Elderberry Shrubs

Elderberry is highly adaptable, cold hardy, and easy to grow

The genus Sambucus contains deciduous shrubs and small trees, commonly called elderberries or elder, that bloom in big, lacy clusters of white, pink, or yellow flowers midsummer, followed by small purple-black or red berries late summer/early fall. Elderberry has many ecological benefits: nectar-rich flowers nourish bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds; berries sustain songbirds and small mammals; and its branches provide nesting sites for birds and cover for quail and pheasants.

Sambucus is a genus of about 10 species that naturally grow in meadows and thickets as well as on rocky slopes and on the margins of woodlands and wetlands. They also grow in riparian areas, especially along rivers and around lakes. Popular species in cultivation include S. canadensis (American elderberry, common elderberry), a native to eastern North America; S. nigra (European elderberry, black elderberry), a non-native species; and S. racemose (red elderberry, scarlet elder, scarlet elderberry), a native to northeastern U.S. The shrubs typically have a broad, rounded form, growing to a maximum height of about 12 to 20 feet, but are often much wider than they are tall. Elderberries are perfect for naturalized areas, as they spread by suckering roots to form thickets if allowed, which makes them especially good for soil stabilization and erosion control.

Cold hardy and easy to grow, elderberries prefer cool, wet locations to hot, dry ones, but they are highly adaptable and can tolerate a wide variety of growing conditions and soils, including sand, loam, and clay. However, good drainage is essential. They grow best in full sun to partial shade and in rich, moist soil with a neutral to slightly acidic pH. Best fruit production is in full sun, after year 2. Growing 2 or more varieties, no more than 60 feet apart, increases cross-pollination and berry harvests.