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Choosing the Best Elderberry Cultivar

Michael Gonzales
December 7, 2023
Choosing the best elderberry cultivar

best tasting elderberry cultivar

Elderberry varieties vary considerably in hardiness, yield and flavor; therefore it is vital that you choose one suitable for your landscape.

Small sellers offering unnamed cultivars for sale might provide no details regarding their parent plants, leaving you unaware as to what you will get once the plants mature.

1. ‘Johns’

Johns is an excellent American cultivar that performs exceptionally well in the Midwest region of the U.S. It features vigorous growth with upright foliage that produces fruit by August. Hardiness zones 3-9 can grow it.

Trials conducted between 2014 and 2015 at The Ohio State University South Centers revealed that ‘Johns’ outperformed all other cultivars tested. Also highly recommended elderberry cultivars for Midwest regions include Adams, Bob Gordon and Wyldewood cultivars – planting multiple cultivars together can improve fruit set while yields increase.

American self-fruiting varieties that perform exceptionally well include Nova, which produces early large clusters of sweet berries on smaller 6- to 8 foot (2 m.) bushes while being highly disease resistant; similarly, European variety Black Lace produces deep purple flowers scented with lemon.

Elderberries (Sambucus nigra) produce deliciously tart fruits that can be used in pies, jellies, syrups and wines; their flowers can also be made into tea for medicinal use and their juice may help provide immunity support while increasing energy levels. It should not be eaten raw due to toxic compounds contained within them that could potentially cause stomach distress in humans.

2. ‘Nova’

“Nova” is a heavy producing elderberry cultivar with high quality fruit ideal for you-pick operations. This disease resistant variety offers great flavor and high sugar content with hardiness in USDA zones four through eight.

Berries offer sweet taste and are used both medicinally and culinary. Brewing juice with them or creating syrup, jellies or wine from them are options, as are using them to flavor barbeque sauces, salad dressing and carbonated beverages with them as an ingredient or color enhancer. They can even be dried out to use later as herbal cordials! Elderberries make a delectable alternative to blueberries and raspberries but should not be consumed raw due to high levels of cyanogenic glycosides that can cause stomach distress.

Growing plants of this species is easy from seed, cuttings or purchasing young potted plants. Prefers bright locations but will tolerate partial shade in hotter summer climates; adequate sunlight exposure promotes flower production and fruit ripening while regular pruning during dormant periods is also vitally important to ensure optimal performance and bird depredation prevention; bird netting can often provide relief in planting sites with birds present.

3. ‘Variegated’

Elderberries are prized for their anti-inflammatory and immunity boosting properties. Used in beverages, syrups, jams and jellies they have been touted to treat flu, colds and other ailments while aiding sleep and relieving stress levels. Elderberry flowers and fruit have long been beloved wildlife treats – yet caution must be exercised when eating unripe or raw elderberries as this could prove toxic.

Elderberries grow wild in clusters known as cymes. At first ripening in mid to late summer, elderberries are usually green but will turn deep purple or even black as they ripen further. It is best to wait until all the berries have turned entirely black before harvesting them as some contain chemicals which could cause stomach distress in humans.

“Nova” is an American elderberry cultivar that produces large clusters of sweet, juicy berries in late autumn without needing another American elderberry for pollination. This self-fruiting variety makes for easy harvesting without another American elderberry to pollinate them; its fruit can then be used for making jam, pie or wine! Best grown in zones three through nine for edible landscape projects.

4. ‘Scotia’

Tall shrub that produces abundant fall-borne berries. Produces more per plant than any other named cultivar and boasts a high sugar content – perfect for use in beverages and baked goods! Leaves have dark lacy texture while its flowers sport pink flowers scented with lemon.

Grows best in zones three to nine, this plant requires little care or maintenance and boasts light green leaves with an elegant gloss, making for beautiful decoration when its white flowers bloom in spring. Though later than other varieties on this list, it produces plentifully and makes an excellent edible landscape choice.

“Scotia” was developed at the Kentville AAFC Research and Development Centre in Nova Scotia as a hybrid between Adams 2 and Nova Elderberry varieties. Due to cooler climate conditions, ‘Scotia’ tends to set fewer berries, thus necessitating an additional variety for maximum production. As with all elderberry species, deer and rabbit damage should also be considered when planting this shrub – therefore a strong fence should also be installed around its growing area.

5. ‘York’

Sambucus canadensis may have received more research attention, yet there are numerous blue elderberry cultivars that produce tasty fruits. Common examples are Sambucus cerulea or Sambucus glauca velutina mexicana that produce huge clusters of tasty fruit that has been reported far superior to canadensis plants. Blue elderberries can thrive in warmer regions between USDA zones three and ten, typically being more resistant to cold than their canadensis counterparts.

Johns elderberry variety from America produces large berry clusters on large bushes that reach 12 feet tall and wide, ideal for jam and jelly making. Although self-fruitful, its yield increases with another American elderberry planted nearby for pollination purposes.

Additional recommended elderberry varieties include Nova, with smaller berries that produce compact bushes that grow six feet tall and wide; Scotia (a European cultivar with small bushes that produce high yields); and Wyldewood, an early season hybrid which reportedly yields superior fruit.

There is also the new Ranch cultivar which is highly vigorous, heavy yielding, and easily adaptable to various growing conditions. Cuttings root easily from this plant which establishes quickly making it an excellent option for planting difficult locations like courtyards. You can find this plant online nurseries and growers.

6. ‘Wyldewood’

“Wyldewood” is an upright cultivar with heavy yield that produces an abundance of berries. It roots easily from cuttings, grows rapidly in landscape settings and tolerates poor soils well; its dark lacy leaves offer contrast among shrubs while it blooms early spring with lemon-scented flowers – an excellent choice for creating native wildlife habitats as well as having ornamental value.

This cultivar, developed in New York, is an excellent selection for cold climates. ‘Wyldewood’ thrives in zones three to nine and can handle frosts well while producing heavy yields of juicy berries that ripen within three weeks, perfect for making juice or wine production. Plus it’s highly productive! Easy to grow.

“York” and ‘Nova” are two other American elderberry varieties that thrive in the Midwest. Although elderberries can produce fruits on their own, planting multiple cultivars together will increase both fruit set and yield.

7. ‘Adams’

Adams Elderberry Cultivar produces large and delicious fruit clusters packed with vitamin C. It thrives under diverse growing conditions and features outstanding foliage; making it a good addition to landscape designs. Cold hardy and ready for harvest by August; planting multiple elderberry varieties together can increase fruit set and yield.

Selecting an elderberry variety starts with considering your growing zone and space availability, then considering desired attributes. While unnamed elderberry plants may be available at garden centers, it’s wiser to go with an established cultivar for reliable performance.

Some new European cultivars are being created for ornamental as well as food production purposes. One such cultivar, known as Black Lace, features dark purple leaves with pink flowers smelling of lemon; it reaches heights up to six feet tall and grows from zones four through seven in moist/wet soil conditions. Another stunning cultivar with similar dark foliage looks is Black Beauty which thrives in moist/wet environments and also grows to six feet.

Other options to consider are Nova (an early producer that can self-fruitful), Scotia (excellent for jelly and 12 feet (4 meters tall), Wyldewood (good flowers and fruit production), and Marge (a hybrid that performed well in university trials). You can find these varieties online nurseries such as Burpee, Hirt’s Gardens, Proven Winners Nursery and Nature Hills Nursery.


  • Michael Gonzales

    Michael has a diverse set of skills and passions, with a full-time career as an airline pilot and a dedicated focus on health and fitness consulting. He understands the importance of balancing a busy lifestyle with maintaining a healthy mind and body, and is committed to helping others achieve the same success. Michael's expertise in health and fitness is not just limited to physical training, but also extends to nutrition, stress management, and overall wellbeing. He takes a holistic approach to health and fitness, helping clients to achieve their goals in a sustainable and fulfilling way. With a strong desire to inspire and motivate others, Michael is always ready to share his time and knowledge with those who seek his guidance. Whether in the air or on the ground, Michael is dedicated to helping others live their best lives.

    https://www.linkedin.com/in/michael-gonzales-07bb4b31/ [email protected] Gonzales Michael


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