Grow Your Own Elderberries
Want a tough plant that’s beautiful? Give elderberry a try.
This native plant has your name on it. Low-maintenance elderberry brings out the best a plant has to offer, combining a tough-as-nails personality with beautiful blooms and classy good looks. It’s native to North America, but European breeding has yielded stunning beauty that fits in any landscape.
Elderberries are a go-to home remedy for cold and flu season, and modern research studies have proven that elderberries boast antiviral, anti-inflammatory and anticancer properties. But you’ll probably like elderberry because of its easy-growing good looks.
Black Lace Elderberry
Finely cut, velvet-black leaves give Black Lace elderberry the exotic look of a Japanese maple—but this plant brings a more rugged personality. Like all elderberries, Black Lace is deer resistant and adapts readily to moist or dry soils. Large pink flower clusters appear in June, which is one of this plant’s star qualities. Black Beauty elderberry was the first black-leaf variety introduced, but Black Lace is superior, holding its dark hue even in Southern heat. Hardy in Zones 4-7.
Lemony Lace Elderberry With Berry Cluster
Lemony Lace elderberry (Sambucus racemosa) unfurls chartreuse leaves with a lacy look. Red berries form when another elderberry is present for pollination. The red berries are poisonous to people, but make a great addition to a wildlife garden. The bush resembles a Japanese maple in the landscape. Plants grow 3 to 5 feet tall and wide. Hardy in Zones 3-7.
Lemony Lace Elderberry
Gorgeous golden leaves make Lemony Lace elderberry a knock-out in the landscape. Leaves light up the landscape as they shift from red new growth, to red-edged gold, to chartreuse (when mature). Flowers appear before leaves, and they fade to form red berries. This elderberry crop is inedible for humans, but a huge favorite among birds. Use Lemony Lace to add elegant beauty to a wildlife garden. Hardy in Zones 3-7.
Instant Karma Elderberry
If you like variegated leaves, there’s an elderberry for that, too. Instant Karma unfurls green and white leaves with consistent variegation. White flowers appear in early summer, followed by deep purple-black berries if a pollinator variety is present. Like all elderberries, Instant Karma works in the landscape in a shrub border or as a hedge and grows in full sun or part shade. Hardy in Zones 4-7.
3 Elderberry Growing Tips
Elderberry doesn’t really have any, unless you count birds, which devour berries as fast as they ripen.
Elderberries need cross-pollination for berry production. Plant more than one variety. Do a quick check online or with your local nursery to make sure you’re getting plants that cross-pollinate one another. If your focus is solely berry production, choose varieties developed for that purpose, like ‘Samdal’ and ‘Samyl.’ Use bird netting to protect berries from hungry birds.
Elderberry, especially the new, colorful varieties, benefits from hard pruning when young (first 1-3 years) so it develops a full, bushy form. Plants flower on old wood, so it’s best to prune after flowering if you want blooms and/or berries. Two exceptions:
- Some gardeners grow the dark-leaf types for their leafy beauty. In that case, you can even prune plants to the ground each spring, treating them like a perennial.
- If you’re growing plants for berry production, remove branches that fruited that year in fall. Elderberry bears best on 2-year-old stems. Older stems tend to split and produce less fruit.