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When is the Best Time to Plant an Elderberry Tree?

Michael Gonzales
January 3, 2024

Elderberries are fast-growing deciduous shrubs that can easily be propagated via hardwood cuttings taken from previous seasons’ shoot growth.

As soon as the ground can be worked, plant both bare-root and potted nursery stock in springtime. Before planting elderberries bareroot varieties, give them a 12-hour soak to reduce transplant shock.


Elderberry planting should take place during spring when soil temperatures have warmed and any risk of frost has passed. Dormant bare root plants may be planted prior to fall but active nursery container plants should wait until spring when frost risk has subsided before being placed outdoors. Since elderberries grow rapidly, make sure you space out your planting appropriately; no closer than 3 to 5 meters (3 to 5 ft.). Otherwise you risk creating dense patches instead of individual plants.

Elderberries prefer full sun to partial shade areas with well-draining and slightly acidic soil, with temperatures in part-shade areas having cooler temperatures than full sun conditions. Prior to digging a hole for your elderberry plants, have the soil tested to determine its pH level; according to Cornell University Department of Horticulture’s recommendations a pH range between 5.5 and 6.6 will work best.

As soon as temperatures warm up, elderberries can be transplanted from nursery containers or cuttings taken during winter. Soaking cuttings in natural willow bark rooting hormone is beneficial, though not necessary; provided the cuttings have adequate moisture and sunlight they should readily root. When transplanting potted elderberries into larger holes dig two to three-foot wide holes exactly equal in depth as their root ball; fill with soil mixed with organic compost, packing it down gently using your hands or fists until all roots have become well-anchored before planting them into their new homes.

Watering regularly and thoroughly is important after planting elderberry plants; make sure the ground becomes saturated. If your soil doesn’t drain well enough, adding mulch may help keep roots moist without overwatering – compost, wood shavings or crushed rock may work as mulch alternatives. Watering should especially be consistent during their first year of establishment as their shallow-rooted nature makes them vulnerable if soil conditions dry out too much.


Elderberry (Sambucus) is an ornamental shrub with stunning clusters of flowers and delicious fruit that grows to heights between five to 12 feet depending on pruning practices, forming dense thickets. Hardy in USDA Zone 4, Michigan soils offer ideal growing conditions. Full sun or partial shade exposure works best; although clay soils if they’re well drained. Soil pH should range between 5.5 to 6.6 for best results.

Elderberry plants are easily propagated from softwood and hardwood cuttings, as well as suckers rooted from softwood cuttings, while propagation by seed is generally less successful due to genetic variability. Elderberry cuttings should ideally be taken before bud break between February and March if taken before July; cuttings should then be stripped of leaves before being placed into acidic potting mix for rooting.

When planting dormant elderberry plants, it is vital to keep them moist but not waterlogged at all times until they are established in your garden. Once established, mulch the plants to conserve moisture and enrich the soil with aged compost for optimal growing conditions; elderberries have shallow roots that depend on decomposed organic matter in their environment for nutrition.

After their first year, bushes can be lightly fertilized with granular general purpose fertilizer in spring to prepare them to bear fruit within 2 or 3 years after being planted.

To ensure your berries flourish in size and health, remove all suckers as soon as they appear from the ground and any dead branches during winter. To mitigate the risk of disease, keep an eye out for powdery mildew infections and treat with fungicide; additionally it is wise to cover your plants with protective netting to protect from birds and animals.

Elderberries can quickly become an invasive presence, so it is crucial that they be controlled through regular weeding. A weeding fork should be used instead of shovel to dig under and around their roots, and due to being toxic for pets and livestock they should be kept far away from areas in which animals roam freely.


Elderberries add beauty, fragrance and fruit to any landscape. Many varieties are now readily available to home gardeners for easy cultivation in well-drained soil. Elderberries produce dark purple to black berries which resist disease and pests while their ornamental leaves feature compound shapes with fragrant blooms appearing each June.

For optimal results, plant bare-root and containerized plants in either fall or spring for the best results. Winter and summer planting should be avoided due to too cold and waterlogged ground conditions; their ideal site should be protected from strong winds while having rich, well-drained soil that provides ample drainage; if your soil naturally contains acidity add a small amount of organic compost or composted manure amendment for best results.

Dig a hole twice the width and depth of the root ball for transplanted or bare-root plants. Mix in high-quality organic compost to form loose, workable soil. Rebackfill and tamp gently before mulching to conserve soil moisture and reduce weed competition, plus you may not need fertilizers as elderberries can obtain all their needed nutrition from decomposed organic matter in the soil.

Bare-root and containerized transplants require extra watering before planting them in their new locations. Give their roots an hour’s worth of hydration before you plan to transplant – this will not only prepare them for transplanting but will also protect against shock-induced drying out during transplanting.

After transplants are established, they should be able to withstand moderate drought; however, for optimal berry production a regular irrigation schedule and light applications of nitrogen (1/4 cup ammonium sulfate per plant) may help establish reserves while simultaneously devoting more energy towards fruit formation.


Elderberries are hardy plants that adapt well to various environments. They thrive best in sunny to partial shade areas with moist yet well drained soil that ranges in acidity from slightly acidic to neutral pH levels and require regular watering in order to prevent root rot. As elderberry bushes can often be found growing wild, their roots often tend to be shallow – it is therefore crucial to amend soil with organic material before planting elderberries.

Bare-root elderberries should be planted as soon as they arrive in early spring. If this is not possible immediately, place the shrubs in a bucket of water for several hours to rehydrate them before planting. Before doing so, inspect and remove any broken or diseased shoots or roots. Afterwards, plant them so they are at least as deep in depth as their container while spreading evenly across your landscape.

After planting, mulch your shrubs to conserve moisture and reduce weed competition. Due to their shallow root system, elderberries require frequent watering – approximately one or two inches weekly in summer months – with regular applications of 1/4 cup ammonium sulfate applied two months post planting to promote healthy growth and fruiting. In wintertime, pruning should take place to remove old or weak canes while maintaining proper shape of the bushes.

An ideal location for elderberry bushes should be free from weeds, receive full sunlight (at least 6 hours each day), have well-draining soil, and feature an ideal pH range between 5.5 and 6.5, according to Cornell University’s Department of Horticulture.

Elderberries thrive in many climates, but require ample space to reach maturity. Fully-grown elderberry bushes can reach 12 feet tall and six wide when fully developed; to ensure you plant enough, choose an area large enough for your chosen species. Elderberries are relatively easy to maintain but require significant pruning each winter while dormant to remove brittle canes or those that haven’t produced fruit within three years – some elderberry farmers even prune back their entire plants all at once to rejuvenate it in late winter!


  • 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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