Q: I want to grow elderberries. Do I need to plant more than one shrub to get fruit?

Answer: Elderberry, Sambucus canadensis, is a native shrub with edible fruit that is very easy to grow. Although the elderberry is self-fruitful, a more dependable and larger crop of berries will result from cross pollination of 2 different shrubs. There are several good varieties that have been developed including Adams 1, Adams 2, York, Nova, Scotia, Kent and Johns. The elderberry is classified as a large, deciduous shrub maturing at 6 to 10 feet tall. The shrubs can be pruned in the winter to maintain a comfortable harvest size and for rejuvenation. Plant your elderberry in a well-drained rich soil. The shrubs are found in nature growing in flood plains and along creek banks as understory plants. Once established, the elderberries will only need irrigation in times of drought, especially from flower to fruit development. The flowers are excellent plants for feeding beneficial insects and are slightly fragrant and attractive. The berries are loved by birds, so netting may be required if you want to have some to harvest. It is recommended that the berries be cooked prior to eating because the unripe berries contain a toxic alkaloid and cyanogenic glycosides. Elderberries are used in pies, jams, wines, and elixirs.

Q: How are elderberries propagated? Is it something a home gardener could do?

Answer: Elderberries are relatively easy to propagate through hardwood cuttings taken in late winter before bud break while the plant is dormant. Using a clean, sharp knife, cut a stem that has the width of a pencil and includes 3 to 4 nodes where buds are located. These can be felt as a wider spot on the stem. Be sure that the cutting is from healthy, pliable wood. Dip the bottom of the cutting in an IBA rooting powder to increase rooting. Stick the cuttings into a sterile media that will hold moisture. Use intermittent misting to maintain humidity in the rooting bed. Use a large flower pot for a small number of cuttings. Bend a coat hanger to make a “U” shape that you place into the flower pot. You can set the flower pot into the bottom half of a plastic gallon jug and then use a large, clear plastic bag to cover the set up. Make sure the bag is affixed to the pot to maintain humidity. Maintain an ambient temperature of 50 to 60 degrees Fahrenheit. Roots will form over the next 3 to 4 months. Once roots have formed, transplant the rooted cuttings into 1 gallon pots and grow out your new elderberry shrubs until you are ready to plant the next early spring. For more information about propagating through stem cuttings check out this information from NC State University: https://content.ces.ncsu.edu/plant-propagation-by-stem-cuttings-instructions-for-the-home-gardener#

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Mary Jac Brennan is the agent for fruit and vegetable horticulture for small farms and local food for the Forsyth Cooperative Extension. Contact Mary Jac about commercial production, local foods, and sustainable agriculture questions. For information on home and gardening issues, contact the Forsyth Cooperative Extension office at maryjac_brennan@ncsu.edu or call 336-703-2850.

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