How to Grow Black (Sambucus Nigra) and Red (Sambucus Racemosa) Elderberries

Sambucus (elder or elderberry) is a genus of flowering plants containing between 5 and 30 species of deciduous shrubs, small trees and herbaceous perennial plants.

Elderberry trees are often grown as decorative trees, but more and more for their flowers and fruits.

grow elderberry tree

The most common species of elderberries are:

  • Sambucus Nigra (elder, elderberry, black elder, black elderberry, European elder, European elderberry, and European black elderberry),
  • Sambucus Racemosa (European red elder, red elder, red elderberry, Red-berried Elderberry).

What Color Is Elderberry?

Red elderberries (Sambucus racemosa) produce bright red, translucent berries, while black elderberries (Sambucus nigra) produce dark purple to almost black berries.

These two types of elderberries have distinct colors, with red elderberries being more vibrant and eye-catching and black elderberries having a deeper, darker hue.

Black Elderberry - Sambucus Nigra

Black elderberry is a shrub or small tree growing to 10 m tall and 6 m wide. It is not a very picky plant, and it grows in a variety of conditions, including both wet and dry, preferably fertile soils, primarily in sunny locations, but will also tolerate some shade.

Black elderberries are native to Europe, North America, and Asia, with several regional varieties or a group of several similar subspecies.

fully ripe black elderberry

Elder fruit is a glossy dark purple to black berry, 5-6 mm in diameter, produced in drooping, sometimes very numerous clusters in late autumn.

All green parts of the elder tree are poisonous due to cyanogenic glycosides (a type of sugar that contains a cyanide group - a plant's defensive mechanism). Elderberries can be eaten when fully ripe but are still mildly poisonous in their unripe state - the berries are safe to eat after cooking and can be used to make jam, jelly, sauces, pies, etc.

Flowers are commonly used in infusions, syrups, and similar. Berries and flowers are also used for making elderberry wine and other alcoholic drinks. Dried flowers and elderberries are often used for making tea.

Black elderberry is used in traditional medicine due to its many health benefits, and it is used to treat bronchitis, cough, upper respiratory cold infections, fever, arthritis, etc.

Red Elderberry - Sambucus Racemosa

Red elderberry is a treelike shrub growing 3–6 m tall. It is native to Europe, parts of Asia, and North America. It grows in various environments, like woodlands and other habitats, generally preferring moist areas.

fully ripe red elderberry

Like its black cousin, it is grown as an ornamental plant and for use as food and as a remedy in traditional medicine.

Note: fruits are not edible, not even when fully ripe - cooked red elderberries are safe and are used like black elderberries for making jam, jelly, pies, syrups, etc.

Also, black and red elderberry fruits are popular with birds, which can significantly decrease the crop - very important if elderberries are grown for fruit production.

Obtaining Elderberry Tree

The easiest method of obtaining elderberry plants is in garden centers (or by ordering them online). One of the benefits of garden centers is that one buys certified elderberries ready to be planted in a permanent location in the garden. This is important since there are many varieties of elderberries with various properties.

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Growing elderberries from seeds is also possible - elderberry seeds require two months of cold to be able to germinate.

Seeds can be started indoors, but these plants are very resilient, and probably the best method is to plant the seeds in the flower pots outside and let them overwinter. In the spring, they will start to grow, and after one or two seasons in the pot/container, they can be transplanted in a permanent location.

Or just sow seeds in a permanent location right away and let Mother Nature do the rest.

Elderberry plants can be obtained by rooting branch cuttings. This is also the preferred method when a larger number of plants is required.
Cuttings can be rooted in the water or in the soil.

  • Rooting in the water - cut the elderberry canes to around 20-25 cm (8-10 inches) in length, put them in jars half-filled with water, and place them near the window. Change the water every few days. After 7-8 weeks, cuttings will start to root and start to grow. Roots started in water are very gentle - carefully plant the elderberries in their permanent position or in a larger flower pot/container for a season or two.
  • Rooting in the soil - cut the elderberry canes to around 20-25 cm (8-10 inches) in length and place them in the jar with water for a day. Fill flower pots or suitable containers with good flower pots, place elderberry cuttings, and water thoroughly. Keep the soil moist, but also be sure that the pot/container has enough drainage holes. After 6-8 weeks on a sunny position (windowsill, for example), plants will start to grow - don't transplant them yet. If possible, leave them for one season in the same pots and transplant them in a permanent location next year.

The simplest way to root plants in the soil is by planting several elderberry cuttings in their permanent location in late winter. During spring, leave the strongest plant and remove or replant other plants.

Planting Elderberry Tree

Elderberry trees are like weeds - they don't require special conditions to grow, flower, and have fruits.

However, when given optimum conditions, they will grow stronger and healthier and yield larger crops.

Elderberries prefer rich and moist but not waterlogged positions, with the soil pH around 5.5 and 6.5, but will tolerate a wide range of soil types, fertility, and pH levels.

Make a hole some 50 cm (20 inches) wide and deep, add some compost and aged manure, mix with the soil, and refill the hole, leaving enough room for elderberry plants and root balls. If there is a danger o wind, stick a pole of suitable length and thickness into the soil. Plant the elderberry into the soil, press the soil firmly, tie the plant to the pole, and water thoroughly. And that is all.

Caring for Elderberry Trees

Elderberries respond well to fertilizers, however, they have shallow roots and digging in the fertilizers must be done carefully in order to avoid roots damage.

Early in the spring add balanced (for example 10-10-10) fertilizer, around 50-60g for each plant's year (up to 2kg of NPK fertilizer) spread evenly under treetop area. Also, add some compost and/or humus and dig in carefully. During summer, if required, add 25-30g of balanced fertilizer for each plant's year.

Elderberries grow many new canes each year. If elderberries are grown for ornamental reasons, prune them to be visually appealing and form tree or bush.

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When growing elderberries for flowers and fruits, keep in mind that new canes reach full height often in the first season, and in the second season, they develop lateral branches.

Flowers grow on the tips of the current season's growth, often on the new, first-season canes, but second-season elderberry canes with good lateral development are the most fruitful. In the third or fourth year, older branches tend to lose vigor and strength and don't develop as many flowers as a season or two earlier.

When the plants are dormant, remove all dead, broken, ill, infested, old and weak canes.

Elderberry Pests And Diseases

Elderberry plants are very resilient plants to pests and diseases. Powdery mildew is rarely a problem, but when there is a danger of affecting the fruits, it must be treated by fungicides.

Cane borers and similar pests occasionally cause damage to the plants, and pruning out infested canes and burning them, is often the best course of action for home gardeners. Elderberry plants can cope with few insects; however, if the attack is stronger and can affect harvest, organic or artificial insecticides must be used.

The biggest danger to ripe or almost ripe elderberries are birds. They love them, and with a good reason. The only way of protecting elderberries and similar fruits from birds are protective nets that prevent birds from eating the berries.

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Elderberries are a great addition to any small garden - in most cases, just plant them in a permanent location and forget them until the time comes to pick flowers and fruits.

And they can be quite impressive trees - just imagine them being combined with cherries, blackberries, roses ...

For more information, feel free to check the following:

or You can check the following elderberry articles:

Growing Elderberries in Pots and Containers

growing elderberry in potsElderberries are very resilient plants, which can be grown in large flower pots and containers.

Although they are mostly grown in permanent locations, elderberries in pots and containers grow great-smelling flowers and healthy and juicy fruits and can be a quite decorative addition to any garden or even larger balcony.

Updated: July 18, 2023.

Elderberry vs. Pokeberry: What's The Difference?

black elderberry mElderberry, scientifically known as Sambucus nigra, is a deciduous shrub belonging to the Adoxaceae family. Found across Europe, North America, and parts of Asia, this plant bears small, dark purple to black berries that are commonly used for their culinary and medicinal properties.

Pokeberry, also known as Phytolacca americana, is a perennial plant native to North America. It belongs to the Phytolaccaceae family and is known for its large, vibrant clusters of dark purple to black berries. Pokeberries grow on tall, robust plants with smooth stems and large, distinctive leaves.

Published: May 9, 2023.

Health Benefits of Elderberries - Elderberry Syrup, Wine, Juice, Tea, Extracts

health benefits of elderberryFor centuries, elderberries have been used in various forms to prevent and treat various health issues.

Since most elderberries are not edible, even when fully ripe, elderberries must be processed and cooked to be safely used.

Published: June 15, 2022.

Everything about Growing Elderberries Indoors

elderberry flower w150pxIt’s surprising that a fruit like elderberries which is so juicy and delicious is not easily available in stores. On the flip side, one can grow their own elderberries so that they can enjoy them anytime.

Even if one doesn’t have their own yard or garden, they need not worry because these berries can be easily grown in pots. What’s more, the plants are so gorgeous that they are a fine addition to one’s home décor. Along with the delicious berries which can be made into jams, pie filling, and wine, one gets a bonus in the form of flowers that smell amazing and are edible too.

In short, there are so many reasons for a plant-lover to have this plant around on their patio, windowsill, or terrace, if not in their garden.

Published: February 3, 2022.