Herbal plants

Caring for and planting elderberries

Elderberry belongs to the honeysuckle family (Caprifoliaceae) and is known worldwide with three species. The shrub known as black elder grows loose, bushy and can reach over 6 meters tall. The robust wood is valued above all for its flowers and fruits. In addition to the fruit varieties, varieties with yellow or red foliage are finding more and more fans. With harmonious growth and attractive leaves, the wild fruit is a feast for the eyes in the garden. With a long flowering period, the elder provides valuable food for bees and other insects. Learn how to care for elderberries in this post.

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Types & varieties Pests & diseases FAQ

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Interesting facts about elderberry

Botanical name: Sambucus nigra, Sambucus racemosa
Other names: black elder, grape elder, red elder, lilac berry, elder bush
Use: wild fruit, ornamental wood, scented wood, nectar plant for insects, bird food wood
Origin: Europe, Asia, North America
Flowering period: June, July
Flower colors : creamy white, pink
Special features: Convinces with harmonious growth without much care. Varieties with red, yellow or variegated foliage are particularly decorative in the home garden or in large pots on the balcony. Flowers popular for syrup. Fruits are edible, ideal for jam and juice, but never eaten raw.

In which location does elderberry feel most comfortable?

Elderberry grows easily in any garden soil. The shrub does not make any special demands on the soil, but it should not be too dry. You can improve light sandy soils when planting with high-quality potting soil. Sunny locations are ideal, but shady places are also possible for the wild wood. Possibly Sambucus flowers a little less there and the fruit set is less.

How do I plant my Sambucus in the garden?

Elderberry can be planted all year round in frost-free weather. Planting in spring and early summer is ideal. This gives the plants enough time to root and they are well prepared for the first winter.

Plant elderberry in 5 steps:

  • Dig a planting hole twice the size and depth of the plant’s root ball.
  • For soil that tends to compact, place a thin drainage layer of gravel or sand in the planting hole.
  • Water the elderberry thoroughly before planting.
  • Place the root ball in the planting hole and fill it up with high-quality potting soil.
  • Water the new planting with 20 liters of water.

How do I properly care for and cut my elderberry?

In addition to need-based watering and annual fertilizing, no further care measures are necessary for Sambucus, so caring for elderberries is really not a big effort. You can harvest the fruits, but you don’t necessarily have to cut them off. If you leave the black berries on the bush, you offer birds a valuable source of food for weeks. Elderberry bushes tolerate pruning well, you can shorten the bushes regularly. Cutting back in the spring before they sprout is optimal. This is the best way to recognize which branches are crossing and where thinning out is helpful. Elderberries are best cut and so in theLimit height and width. Knowledge fact: Winter protection is not necessary for Sambucus.

How do I water my elderberry in the garden?

Sambucus is quite undemanding after planting and continues to grow well. Needs -based watering is important in the first year after planting. This means that additional watering is required during phases without precipitation . Depending on the temperature, soil conditions and size of the plant, the amount of water and the frequency of watering will vary. Basically , larger amounts of water given at intervals help better than small daily doses. In the first year after planting, it may be necessary to water 10 to 20 liters every 2 weeks be. However, always water depending on rainfall and temperature. If the tree is firmly rooted, additional watering is only necessary on extremely light soils and in phases without any precipitation.

How do I fertilize Sambucus?

Elderberry loves nutrient-rich soil, but also tolerates sandy and dry locations. Fertilization is advisable for growth and fruit set. A supply of organic garden fertilizer in spring is ideal. The purely plant-based natural fertilizer provides the wood with sufficient food for months. In addition, you can spread well-rotted compost as mulch in the shrub in autumn. This organic matter supports soil life, protects roots in winter and slowly releases nutrients.

What types and varieties are there in elderberry?

Best known is the black elder, which is a deciduous shrub with a rich abundance of flowers in early summer and black berries in autumn. Through selections, interesting varieties of Sambucus nigra have emerged, the following are the most important varieties of red-leaved elder:

Black Lace (Eva’PBR) Haschberg

Foliage dark brown to red, slightly glossy, flowers pink to white with a strong lemon scent, up to 2 meters wide.
Sambucus racemosa

Known as grape elder, deer elder or red elder, the shrub can grow to between 2 and 4 meters in height and just as wide. Scarlet drupes develop from the yellow-green flowers. It is important to know that the stones are poisonous, but the pulp is edible. Yellow-leaved variants are popular, which provide color with their bright leaves, especially in partial shade. Warning, if the sun is too strong, it can burn the leaves.

Sambucus racemosa ‘Plumosa Aurea’

What pests and diseases can the elder get?

With the right site conditions, elderberry care is easy and not expensive. Here is a possible problem that can occur:


Young shoots and flower stalks are often attacked by aphids in spring . In addition to the elder aphid, the green peach aphid is represented. Rinse the shrubs thoroughly with water the first time they become infested. In addition, you can treat with organic plant treatment, a biological plant strengthener. In a natural way you strengthen the tissue and the aphids can no longer damage it so easily. In addition to fighting, you can cut off the affected shoot tips in local herds.


FAQ – Frequently asked questions about elderberry

Can Sambucus be kept as a container plant?

The wild wood has fleshy roots, is hardy and can stand in large containers for a short time. Even soil moisture and regular fertilization from May to August are important for pot culture.

What can be the reason for low fruit set?

Sambucus is self-fertile, so only one plant is needed for pollination. If there is a lack of moisture after flowering, the fruit set may be less and the umbels loose. Furthermore, wet and cold weather during flowering can be responsible for the flowers dropping prematurely and so-called trickling taking place.

When can the fruits be harvested?

Black elderberry is ripe as soon as the berries have completely colored. Depending on the variety, fruit ripening begins in August and can last until the end of September.

What is elderberry good for?

Elderflowers can be used in spring for jelly, lemonade, syrup, vinegar, sparkling wine or wine. The flowers can also be baked in pancake batter. Elderberries make delicious juice, jam, jelly, syrup, wine or punch in autumn. The traditional wood is rich in essential oils, bitter substances, potassium, vitamin B and vitamin C.

Recipes for elderberriesHere you will find delicious recipes. We’ll show you how to make muffins, syrup and lemonade with elderberry. Enjoy your meal!

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Is elderberry poisonous?

Unripe elderberries and uncooked ripe berries are slightly toxic when eaten raw. The stone fruits are not suitable for raw consumption. Due to the ingredient sambunigrin, indigestion can occur. Heating or fermentation breaks down sambunigrin.

How fast does an elderberry bush grow?

In good conditions, growth of 50 to 80 centimeters can take place in the first few years. Since the wild shrub tolerates pruning well, the height can be easily limited.