Elderberry Plant Care: How to Grow & Maintain Sambucus canadensis

If you’re looking for something to plant alongside the edges of your garden, give your yard a unique look, have something to boost your immune system, or something that doesn’t require a lot of your attention, then Elderberry Plant is your answer!

Elderberry is a versatile plant and will be an excellent addition to your garden since it has beautiful foliage that instantly boosts the mood. From delicious pies to a remedy for the flu, it does so many things for us and can be considered an all-rounder!

But since it does everything, you must be wondering what is the proper way to take care of your elderberry plant to reap maximum benefits? Don’t worry, and stay tuned to learn how to grow and care for the Elderberry plant!

Elderberry Plant

Elderberry is a deciduous plant and falls in the category of shrubs. It commonly gives bluish-black fruit and bright white flowers. There are many types of Elderberry; however, the most common one is American Elderberry. They are low-maintenance but can’t withstand droughts.

These are not only used for culinary purposes but also medicinal purposes. But how should you care for it? Let’s dig in!

History and Habitat

A Bunch of Elderberries

The Elderberry plant is a native plant to North America and Central Europe. It belongs to the genus Sambucus and the family Adoxaceae. It is a type of deciduous and perennial shrub but can also be planted as a small tree.

Though it has become common in the modern world, people have used it for ages. From tea to painkillers, Elderberry has been used for various purposes for centuries. The berries are not consumed raw because of the bitter taste; instead, they are used in making wine, jam, jelly, juices, pies, etc.

Elderberry can be categorized as an ornamental plant as well. In addition to being useful in so many forms, Elderberry is pretty too! Planting it can accentuate your garden, and if done correctly, it will give fruit you can enjoy.

There’s not only one kind of Elderberry. Elderberries provide you with a variety to choose from, and you can plant the one you like.

Types of Elderberry

There are many sorts of Elderberries, but the two main varieties are American Elderberry and European Elderberry

American Elderberry is the most common type and is the best for berry production. While European Elderberry blooms earlier than the native American type.

American ElderberryEuropean Elderberry
Botanical Name: Sambucus canadensisBotanical Name: Sambucus nigra
Grows to a height of 10-12 feet (3-4 m)Grows to a height of 20 feet (6 m)
USDA Plant Hardiness Zones: 3-8USDA Plant Hardiness Zones: 4-8
Blooms earlier than American Elderberry

American Elderberry is the most commonly grown Elderberry shrub. They are used as a herbal remedy for the common cold and flu. They have lovely foliage and produce excellent berries.

Red Elderberry Plant

Apart from these two, another crucial type of Elderberry is Red Elderberry. It is botanically known as Sambucus racemosa and is very similar to American Elderberry. But the important part is it produces toxic berries, which are highly unfit for human consumption. These berries contain cyanide toxins. However, they are an excellent choice for ornamental purposes.

Other types of Elderberry include Blue Elderberry and Dwarf Elderberry.

Let’s take a look at the care and management of the Elderberries!

Botanical NameSambucus canadensis
Common NameCommon Elderberry, Black Elder, Black Elderberry, American Elder, Elder tree
Life CyclePerennial
Plant TypeShrub/Bush
OriginThe U.S. and Europe
Fruit ColorBluish-Black, Dark Purple
Fruit TasteBitter
Leaf ColorDark green
Plant Height3-6 meters
Growth RateFast
FloweringInflorescence: Cyme

Color: White
Mature Size5-12 feet tall; 3-6 feet wide
ClimateTemperate, Cool, and Moist
SunlightFull Sun or Partial Shade
SoilWell-Drained and Moist Soil Type
Soil pH5-6.5
Watering1-2 inch (2.5-5 cm) Water Every Week
FertilizerN-rich fertilizer
PropagationSoftwood and Hardwood cutting
ToxicityRed Elderberry is Toxic, Contains Cyanide Toxins

This is just a wrap-up of all the necessary information about Elderberries. Keep reading for a complete and thorough understanding.

How to Take Care of the Elderberry Plant?

Good news: Elderberry is one of the low-maintenance plants. Therefore, it gives more results with less attention. But considering various aspects is beneficial for growth and gives better results.

Soil Requirements

The elderberry plant loves well-drained loamy soil. It can survive in other soils as well but performs best in a fertile loam textured soil with good drainage.

If the soil around your Elderberry is sandy, you can amend it by adding a few inches or 5-10 cm of organic matter to it. Also, it prefers a pH of around 5-6.5. Well, you saw that coming, right? Since Elderberry is not so basic! (pH humor).

Note: Elderberry can tolerate poor soil or wet areas but cannot tolerate drought. 

Light Requirements

If you wish to have an Elderberry tree with lots of berries, keep it under full sun, and if you want lovely decorative foliage, prefer partial shade or indirect sunlight for your plant.

Water Requirements

One of the essential characteristics of Elderberry is that it is shallow-rooted. Therefore, it requires a good amount of water to thrive, especially in the first year of the growing season. Ensure to water the plant 1-2 inches weekly, as Elderberries don’t tolerate dry spells.

Irrigate your Elderberry shrub or tree if there isn’t enough rainfall.

Quick Tip: You can apply a couple of inches of compost or woodchips around the roots of Elderberry to conserve moisture in the soil.

Temperature and Humidity Requirements

Elderberries can tolerate temperatures as low as -35℃. They are pretty accommodating to wide ranges of temperatures. They don’t have a specific humidity requirement as well. But your elderberries will thrive best in a moist and high humidity environment.

Fertilizer Requirements

These blackberries can grow without fertilizers and take all the nutrients from organic matter. Still, if you wish to pamper them with an extra dose of nutrition, you can use high nitrogen fertilizers.

Elderberry plants don’t need fertilizer in the first year. But afterward, the best time to apply fertilizer is in spring. If you notice retarded growth, add 3-4 tablespoons of Nitrogen-rich fertilizer for the first two years. This dose can be increased with older plants, as they may require 1-2 cups of fertilizer.

If you still notice slow growth, you can increase the dose by half a cup. And if the Elderberry bush is pumping out and there is unregulated growth, you can reduce the amount by half or eliminate it entirely if you wish to.

Pruning of Elderberry

Pruning of Elderberry Plant

Pruning is essential to maintain the plant’s vigor and appearance. And elderberry requires pruning to look lush and healthy. However, it is necessary to note that it doesn’t need pruning in the first two years of the growing season.

It is recommended not to pick berries from the plant during this time as the later grown berries are better.

After your Elderberry tree turns two, you can start regularly pruning for better production of canes. You may notice decreased fruit production as your plant grows and canes age. Therefore, it is recommended to prune those canes to maintain the berries.

Note: Prune immediately after flowering if you wish to maintain foliage and have no berries.

Prune out the dead and damaged leaves. It is recommended to prune in winters as your Elderberry is dormant during that time. Cut the canes that are three years old since productivity starts declining after that. Letting these canes grow may increase winter damage.

Quick Tip: Sanitize and clean the pruning shears and other equipment before pruning Elderberry to avoid pathogen attacks. 

How to Grow and Propagate an Elderberry Plant?

Propagation of the Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis) Plant

Elderberries are beautiful and make your garden stand out. The more you have them in your garden, the better it looks. Let’s check out how to propagate them to have the most of them.

You can multiply the Elderberry plant through cuttings. Here’s a step-by-step procedure for you to follow:

  • Step 1: Snap off 3-6 inches of the greenest tips of your Elderberry’s branches.
  • Step 2: Take the cutting and put them in a jar of water for around 12 hours to maintain freshness.
  • Step 3: Add them to a small seed starting container to develop roots.
  • Step 4: Transplant them to the desired spot in your garden or yard. Alternatively, you can directly sow in the garden instead of placing the cuttings in a seed starting container. The purpose of adding them to the container is to develop roots so that the cutting can stand firm in the soil.

Quick Tip: It is recommended to transplant them in the fall.

  • Step 5: Water the cuttings to make the soil moist. Avoid standing water.

And that’s all! Follow these steps to have a prosperous new Elderberry plant using an existing plant!

Repotting of the Elderberry Plant

It is better to plant Elderberry in the ground than in a pot. However, if you still wish to have it on your balcony, go for a wide pot instead of a deep one. And as for repotting, it is better to transplant them to your garden soil directly.

Carefully use a spade so as not to damage the shallow roots. Maintain its water requirements to have the best growth.

It is also essential to consider the pests and diseases that can hamper the flourishing Elderberry.

Pests and Diseases

Pests on Elderberry Plant

Elderberries are not too prone to pests and diseases. However, particular scourges still manage to attack the plant.

Pests that attack the Elderberry plant include Thrips and Cane Borers. They attack by puncturing and sucking the plant branch, causing it to become hollow and leaves to become wilted. The best way to avoid them is to prune the plants regularly and if already attacked, then prune the entire branch till the point it is hollow by the attack.

The elderberry plant is moderately susceptible to diseases like

  • Ringspot: Spread by worms and pollens; causes malformed and black buds.
  • Fungal Canker: Caused by injury, flooding, or drought.
  • Leaf Spot: Causes black or brown spots on the underside of leaves. Fruit gets spots and cracks.
  • Thread Blight: Causes wilting, curling, and browning of the shaded part of the plant.
  • Root Rot: Caused by overwatering.
  • Verticillium Wilt: Causes yellow foliage, death of branches, and large seed production.

All these diseases can be prevented by:

  • Testing for nematodes in the soil.
  • Good weed control.
  • Removing and destroying infected leaves.
  • Pruning regularly.
  • Use disease-resistant varieties.

Therefore, follow these points and avoid the infestation of pests and diseases.

Varieties of Elderberry

Well, after this detailed account, if you plan to plant Elderberries in your garden, here are the Elderberry varieties you can go for:

  • Black Beauty
  • Black Lace
  • York
  • Lemony Lace
  • Adams
  • Instant Karma

And as for plant care, you clearly know how to maintain your Elderberry plant. So go and have those beautiful Elderberries in your garden. But don’t get too excited once your Elderberry plant gives fruit. Make sure those are not poisonous before consuming them!

How long does it take for an Elderberry to produce fruit?

Elderberry plants have fruit in the first season, but it is recommended to pick the fruit of the second season since they are better.

Is Elderberry a bush or tree?

The Elderberry plant is a deciduous shrub but can also be planted as a small tree.

Is Elderberry fruit poisonous?

Not all Elderberries are poisonous. But watch out for Red Elderberries since they contain cyanide toxins.

What is the best time to grow Elderberry?

The best time for planting Elderberry is early spring. You can also plant Elderberries from late winter to early summer.

Can I use unripe Elderberry varieties?

It is better to use ripe elderberries instead of unripe berries as ripe berries taste better, while unripe ones taste bitter and might contain toxins.

When should we harvest Elderberries?

Harvesting Elderberries should be done in the fall, around August to October, or late summer.

And Voila! You have everything you need for growing Elderberries in the best way possible. So if you’re a plant lover, give your garden an Elderberry companion. And if you wish to plant something indoor, you should check out the detailed guide on taking care of ZZ Raven Plant! Have this beauty at your home, and you’ll thank us later!

  1. Sambucus canadensis (American Black Elderberry)CABI