By Guest Author Anna Ohler
Elderberries are a popular and versatile fruit that can be used for making jams, syrups, and wine, among other things. They also have a number of health benefits, making them a great addition to any garden. If you are interested in growing your own elderberries, there are a few simple steps to follow to get started.
Step 1: Choose the Right Variety of Elderberry for your region
Before you start planting, it is important to choose the right variety of elderberry bush for your climate and soil type. There are several different varieties of elderberry bushes, including the American elderberry (Sambucus canadensis), the European elderberry (Sambucus nigra), and the blue elderberry (Sambucus cerulea).
The American elderberry is native to North America and is well-suited to moist, fertile soils. The European elderberry is native to Europe and is more tolerant of drier soils. The blue elderberry is native to the western United States and is a good choice for hot, dry climates.
Step 2: Choose a sunny location
Once you have chosen the right variety of elderberry bush, you need to choose the right location for planting. Elderberry bushes prefer a sunny location with well-drained soil. They also require adequate spacing, as they can grow quite large.
When choosing a location for planting, consider the size of the mature plant (up to 30 feet depending on the variety) and make sure there is enough room for it to grow. Also, consider the proximity to other plants or structures, as elderberry bushes can attract a variety of wildlife, including birds.
Step 3: Prepare the Soil
Elderberry bushes prefer a soil pH of between 5.5 and 6.5. If your soil is too alkaline or too acidic, you may need to amend it before planting.
To amend the soil, start by testing the pH. You can do this using a pH test kit, which can be purchased at most garden centers. If the pH is too high (alkaline), you can lower it by adding elemental sulfur or organic matter such as peat moss. If the pH is too low (acidic), you can raise it by adding agricultural lime.
Once you have adjusted the pH, add organic matter to the soil. This will improve soil structure and fertility. You can add compost, well-rotted manure, or other organic matter to the soil. Work it into the soil to a depth of at least 12 inches before planting.
Step 4: Plant the Elderberry Bush
When planting an elderberry bush, it is important to plant it at the right depth. The planting hole should be deep enough and wide enough to accommodate the roots of the plant and the soil should be firm around the plant to prevent air pockets from forming.
To plant the elderberry bush, dig a hole that is as deep as the root ball and twice as wide. Make sure the hole is deep enough to accommodate the entire root ball. Gently loosen the roots of the plant before placing it in the hole. Root washing is recommended before planting any perennial.
Position the plant in the hole so that the crown is level with the surface of the soil. Fill in the hole with soil and press down firmly around the plant with your hands to remove any air pockets.
Step 5: Water and Mulch
After planting the elderberry bush, water it thoroughly to help settle the soil around the roots. Continue to water the plant regularly throughout the first season, especially during hot, dry periods. Make sure the soil remains moist but not waterlogged.
To conserve moisture and control weeds, apply a layer of mulch around the base of the plant annually. This will also help to regulate soil temperature and prevent soil erosion. Apply a layer of organic mulch such as straw, wood chips, or shredded leaves.
Step 6: Regularly prune your elderberry
Pruning is an important part of maintaining a healthy and productive elderberry plant. Elderberries should be pruned in late winter or early spring while the plant is dormant.
Start pruning by removing any dead or damaged branches, cutting them back to the base of the plant. Next, remove any weak or crossing branches to promote better air circulation and light penetration. Finally, prune back the remaining branches to a height of 3-5 feet, leaving 3-5 buds on each branch. This will encourage the plant to produce new growth and increase fruit production in the coming year.
Buy on Amazon: Pruning equipment
When Will A New Elderberry Plant Produce Berries?
Elderberry plants typically take 2-3 years to become established and produce their first crop of fruit. However, the exact timeline for fruit production can vary depending on several factors, including the age of the plant when it was initially planted, the growing conditions, and the variety of elderberry.
In general, elderberry plants that are grown from cuttings or purchased as young plants may take longer to produce fruit than those that are grown from root divisions. Additionally, elderberries that are grown in favorable conditions, such as full sun and fertile, well-draining soil, are more likely to produce fruit earlier than those grown in less optimal conditions.
How Do You Harvest Elderberries?
Harvesting elderberries requires some patience, as the fruit ripens over a period of several weeks. Here are the steps to follow when harvesting elderberries:
- Monitor the Berries: Keep an eye on the elderberry bush as the fruit begins to ripen. The berries will turn from green to a deep purple-black color when they are fully ripe.
- Harvest at the Right Time: Wait until the majority of the berries on the bush have turned dark purple before beginning to harvest. This will ensure that the fruit is at its peak ripeness and flavor.
- Use the Right Tools: Wear gloves and use a pair of scissors or pruning shears to harvest the fruit. Be careful not to damage the branches or leave too much stem on the fruit.
- Harvest the Fruit: Harvest the elderberries by cutting off the entire cluster of fruit at the base of the stem. Be sure to leave some clusters of berries on the bush to allow for further ripening.
- Clean and Store the Berries: Rinse the berries thoroughly with cold water and remove any stems or leaves that may have been left on the fruit. Elderberries can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a week, or frozen for longer storage.
If you’re looking to expand your fruit garden with something new, elderberries are a great choice. These plants are relatively easy to grow and a mature elderberry plant can produce large yields of fruit for up to 10 years or more. Growing elderberries can be a rewarding experience for those interested in adding a unique and nutritious fruit to their home garden.
Sources: USDA: Plant of the week, American Black Elderberry, Missouri Dept of Conservation: Common Elderberry, Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center: Sambucus Nigra ssp. Canadensis
Guest Author Bio: Anna Ohler is an avid plant hobbyist and owner/operator of Bright Lane Gardens, a boutique plant nursery in Northern Michigan. With over a decade of experience in gardening and landscaping, she takes every opportunity to share her knowledge on all things plant related. With a keen focus on integrating home landscaping into our natural ecosystems, Anna is dedicated to growing her knowledge of native plants and organic growing methods.