Do you desire an elderberry bush that thrives with edible, medicinal berries and flowers? Proper elderberry bush care is crucial to reap the benefits of elderberry bushes.
Keep reading for everything you need to know about elderberry bush care so you can grow the healthiest elderberries possible!
Identifying an Elderberry Bush
The elderberry bush is a large, fast-growing, shallow-rooted, multi-stemmed deciduous bush with an average lifespan of 25 to 50 years.
There are two common bushes that you can grow to begin your elderberry bush care:
The Sambucus canadensis is native to eastern and central Canada and the southern US. Its hardiness zones are three to eight and can be found in moist soils in forests or wetlands.
This bush grows 5–12 feet tall and has clusters of pale flowers that are shorter than an inch. It has arching gray-barked stems, and green 5–9 inch leaves with serrated edges.
Known to have the best berry production, the American elderberry bush produces tangy and sweet dark purple or black berries. When ripe, they’re soft and juicy.
The Sambucus nigra can be found in the eastern US and hardy to zones five to seven. This tree-like bush has multiple trunks, grows up to 20 feet, and can be found among hedges and on paths.
The flowers on the European elderberry bush are flat and yellowish-white and grow in 6–8 inch clusters. And its 2–6 inch leaves are small, green, and shaped like lances.
Its elderberries are also dark purple or black. They’re bitter when raw, but when they’re cooked, they’re sweet.
Where to Buy Elderberry Bushes
If you’d like to purchase an elderberry bush, take a look at the American cultivars at Stark Bros.
You can also purchase seeds from Amazon to start caring for your elderberry bush from scratch!
Tools for Elderberry Bush Care
You’re going to need the following tools when caring for elderberry bushes:
- Mulch or compost: You want your bush to get a good start in the soil. These organic materials are best for keeping the soil moist and releasing nutrients as the bush grows.
- Pruning shears or scissors: Whichever one you prefer, you’ll need something to remove those suckers to keep your bushes from growing out of control. They’re also needed for propagating and harvesting.
- Mesh bag: Caring for your elderberry bush involves preventing your harvested elderflowers from wilting due to a lack of oxygen. It’s not just the berries you can eat or use medically.
- Fertilizer (slow-releasing organic and high-nitrogen): You may add the extra nutrients once the bush is established. This would only be if it’s not producing enough flowers, foliage, or berries, so monitor its growing process!
- Insecticidal soap: Even if pests aren’t a problem, elderberry bush care involves pest control. If you notice these afflictions, this tool will come in handy.
Growing and Caring for Your Elderberry Bush
When to Plant
The best time to plant an elderberry bush is in the fall or early spring after the last frost.
Elderberry bush care starts with the soil, which should be fertile and well-draining with a pH of 5.0–6.5. Apply a 2–3 inch layer of compost or mulch before planting the seeds.
Location and Spacing
Wherever you plant your elderberry bush, it should be in full sunlight. If your purpose of growing the bush is for its foliage—and not harvesting berries—plant it in partial shade.
Plant the seeds ¼ inch deep. Check that the space between the plants is about 6–10 feet; this will allow for good air circulation. Multiple rows of elderberry shrubs need at least 10 feet of space between each other.
If you have access to an existing bush, you can begin your elderberry bush care via propagating cuttings instead of seeds.
An easy way to do this is with softwood cuttings. Take off 3–6 inch branches with green tips during the spring or summer. Remove the leaves from them but keep one on the end of each branch.
Soak the cuttings in water for 12 hours before planting them. Prepare the soil in your garden or seedling trays as you would for the seeds and insert the cuttings. Keep the soil moist and under direct lighting.
The roots will develop in a few weeks or months depending on where you insert the cuttings (garden or seedling trays). You’ll be getting a quick start in caring for elderberry bushes this way.
Give your shallow-rooted bush an inch or two of water each week from when it blooms to its harvest time.
Dry spells are a threat to elderberry bushes. If you’re not getting enough rainfall or need help keeping the soil moist, add irrigation to your elderberry bush care.
Check out our recommendations for the best drip irrigation systems to help you care for your elderberry bush.
No fertilizer is needed for the first year of your elderberry bush care. After that, you may add slow-releasing organic fertilizer each year in the spring.
Apply high-nitrogen fertilizer each spring for the foliage. Young bushes need three to four tablespoons, while older bushes need one to two cups. Stop fertilizing if the bush is producing new growth each year.
Pruning and Weeding
Pruning is important for elderberry bush care, but the bush won’t require it during its early years. When it ages, you want to prune the bush in late winter or early spring.
Any dead or broken stems have to go, and cutting off three-year-old stems will encourage new ones to grow. To maintain its size and control the spreading, prune any unwanted suckers.
As for weeds, they’re notorious for choking plants at the roots, especially shallow ones. Remove any weeds you find in the soil.
Pest and Disease Control
Caring for elderberry bushes is simple since it takes a lot to hurt this bush. Generally, it has no problem with pests and diseases, but that doesn’t mean you won’t see your share of them.
Aphids, mealybugs, elder shoot borers, and scale insects are the bush’s most common pests. If you spot them, prune the canes you see them on and destroy them. Spray the plant with insecticidal soap if you still see these pests.
Diseases like canker, leaf spot, and powdery mildew can also get in the way of your elderberry bush care. You can avoid them by ensuring air circulation when planting the seeds and removing and destroying infected stems and canes.
Potting an Elderberry Bush
This shallow-rooted bush is perfect for growing in a 24-inch-wide and 20-inch-deep pot. However, we don’t recommend doing so with a tree-like bush like the European elderberry variety.
Similarly to planting outside, the soil should be fertile and well-draining, with a pH level between 5.5 and 6.5. Don’t forget to add drainage holes to the pot and apply compost to the surface.
Water the bush as you would in the garden. If it needs help growing and producing, give it slow-releasing organic fertilizer, but only if it’s older than a year.
Prune the bush consistently. You want your bush to grow well, but you must manage its growth to stay in the pot.
Harvesting Elderberries and Elderflowers
With great elderberry, bush care comes great rewards—clusters of rewards. Late summer or early fall is the best time to harvest entire berry clusters.
Use pruning shears or scissors to cut the clusters below the base of the fruits. Then remove the berries from the stems.
To harvest the bush’s flowers, wait for early spring before their peak bloom in late spring. Use either shears or your fingers to remove the flower clusters’ base and put them in a mesh bag.
After harvesting and cleaning your elderberries, store them as soon as possible since they spoil fast. Here are a couple of options for storing them:
- Freeze your elderberries: Put the berries in a Ziploc bag or an airtight container and put them in the freezer. Freezing also comes in handy for removing the berries from the stems—all you have to do is shake them off!
- Dry your elderberries on a tray in full sunlight for a few days. You could also place the tray in an oven under a warm setting for 30 minutes. Afterward, put them in a glass jar and set it in the pantry.
Elderberry bush care includes caring for not only the berries but also the flowers after harvesting.
Keep the elderflowers out of the sun and lay them on a screen to dry them for a few days. Store the flowers in a paper bag and put it somewhere cool and dry.
Caring for elderberry bushes, in a way, is good for your health when you prepare their berries and flowers!
Though harvested when ripe, elderberries aren’t immediately safe to eat. Just like when they’re unripe, they’re poisonous or cause stomach upset when raw and still on their stems.
Once you cook them, you’ll find that elderberries are rich in antioxidants and vitamin C, boosting your immune system. They’re not just for eating when made into pies, jellies, and wine; they’re also for medicating when made into syrup.
You can also eat sweet elderflowers in recipes or as medicine. Like elderberries, they boost your immune system, and they also reduce pain and inflammation, and treat sicknesses like the flu.
Take Care of Your Elderberry Bush!
Now you’ve got the basics of elderberry bush care! Learning to care for these bushes properly will beautify your garden and benefit from healthy berries and flowers. Visit our elderberry bush page for more tips on growing and caring for this amazing ornamental bush!