Elderberry bushes, as you might imagine from the size of their natural habitat, are incredible hardy, growing easily without much care. Elderberry bushes are commonplace in the eastern parts of North America, ranging from Nova Scotia to Florida. The bushes are known for producing a fruit that, although not eaten raw, is often used in jams and pies. Read below for tips on how to plant, grow and care for your elderberry bush.
Make sure the area you plant your elderberry bushes contains moist, well-drained soil. Although not required, try to find soil that is slightly acidic. A pH level from 5.5 to 6.5 is perfect. You can add ground rock sulfur to your soil to increase the acidity, and hydrated lime to decrease it. Use four ounces per square yard of either material to raise or the lower the acidity by 1.0.
The bushes should be planted at least eight feet apart to allow them to grow unrestricted. For infant plants, apply mulch to the soil around them. This will prevent the formation of weeds, which is important because elderberry plants have shallow root systems. If weeds develop, their removal, even if done carefully, can disrupt the bush's roots. In subsequent years, continue to add mulch to the soil around your elderberry bushes in winter until they develop the ability to fight off weeds for themselves.
In spring, add a fertilizer to your bushes. A 10-10-10 fertilizer seems to work best for elderberry bushes, and each one requires about a half-pound for each year of the plant's age, up to one pound. Thus, one-year old elderberry bushes require one-half pound of fertilizer, and elderberry bushes that are two years or older require one pound of fertilizer.
In fall you can begin to harvest the plant's fruit. The exact timing will depend on when the fruit becomes ripe in your particular region. For warmer climates, this is around mid-August, while colder climates may not see the elderberries ripen until early October. To know if the fruit is ready for harvest, check how easily it falls off of the bush. When ripe, the fruit should come right off. Use the fruit as quickly as possible in your cooking, or else store it at a cold temperature to preserve it.
In late winter, your elderberry bushes will become dormant and you will want to prune them. Remove all broken or weak branches, along with any growth that is three or more years old. Pruning will ensure optimal growth in the following growing season. Also be sure to plant new elderberry bushes so that your collection does not fade all at once.
You may need to prune your elderberry bushes at other times of the year if they display pests or diseases. Cane borers are a frequent pest of the elderberry bush, and they eat away at the canes on the bush. If portions of the canes appear dark brown and eaten away, your bush has probably been attacked by cane borers. Remove any infected canes immediately to keep the elderberry bush healthy.
With just a little bit of care, your elderberry bushes can thrive in your garden.