Elderberries are upright, spreading shrubs that grow six to twelve feet high. Their leaves are opposite and compound with five to eleven leaflets. Leaves also have serrated margins. Their showy, white flower-clusters generally are six-to-ten inches in diameter and have a pleasant fragrance. The fruit is a smooth globular berry that measures three-sixteenths of an inch in diameter. The broad, flat clusters of berries, which ripen in early August to late September, are deep purple to black.
Elderberries are drought and cold tolerant. They also tolerate almost any moisture condition and soil type in full sun or part shade. They grow in Zones 2-9 with a preferred pH of 5.5 to 6.5. Some elderberries are partially self-fruitful and generally show increased fruit-set when two or more cultivars are planted within close proximity. Plant elderberries five to seven feet on center to accommodate air circulation. Plant bare root stock or rooted cuttings in early spring and container-grown plants anytime during the growing season. It’s important to cultivate these shrubs carefully, because the root system is shallow and can easily be damaged. Prune each winter, thinning out spindly suckers and removing all wood older than 3 years.
Elderberries have few pests, and natural predators often control outbreaks.
Elderberries are native shrubs that produce fruit used in jellies, pies and wine. The fruit is seedy and tart, but high in vitamin C. These shrubs also are used for landscaping and wildlife habitat. To harvest, cut whole clusters off when fruits are dark blue or purplish black and soft to the touch. Clusters of white flowers are also edible.
Contributed by Nadine Salmons, Colorado Master Gardener. For answers to your horticultural questions, contact the Master Gardener Help Desk at (719) 520-7684 (new number) or CSUmg2@elpasoco.com.