourishing the elderberry plants.
Planting elderberries can be a rewarding experience, as these versatile shrubs provide both ornamental beauty and a bountiful harvest of delicious and nutritious berries. Whether you choose to propagate elderberries from seeds, cuttings, or transplants, following the appropriate techniques and providing the right care will set the stage for success.

Remember to choose a suitable site with well-draining soil and ample sunlight. Proper watering, irrigation, and fertilization are essential for the health and productivity of elderberry plants. With time and patience, you can enjoy the beauty and benefits that elderberries bring to your garden. Happy planting!

Pruning And Training Elderberries

Elderberries are a versatile and highly valued fruit that can be used in a variety of culinary creations, from jams and jellies to wines and pies. Not only are elderberries delicious, but they also offer numerous health benefits, containing high levels of vitamins and antioxidants.

Proper pruning and training techniques are essential for maintaining healthy and productive elderberry bushes. By following these guidelines, you can ensure your plants grow strong and fruitful.

  1. Planting: Elderberries should be planted in early spring or fall, ideally in a sunny location that receives at least six hours of direct sunlight each day. Before planting, prepare the soil by loosening it with a garden fork and removing any weeds or grass. Dig a hole that is roughly twice the size of the root ball and place the plant in the hole, ensuring that the crown is at ground level. Backfill the hole with soil, gently firming it around the roots.

  2. Spacing: Allow enough space between elderberry bushes to ensure proper airflow and sunlight penetration. Recommended spacing varies depending on the variety, but a general guideline is to plant them 5 to 6 feet apart in rows at least 8 feet apart.

  3. Pruning Young Plants: In the first year after planting, limit pruning to removing damaged or dead wood. This will encourage vigorous growth and establish a strong framework for the bush.

  4. Pruning Established Plants: Beginning in the second year and onwards, elderberries should be pruned in late winter or early spring while they are still dormant. Start by removing any dead, damaged, or diseased branches. Next, thin out the plant by cutting back up to one-third of the oldest and unproductive stems at the base. This will encourage new growth and maintain an open structure, allowing sunlight to reach the center of the bush.

  5. Training Elderberry Bushes: As elderberries grow, they may develop multiple stems from the base. Train them to grow in a more upright and manageable form by selecting three to five strong and evenly spaced stems as the main leaders. Remove any other competing shoots by cutting them back completely. Tie the remaining stems to a stake or trellis for support. This training method will help prevent the plant from becoming unruly and facilitate easier harvest.

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Managing Pests And Diseases

Like any fruit-bearing plant, elderberries are susceptible to various pests and diseases. However, with proactive measures, you can effectively manage these issues and protect your elderberry bushes.

  1. Common Pests: Aphids, spider mites, and Japanese beetles are among the most common pests that can attack elderberry bushes. Regularly inspect your plants for any signs of infestation, such as wilting leaves, distorted growth, or the presence of insects. To control these pests, a strong spray of water can be used to dislodge small infestations of aphids or spider mites. For more severe or persistent cases, insecticidal soap or neem oil, applied according to the manufacturer’s instructions, can be used. Japanese beetles can be hand-picked and dropped into a bucket of soapy water.

  2. Diseases: Elderberries can be affected by fungal diseases, such as powdery mildew and leaf spot. The best way to prevent these diseases is to ensure good air circulation around the plants by proper pruning and spacing. If you notice signs of powdery mildew, such as grayish-white powdery patches on the leaves, treat the plant with a fungicide recommended for powdery mildew control. Leaf spot can be managed by removing and destroying infected leaves and improving airflow around the plant.

  3. Bird Control: Birds are particularly fond of elderberries, and if left unchecked, they can quickly decimate your harvest. To protect your berries, cover the bushes with netting before the fruits ripen. This will prevent birds from reaching the berries while still allowing sunlight to penetrate.

Harvesting And Preserving Elderberries

Knowing when and how to harvest elderberries is crucial to ensure optimal flavor and nutritional value. Additionally, preserving elderberries allows you to enjoy them throughout the year.

  1. Harvest Time: Elderberries are typically ripe and ready for harvest in late summer or early fall, depending on the variety and geographical location. The berries should be fully dark purple or black and have a slight give when gently pressed. Harvesting too early will result in underripe and tart berries, while waiting too long may lead to overripe and mushy fruit.

  2. Harvesting Technique: To harvest elderberries, use a pair of sharp shears or pruning scissors to cut entire clusters of berries from the bush. Be careful not to crush or damage the delicate berries during the process. Place the harvested clusters into a clean bucket or basket.

  3. Preserving Methods: Elderberries can be preserved in several ways:

    • Freezing: If you have a large harvest, freezing is the easiest method. Simply place the harvested clusters in a single layer on a baking sheet and freeze until firm. Once frozen, transfer the berries to airtight freezer bags or containers for long-term storage.

    • Drying: Elderberries can also be dried for later use. Spread the harvested clusters in a single layer on a clean surface, such as a baking sheet or dehydrator tray. Dry the berries at a low temperature (around 100°F or 38°C) until they are shriveled and no moisture remains. Store the dried berries in airtight containers in a cool, dark place.

    • Canning: Elderberries can be processed into jams, jellies, or syrups that can be canned for long-term storage. Follow tested canning recipes to ensure safety and proper preservation.

Troubleshooting: Common Issues And Solutions

Despite your best efforts, elderberry bushes may encounter some issues. Here are a few common problems and their solutions:

  1. Poor Fruit Production: If your elderberries are not producing much fruit, it could be due to insufficient sunlight, poor pollination, or inadequate fertilizer. Ensure that the bushes receive at least six hours of direct sunlight, plant elderberry varieties that are known for their fruit production, and follow a proper fertilization schedule.

  2. Yellowing Leaves: Yellowing leaves can be a sign of nutrient deficiencies, such as nitrogen or iron. Conduct a soil test to identify any deficiencies and address them with the appropriate fertilizer or soil amendments.

  3. Wilting or Drooping Plants: Wilting or drooping can be caused by underwatering, root rot, or pest infestations. Check the moisture level of the soil, ensure proper drainage, and inspect the roots for any signs of rot. Address any pest infestations promptly.

  4. Lack of Flowers: If your elderberry bushes are not producing any flowers, it may be due to excessive nitrogen fertilizer or pruning at the wrong time. Avoid excessive nitrogen applications and prune the bushes during the appropriate dormant season.


Growing your own elderberries can be a rewarding experience, offering not only a bountiful harvest but also a sense of accomplishment and connection with nature. By following the guidelines outlined in this comprehensive guide, you will be well-equipped to plant, care for, and harvest elderberries successfully. Remember to give your elderberry bushes proper attention, regularly prune and train them, manage pests and diseases, and enjoy the fruits of your labor throughout the year.


What Is The Best Time Of Year To Plant Elderberry Bushes?

Elderberry bushes are best planted in the early spring or fall when the weather is cool and there is less risk of extreme temperatures.

How Much Sunlight Do Elderberry Bushes Need?

Elderberry bushes prefer full sun, meaning at least 6 hours of direct sunlight per day. However, they can tolerate partial shade as well.

How Far Apart Should Elderberry Bushes Be Planted?

Elderberry bushes should be planted at least 6 feet apart to allow for adequate air circulation and room for the plants to grow.

What Type Of Soil Is Best For Elderberry Bushes?

Elderberry bushes thrive in well-drained, loamy soil with a slightly acidic pH of 5.5-6.5. It is important to avoid planting in heavy clay or waterlogged soil.

Do Elderberry Bushes Require Frequent Watering?

Yes, elderberry bushes require consistent watering, especially during the first year after planting. Keep the soil moist but not waterlogged, and reduce watering in the fall to avoid waterlogging during winter dormancy.