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All About the Gorgeous John Elderberry

Ornamental elderberry bushes are great for beautifying your garden. They’re also great for their small clusters of healthy elderberries, but what if you want more out of the bush?

You’ll get larger clusters of slightly larger elderberries with the John Elderberry bush. Better yet, it’s resistant enough to pests and diseases, so your crop will be safe up until harvest time.

Read on to learn about this resilient and abundant fruit-bearing elderberry bush!

Looking to buy a John Elderberry plant? Check availability. Here too.

Elderberry similar to John Elderberry

Characteristics of the John Elderberry

The Sambucus canadensis John is a vigorous elderberry bush that bears fruit in two to three years after planting. It then produces 30-pound clusters of fruit annually.

Hardiness zones 3 to 9 are where you can plant this upright, high-yielding, cold-hardy bush.


The John Elderberry bush grows 6–10 feet tall and 6–8 feet wide. Its foliage is green and glossy and turns red-orange in the fall, adding an appealing touch to landscapes.


The fruit starts as giant clusters of 10-inch, Queen Anne’s Lace-like white flowers blooming in the spring. In the late summer, they become medium-large clusters (about 5 inches in diameter) of glossy, purplish black berries.


These soft and juicy elderberries are sweet with a dry, tangy flavor, but don’t start eating them right away. Raw elderberries can be poisonous, so cook them in hot water for 45 minutes after cleaning and harvesting them.

Brief History of the John Elderberry

In 1954, the Kentville Experiment Station in Nova Scotia bred this variety to produce broader clusters of larger elderberries.

The cultivar descended from either an open-pollinated Adams 1 or Adams 2 elderberry seedling. So you’ll usually see the Adams variety paired with the John variety since the two are similar in traits. However, the descended John’s berries ripened sooner than the Adams’ berries.

Where to Buy the Elderberry Bush

Stark Bro’s sells potted plants to grow your own John Elderberry bush.

If you’d like to propagate this bush but don’t have access to one in your area, Etsy sells fresh, unrooted cuttings.

Learn to Grow John Elderberry Bushes

If you’re a gardening beginner, rest assured this fast-growing elderberry variety is easy to grow and care for. Come spring or summer, try planting this cultivar at home!


Some elderberry bushes are slightly self-fertile. However, the non-self-pollinating John Elderberry needs one or two varieties planted alongside it for cross-pollination.

For example, you could plant an Adams elderberry or even a York or Nova elderberry bush. Know that the Wild elderberry promises the best pollination if you plant up to 12 John Elderberries!

Because butterflies and bees are attracted to the elderflowers, these pollinators will help the John Elderberry.

Sun and Soil

This variety grows well in full sunlight but will accept the partial shade. Whether in large pots or your yard, it adapts to any well-draining soil with a pH balance of 5.5–6.5.

Spacing and Staking

Measure the distance between the John Elderberry root ball or rooted cuttings so they’re about 4 to 6 feet apart.

Dig a hole that’s about three times as deep and wide as the root ball. Make sure to let the plants’ crowns rest at or a little above the soil. Don’t forget to water afterward!

Because the top branches bend due to the fruit growing, you may want to use stakes to support the shrub.

Watering and Fertilizing

Water it well during the elderberry bush’s first few weeks to keep the soil moist. When the bush becomes established, water only a few times per week. The important thing is to keep more than the first three inches of soil from becoming dry.

In the early spring, feed it an all-purpose 10-10-10 fertilizer before there’s new growth. Apply it again after harvesting the berries, but take care not to over-fertilize.

You could also apply compost to the soil in addition to a 2–3 inch layer of mulch for consistent moisture.

Pest and Disease Control

A disease-resistant elderberry bush variety like the John Elderberry eliminates worries of infections. You’d only need to worry about pests if your purpose for the bush doesn’t involve feeding the wildlife.

Cover the bush with a netting barrier to keep birds from eating your berries before harvest time.


The first couple of years after planting require no pruning. In the John Elderberry bush’s third or fourth year during spring, remove weak, dead, and broken canes while it’s dormant.


The elderberries ripen in mid-August—turning from green to purple—all at one time for an easy harvest. Cut off the whole berry clusters and rinse them under the faucet. Then remove them from the poisonous stems with a wet fork.

To harvest the elderflowers, wait until early spring before their peak bloom and cut them off at each cluster’s base.

Eating John Elderberries

With the larger size of John Elderberries, you’ll have more than enough to bake pies and make jams and jellies. The berries are also perfect for syrup, wine, or juice.

The elderflowers from this cultivar are edible as well. You can make elderberry fritters, tea, soups, and syrups out of them like you would the elderberries.

Because of their medicinal properties, they’re made into gummy supplements. Not only can you eat these berries recipes and drinks, but you can also use them for immunity boosters.

Health Benefits of the John Elderberry

This variety, just like all elderberries, is rich in healthy vitamins and cell-protecting antioxidants.

Elderberries are a solution for reducing stress and inflammation and lessening cold and flu symptoms. You can also use them to treat other conditions like constipation, headaches, epilepsy, kidney problems, and even HIV and AIDS!

Enjoy the Large John Elderberry!

An elderberry bush with slightly larger fruits is good, and its resistance to pests and diseases makes it better! By planting the John Elderberry bush, you’ll have a fruitful time eating or drinking such sweetness without any compromising afflictions. Can’t get enough of these sweet berries?

Discover more varieties of Elderberry bushes on our website and learn how to grow and care for them.