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Growing Elderberries: A Beginner’s Guide to a Nutritious and Delicious Fruit

Elderberry bushes can be the perfect addition to your yard due to their bright green leaves and gorgeous white flowers. Their little dark purple berries can also serve as a tasty addition to many recipes. They’ll even give your immune system an antioxidant boost too! This probably sounds great, but is growing elderberry bushes difficult?

If you’re interested in growing elderberries, you need to consider everything that goes into it. Luckily, growing elderberries is quite easy, as they are very low-maintenance shrubs. Keep reading to understand the elderberry growing and care process so you can have beautiful fruit-bearing shrubs in no time!

An elderberry bush with growing elderberries on it

Choose Your Location

Choosing the correct location for your elderberry bushes is essential to their future health and fruit yield. While the shrubs are generally hardy, you need to keep some planting do’s and don’ts in mind.

Ideal Climate for Elderberries

Elderberries grow best in areas that have seasonal changes and moist soil. So, places like Arizona, where the weather is mostly hot and dry year-round, wouldn’t be the best place.

The northern part of the United States suits the plant well, as the area clearly experiences all four season changes. Precipitation is also common in this area, offering plenty of water to growing elderberry shrubs.

Planting Zones

Elderberry bushes grow best in USDA hardiness zones 3-9. They can sometimes grow outside these zones, but the plants will be healthiest in these seven planting zones.

Your elderberry bushes will typically produce foliage in the spring. Then you’ll see beautiful flowers at the end of spring and into the summer. By the end of summer, you’ll see the berries begin to replace the flowers.

Required Sun Exposure

Growing elderberry bushes should get about six to eight hours of sunlight per day. They can handle partial shade, but the shrubs prefer full sun.

Soil Requirements

Elderberry bushes enjoy moist soil that has a great drainage system. Adding rocks or organic matter to the soil might help to aid with drainage.

The soil should also be slightly acidic. They’ll also need about one to two inches of water each week. Sometimes they’ll need more if it is dry and hot outside.

Factors to Consider when Planting Your Elderberry Plants

Here are a few other things you should consider when growing elderberry bushes.


Most elderberry species need to be at least four feet apart. This will help prevent a hedge look due to overcrowding.

You should also plant them about one to two inches deeper than the size of their root system.

Access to Water

Ensure you have a water source near your growing elderberry bushes or a means of bringing water to them. Having a hose nearby can be helpful.

Wind Protection

Elderberry bushes can withstand winds rather well, so don’t put too much worry into this. But, if you’re nervous, putting them near your home or another structure is a good way to block detrimental winds.

Choose Your Elderberry Variety

Here are the two primary elderberry varieties you can find. Both produce similar-looking and tasting berries. The size of the plant is the primary difference between the two. Other cultivars stem from these two species.

American Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis)

If you take a look at the American elderberry plant, you’ll notice it has a bush-like appearance. This variety tends to grow outward rather than upward. They’ll typically grow five to 12 feet tall and wide.

Clusters of black elderberries on a bush in the sunlight

European Elderberry (Sambucus nigra)

European elderberry plants have a more tree-like appearance. They tend to grow much taller than the American elderberry. It’s not uncommon for this species to grow up to 20 feet tall.

Factors to Consider When Choosing Your Elderberry Variety

Here are some things you should consider when picking out your elderberry bush.

Climate Compatibility

Both species of elderberries grow in the same hardiness zones. So they can handle the same climates. Again, this would be hardiness zones 3-9. Your growing elderberry shrubs will be happy if you plant them within these zones.

Plant Size

Think about how much space you want your elderberry plants to take over. If you’re looking for a plant to cover a large width, the American elderberry is best for that. But if you want something tall, then the European elderberry is best. Think about the size that best suits your yard.

Quality and Yield of Fruit

American elderberry plants tend to grow slightly larger berries than European elderberry plants. They also have a sweeter taste to them. But, regarding yield, both varieties produce around the same amount if taken care of correctly.

How to Plant Elderberries

1. Find the perfect sunny location in the springtime.

2. Dig a hole slightly bigger than your elderberry plant’s current pot. The hole should be about one to two inches deeper than the plant’s root system.

3. Take your plant out of its pot and gently detangle the roots a little bit. Place the plant into the hole.

4. Cover the plant’s roots with the displaced soil and an all-purpose fertilizer.

5. Thoroughly water the plant, so the soil is moist.

6. Continue the steps with the rest of your elderberry plants. But make sure you keep the plants at least four to six feet apart from each other.

Elderberry orchard in Hungary

When growing elderberry plants, ensure you have at least two plants in the vicinity of each other so they can cross-pollinate through the wind.

Use the Complete Guide to Garden Digging Tools for an idea of what you’ll need for the planting process.

Caring for Your Elderberry Plants


Elderberry plants only need a few inches of water per week. Due to this, you’ll probably only need to water them once or twice a week. You can skip watering that week if it rains at least an inch.


You should prune your elderberry plants at the end of their growing season when the temperatures begin to drop. Simply cut off any dead, broken, or diseased branches. This will help the growing elderberry plant focus all its energy on its healthy limbs. When winter begins, the plant will stay dormant until springtime.


You’ll typically need to fertilize your elderberry plants once in the spring and once in the fall. Do not over-fertilize.

Possible Diseases and How to Manage Them

Verticillium wilt is a potentially fatal disease to your growing elderberry plants. It is a fungal disease that enters through the roots and can eat away at your plant. Signs include yellowing and wilting of leaves and stems. Sadly, there is no cure for this disease. But you can attempt to stop it from spreading by cutting off affected areas.

Cankers happen when bacteria or fungi attack your elderberry plant. The pathogens enter your plant through an open wound and can cause moisture-oozing bumps. These don’t have treatment either.

Possible Pests and How to Manage Them

Common pests you can come across include the following:

  • Soft scales
  • Borers
  • Aphids

Soft scales and aphids are sap-sucking insects. They cause the plant to lose its nutrients and start dying. Borers are primarily beetle larvae that eat away at your plant. Signs of these pests include chewed leaves, wilting, shriveling, bug eggs, and the bugs themselves. You can treat most pests with insecticides.

When to Harvest Your Elderberries

Your elderberries are ready to harvest when they have a dark purple coloring around the entire berry. This is typically from the summer’s end into the beginning of fall.

Rattan basket full of elderberries on a porch

Picking options include your hands or a berry picker. Using a berry picker is much faster. It acts like a scoop and takes bunches off at a time. It’ll store the berries while you pick them and won’t harm your growing elderberry bush.

Use the 7 Best Fruit Picking Baskets to help you pick your berry.

Elderberry Uses

You should only eat cooked elderberries, as raw ones can make you sick. But, their taste is rather tart with hints of earthy notes. There are tiny hints of sweetness as well.

Cooking and Baking with Elderberries

The best way to use elderberries is in syrup, baking recipes, and cocktails. Elderberry syrup is easy to make with ingredients like water and sugar. This syrup tastes great in teas, coffees, mocktails, and cocktails for added sweetness.

You can also replace blueberries with elderberries for baking recipes like muffins, scones, or cakes.

Canning / Freezing / Drying

Canning elderberries isn’t the best idea because their acidity level is low. But you can freeze them by simply putting them in an air-tight bag or container in your freezer. They make the perfect mini ice cubes! You can also dry them in a dehydrator or the oven to make delicious dried fruit for your recipes.


Here are some tasty elderberry recipes that are worth a try:

Health Benefits of Elderberries

Growing elderberry bushes in your yard can have some helpful disease-fighting benefits! Elderberries contain high amounts of vitamin A, vitamin C, potassium, and fiber. These nutrients allow the berries to have an anti-inflammatory response in your body and help keep your cells healthy.

Elderberry consumption can help fight viruses, treat acne, and even minimize wrinkles!

Dried elderberries on a heart shaped wooden spoon with cinnamon sticks and elderberry syrup

Where to Buy Elderberry Bushes

Elderberry bushes come in many different varieties and can be purchased from online nurseries. You can even purchase an elderberry plant collection that includes compatible pollinators.

Wrapping Up Growing Elderberries

Try growing elderberry bushes if you want to spruce up your yard with some low-maintenance plants! They’ll offer you pretty foliage, flowers, and delicious berries for your recipes. Perennials like these will return yearly, offering you many years of beauty and harvest!

Check out our elderberry page for more information about these interesting little berries.