Mad About Berries

Growing Elderberries in Pots and Containers

Elderberries 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.

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Growing Pot/Container For Elderberries

The growing pot or container should be rather large - at least 60cm (24 inches) in diameter and 50cm (20 inches) deep, with plenty of drainage holes.

If you can find a place for a larger container, feel free to do so, just keep in mind that such larger containers, although provide plenty of room for roots, are also hard to move around.

If you do have a need to move pots around a lot, before filling them with the soil, position them on the base with wheels.

Most popular containers are round or rectangular pots made from durable plastic. Pots made from terracotta are also popular, but with all the soil and elderberry weight, they can become rather heavy - and stable and very resilient to gusts of wind.

Soil For Elderberries

Elderberries tolerate a wide range of soil types, fertility, and pH levels but will benefit from moist, rich soil with a pH between 5.5 and 6.5.

Although elderberries can be often found near creeks and on the banks of rivers, such water is relatively rich in oxygen, and elderberries' shallow roots will not start to rot easily even if in contact with such water.

However, in pots and containers, excess water will make roots rot rather easily - be sure to use soil rich in organic matter and some sand, the soil that drains well, and be sure to make enough drain holes in the pot/container.

Such a combination keeps roots moist, but not waterlogged, and every time the container is watered, stale air exits the container. As water evaporates, fresh air enters the container.

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Fertilizers For Elderberries

Fertilizing elderberries planted in pots is important to provide them with the necessary nutrients for healthy growth and fruit production. Here are some guidelines on how, when, and with what kind of fertilizers to fertilize elderberries in pots:

  • Timing: Elderberries can benefit from regular fertilization during the growing season, starting in early spring when new growth begins. Fertilizing every 4-6 weeks until late summer or early fall can help provide a steady supply of nutrients.
  • Balanced Fertilizer: Use a balanced, slow-release fertilizer specifically formulated for fruit-bearing plants or general-purpose organic fertilizers. Look for a fertilizer with an N-P-K ratio (nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium) around 10-10-10 or 14-14-14. These ratios provide a good balance of nutrients that elderberries require.
  • Application Rate: Follow the instructions provided on the fertilizer package for the recommended application rate. Generally, you can apply 1-2 tablespoons (15-30 grams) of fertilizer per plant per application. Avoid over-fertilizing, as it can lead to excessive vegetative growth at the expense of fruit production.
  • Application Method: Sprinkle the fertilizer evenly around the base of the elderberry plant, avoiding direct contact with the stem. Gently work the fertilizer into the top layer of soil using a small garden rake or cultivator. Water the plant thoroughly after applying the fertilizer to help it absorb the nutrients.
  • Organic Options: If you prefer organic fertilizers, you can use well-rotted compost or aged manure to provide nutrients to your elderberries. Apply a layer of compost or manure around the base of the plant, taking care not to let it touch the stem, and water it in.
  • Monitoring and Adjusting: Regularly monitor the health and growth of your elderberries to assess their nutrient needs. Adjust the fertilization schedule or application rate if necessary. Be cautious not to over-fertilize, as excessive nutrients can cause imbalances and harm the plant.
  • Watering Considerations: After fertilizing, make sure to water the elderberry plant thoroughly to help distribute the nutrients and prevent potential fertilizer burn.

Remember to consider the specific requirements and recommendations provided by the fertilizer manufacturer, as they may vary slightly.

Additionally, following good cultural practices such as proper watering, adequate sunlight, and maintaining healthy soil will also contribute to the overall health and productivity of your elderberries in pots.

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Watering Elderberries Planted In Pots And Containers

The frequency and amount of water needed for an elderberry bush/tree planted in a large pot or container will depend on several factors, including the size of the container, the weather conditions, and the specific needs of the plant. Here are some general guidelines to help you with watering:

  • Soil Moisture: Elderberries prefer moist but well-drained soil. Before watering, check the moisture level in the pot by sticking your finger about an inch into the soil. If it feels dry at that depth, it's time to water.
  • Watering Frequency: Typically, elderberries in containers require more frequent watering compared to those planted in the ground. During the growing season (spring to fall), you may need to water the elderberry bush/tree in a large pot every 2-3 days, depending on the weather conditions and the pot's size. However, it's essential to adjust the frequency based on the plant's needs and the moisture level of the soil.
  • Deep Watering: When you water, make sure to thoroughly soak the soil until water drains out from the bottom of the pot. This helps ensure that the entire root ball receives sufficient moisture. Shallow watering can lead to shallow root growth and less resilience to drought.
  • Mulching: Applying a layer of mulch around the base of the elderberry plant can help retain soil moisture and reduce water evaporation. Organic mulches, such as wood chips or straw, are excellent choices.
  • Winter Watering: During the winter, when the plant is dormant, reduce the frequency of watering. Elderberries need less water during this period, but it's still important to monitor the soil moisture and ensure it doesn't completely dry out.

Note that these guidelines are general recommendations, and it's important to observe your elderberry plant and adjust the watering routine based on its specific needs and the conditions in your area. Factors such as temperature, humidity, and the size of the container can all impact the watering requirements of your elderberry bush/tree.

How To Prune Elderberries

Pruning elderberries planted in pots is similar to pruning those planted in the ground, with a few adjustments to accommodate the container environment. Here are the steps to prune elderberries planted in pots:

  • Timing: Pruning is typically done during the dormant season, which is late winter or early spring, before new growth begins. This allows the plant to focus its energy on new growth after pruning.
  • Remove Dead or Damaged Wood: Start by inspecting the plant for any dead, diseased, or damaged wood. Use clean, sharp pruning shears to remove these branches entirely, cutting them back to the base or to a healthy lateral branch.
  • Thin Out Overcrowded Growth: Look for any branches that are crossing or rubbing against each other. Choose the weaker or less desirable branch and prune it back to its point of origin or a lateral branch. This helps improve airflow and reduces the risk of diseases.
  • Shape and Size Control: Determine the desired shape and size of the elderberry bush. Prune back long, leggy branches or those that are growing too vigorously to maintain a more compact form. Aim to create a balanced and open structure.
  • Maintain a Healthy Framework: Elderberries produce their best fruit on new growth, so it's important to encourage the development of new branches. Prune back about a third of the oldest, woodiest stems to the base of the plant each year. This stimulates the growth of new shoots from the base.
  • Clean Up: After pruning, remove all pruned branches and debris from the pot to prevent disease and pests.
  • Provide Adequate Nutrients: Since elderberries in pots have limited access to nutrients compared to those in the ground, it's important to supplement the plant with regular feeding. Use a balanced organic fertilizer or compost to provide the necessary nutrients.

Don't forget to adjust the pruning techniques based on the specific growth and condition of your elderberry plant.

Regular pruning helps promote a healthier, more productive plant, encourages new growth, and ensures a more attractive shape for your elderberry bush/tree in a container.

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Growing Positions for Elderberries

Elderberries prefer sunny positions but will tolerate some shade, especially during the summer heat.

American elder (Sambucus Canadensis) is one of the elderberry shrubs that produce flowers and fruits well in partly shade - better than Black (Sambucus Nigra) and Red (Sambucus Racemosa) elderberries.

The good thing about plants in containers is that they can be placed on trollies with wheels and repositioned as needed.

Carrying For Elderberries During The Winter

Elderberries (Sambucus spp.) are generally hardy plants that can tolerate cold temperatures. However, their specific cold tolerance may vary depending on the species and cultivar. As a general guideline, most elderberries can withstand temperatures as low as -30°F (-34°C) without significant damage.

It's important to note that elderberries grown in pots are generally more vulnerable to extreme temperatures compared to those planted in the ground. The soil in containers can freeze more quickly and can provide less insulation to the plant's roots. Additionally, potted plants are more exposed to cold winds.

To enhance the winter survival of elderberries in pots, you can take some measures such as insulating the pots, grouping them together, or moving them to a sheltered location. Applying a thick layer of mulch around the base of the plant can also provide some protection.

In any case, it's always best to consult the specific cultivar or species of elderberry you are growing, as some varieties may have different cold tolerance levels. Additionally, local climate conditions and microclimates can influence the plant's ability to withstand low temperatures.

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Elderberries Pests and Diseases

Elderberries planted in pots or containers are generally very healthy plants, but they can also be susceptible to certain pests and diseases, including:


  • Aphids: These small, soft-bodied insects can cluster on the leaves and stems, sucking plant sap and causing distortion and yellowing of foliage. Regularly inspect your elderberries for aphid infestations and control them with insecticidal soap or by spraying them off with a strong stream of water.


  • Spider Mites: These tiny pests can cause yellowing, stippling, and webbing on the leaves. Spider mites thrive in dry conditions, so ensuring adequate humidity around your potted elderberries can help deter them. If an infestation occurs, insecticidal soap or horticultural oil can be used for control.
  • Sawflies: Sawfly larvae are small caterpillar-like insects that can defoliate elderberry plants. Hand-picking the larvae or using an insecticidal soap specifically labeled for sawfly control can help manage them.


  • Powdery Mildew: This fungal disease appears as a powdery white coating on the leaves, stems, and flowers. Ensure good air circulation around your elderberries, avoid overhead watering, and prune any dense growth to promote airflow. Fungicidal sprays containing sulfur or potassium bicarbonate can be used to control powdery mildew.
  • Leaf Spot: Various fungal pathogens can cause leaf spot diseases, resulting in the development of dark spots or lesions on the leaves. Remove and dispose of infected leaves, and avoid overhead watering. Applying a fungicide labeled for leaf spot control can help manage the disease.
  • Root Rot: Excess moisture and poor drainage can lead to root rot, caused by various soilborne fungi. Ensure that your container has adequate drainage, and avoid overwatering. If root rot is suspected, it's best to repot the elderberry in fresh, well-draining soil.

Regularly inspect your elderberries for signs of pests or diseases, and take prompt action if any issues are detected.

Maintaining good plant hygiene, providing proper growing conditions, and practicing preventive measures can help minimize the risk of pest and disease problems in potted elderberries.

Elderberry Harvest

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Knowing the right time to harvest elderberries is crucial for optimal flavor and nutritional value. Here's a guide on when and how to harvest elderberries:

  • Timing: Elderberries are typically ready for harvest in late summer to early fall, depending on the specific variety and location. The berries should be fully ripe before picking, which is indicated by their dark color and firmness.
  • Color and Texture: Mature elderberries are deep purple to black in color. They should feel plump and firm to the touch. Avoid harvesting berries that are still green or red, as they are not fully ripe and may be unpalatable or less flavorful.
  • Harvesting Method: Elderberries grow in clusters, known as umbels. To harvest the berries, you can use one of the following methods:

a. Hand-Picking: Gently grasp the cluster of ripe berries and snip off the entire umbel using clean pruning shears or scissors. Place the harvested clusters in a clean container or bucket.

b. Shake and Collect: Place a clean cloth or large tray beneath the elderberry cluster. Carefully shake or lightly tap the clusters to dislodge the ripe berries. The berries will fall onto the cloth or tray for easy collection.

  • Cleaning the Berries: Once you've harvested the elderberries, remove any leaves, stems, or unripe berries from the clusters. You can do this by hand or by using a fork or comb-like tool to gently separate the berries from the stems.
  • Storage and Usage: Elderberries are highly perishable and should be used or preserved as soon as possible after harvest. If you don't plan to use them immediately, you can store them in the refrigerator for a few days. For longer-term storage, freeze the berries or process them into jams, jellies, syrups, or other preserved forms.

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Note: It's important to mention that elderberries must be cooked before consumption, as raw elderberries can cause gastrointestinal discomfort.

Harvesting elderberries at the peak of ripeness ensures the best flavor and quality. Enjoy their unique taste and consider exploring various culinary uses or preserving methods to make the most of your harvest.

If you make your own mixed berry jam, adding some elderberries will alter the aroma and fragrance and make it - better. Also, dried flowers are used to make great and refreshing tea and other drinks.

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