Elderberry Garden Guide

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Elderberry Care At A Glance

  • Elderberry plants produce large clusters of small edible berries, rich in vitamin C, best used for jams & jellies.
  • Good for use in USDA zones 4-8.
  • First harvest typically 1-2 years from planting.
  • Named cultivars are equally good producers, some like 'York' are prized for its larger berries, while 'Adams' is a popular reliable heirloom variety released by NY State Agricultural Department in 1926.
  • Plants are nearly self-fertile but planting two different varieties will ensure higher yields with better quality fruits due to cross-pollination.

Elderberry Planting Instructions

  • Bare root plants should have roots soaked for 8 to 24 hrs. prior to planting.
  • Dig a large hole 2-3 times the size of the rootball.
  • Amend existing soil with a 50/50 blend of compost and aged manure.
  • Plant with the top of the rootball no more than 1-2 inches below the natural soil grade.
  • Remove any grass or competing weeds from 3 ft. circumference around the new elderberry plants and mulch over the root zone with 2-3 inches of fresh compost or mulch.
  • Water new plants thoroughly and slowly to ensure all air pockets have been removed.

NOTE: Like raspberry and blackberries, bare-root elderberry plants rarely sprout from last year's canes, therefore pruning existing canes back by at least ½ immediately after planting is recommended. If they fail to break dormancy and form new shoots 6-8 weeks after planting, then cut canes virtually to the ground to stimulate new buds.

  • Full establishment typically occurs in 12-18 months from planting.


  • Elderberry plants prefer moist, well-drained organically rich soils. While they can accept periodic flooding events, they Do Not appreciate soggy or consistently wet soils, which is a common misconception about elderberries.
  • Like other woody, deciduous large shrubs or small trees new plants should be watered using the 1 inch per week rule, which equates to about 2.5-3 gallons of water, per plant, every 2-3 days.
  • If the top new growth or new shoots show signs of wilting leaves, this means they require more water.
  • If the older lower leaves begin yellowing and dropping off, this means plant roots are too wet and less water is needed or more time between waterings should be allowed.

Elderberry Care - Maintenance After Establishment

  • Maintenance:
    • In optimal conditions elderberries grow branches or canes quickly, usually in one season, developing good lateral branches in the second season.
    • Second-year lateral branches produce the most flowers and fruit clusters.
    • In late winter or early spring, while plants are dormant prune out dead, broken, or crossing canes and any canes that are older than 3-4 years, as their fruit production will start to wane. New growth and canes will replace those older canes that are removed.
    • Bees are primary pollinators for elderberries. Planting many pollinators attractive flowering plants and encouraging bee visits will be beneficial long-term.
  • Fertilize:
    • Fertilize elderberries in early spring around the same time as pruning occurs.
    • Apply 2-3 inches of aged manure or compost or a 50/50 blend over the root zone, taking care to keep this product 2 inches back from crown of the plant. Covered the crowns can lead to issues of rotting.
    • You can also apply 1 lb. of 10-10-10, such as Espoma® All-purpose plant food.
    • Move mulch or top-dressing back to ensure good fertilizer to soil contact, sprinkle fertilizer and water it in well, then replace mulch cover.

NOTE: Do Not cultivate the top layer of soil around elderberries with sharp tools or equipment, as the roots are shallow and can be easily damaged.