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Gardening Guides » Small Fruits & Berries » Plant and Care for Elderberry Bush

Plant and Care for Elderberry Bush

The Mystery of the Elderberry

One of the most unknown commodities in the gardening world is the elderberry bush. It's a native plant to North America, but the popularity of the elderberry bush isn't high by any means. Still, it's an exciting plant, part of a fantastic genus, and may be one of the most versatile plants Gurney's offers. Here's some more info on the elderberry bush.

What Is It?

Elderberry bushes (or elderberry trees—they're the same thing) are mostly known as wildlife plants, but they look great in a natural garden setting, as well. They're hardy plants that bloom white flowers in late spring, which, in turn, produce dark, edible berries that are ready for harvesting when their color is dark purple (or even black), usually in late summer or early fall (August-September).


Elderberry bushes are a versatile plant, with tons of uses. Obviously, the flowers will look great in any part of your yard or garden (especially a landscape setting), but you'll get the most practical use out of the berries, which are mainly used as an ingredient in syrups, pies, extracts, jams, wines and champagnes. The flowers can also be ground up for the same uses. Just make sure the berries are ripe and properly cleaned before you use them, just like any other fruit.

Health Benefits

Like most other berries (such as strawberries, blueberries, and blackberries), elderberries are chock-full of antioxidants, and contain high amounts of Vitamin C and potassium, which aid your immune system in preventing and fighting off cold and flu symptoms. You may have heard that unripe elderberries, in addition to the plant's leaves, twigs, stems and roots, contain traces of cyanide. While that is true, the amount present is so miniscule it's virtually a non-issue. As was mentioned in Uses, make sure berries are ripe and clean before consumption. The leaves, twigs, stems and roots should be avoided to begin with.

How to Plant an Elderberry Bush

You're going to want to plant an elderberry bush in spring. Mail-order varieties are shipped at the proper planting time for your growing region, so as soon as you receive it, plant it, otherwise you risk drying it out. It's best for the plant to be put into a moist environment that drains well. There's some talk out there of the plant thriving in wet, not-so-well-drained areas, but that simply isn't true. Make sure the area you decide to plant in drains well, because this plant is going to need to be watered often.

Space the plants approximately 5 feet apart in rows approximately 16 feet apart, and only a couple inches deep due to their shallow roots. These guys love to cross-pollinate, too, so don't be afraid to plant a cultivar with it, usually around 60 feet apart.

Caring for an Elderberry Bush

Cultivation and fertilization are essential elements of elderberry bush care. Weeds are a continual problem with elderberry bushes, so take care of those as best you can. Gurney's Weed Aside™ Weed Killer is recommened. Elderberry bushes also love plant fertilizers, so something like Gurney's Timed-Released Fertilizer Tablets can help the plant grow.

New canes appear on the plant each year, usually hitting their full height during the first season. This is where the flowers and fruit will grow and develop, so let the plants run wild the first season or two. Canes usually don't need pruning until after the second year, when the wood becomes weak and less vigorous.


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