Learn how to easily grow elderberries right in your backyard. Did you know you could grow them at home?

How to Grow Elderberries in Your Backyard

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Learn how to easily grow elderberries right in your backyard. Did you know you could grow them at home? Check out the best fruit to grow in Oklahoma here.

elderberries growing on a bush in clusters

Elderberries grow naturally in some areas. They have great medicinal benefits. They are a superfood. They are easy to grow in many areas. Elderberries have high amounts of flavonoids, tannins, and potassium as well as folic acid.

You only need a little number of berries to stay healthy for the whole year. Making jams, jellies, and syrups is a great way to get small amounts into your diet. They taste great, are easy to cultivate, and make a wonderful addition to your garden.

Where do elderberries grow?

Did you know elderberries grow naturally and you can forage for them? They do grow wild in Oklahoma where I live. They grow naturally in British Columbia and through the west part of the united states. They do great in northwestern states and the top half of California. They are found anywhere between Canada and Columbia.

Elderberries prefer moist areas so you will find them along streams and tree lines. Ditches and places where it is hard to mow. Red elders grow in more areas such as the northern half of the US and even in Alaska. Red elders grow fruit clusters like grapes and ripen earlier than black elders. They are considered less desirable because they are toxic if not prepared properly and don’t taste as good.

Elderberries grow in zone 4-7, but zones 5-7 are better suited for them. You can find your USDA plant hardiness zone here.

What do elderberries look like?

The plant is a large sprawling bush with compound leaves. They form pairs on opposite sides of each stem. It produces quarter inch white flowers with 5 petals on each that turn to drupes of fruit in later summer. It usually has 7 leaflets, 2-5 inches in length, that are serrated. They smell strong with an unpleasant smell when you cut them or tear them off.

Elderberry plants from 5-20 feet in height. They reproduce by rhizomes as well as by seed so they grow a dense thicket like blackberries in the wild. The berries are green and turn dark as they ripen. They are tiny little berries, but hundreds of them on one cluster.

The best to grow for medicinal and culinary uses are black elderberries and blue elderberries. Some elderberry varieties to grow are Adams, Scotia, Johns, Kent, Nova, York, and Lacinaiata. Johns and York are known to be prolific producers.

Elderberries require full sun to grow well. They will grow in partial shade. They prefer moist, rich soil that is well-drained but can tolerate many growing conditions. They are mostly disease-free and pests and animals dislike them as well. If you’re looking for more fruits and vegetables that grow in the shade, check this out.

They grow prolifically and will produce in the first year after they are planted. As they grow new canes, you can prune back the older ones in winter because they will produce less. They do self-pollinate but will grow even more berries if there is another variety planted in the area.

Plant elderberry plants in early spring so frost won’t bother them as they get established. They prefer a pH of 5.5 to 6.6. They will not tolerate hot and dry conditions. Plant them at least 3 to 6 feet apart.

For the first year, water them well regularly. About one inch of water per week. Fertilize them occasionally with compost. When weeding elderberries, take special care not to disturb their shallow roots. You can grow elderberries from cuttings, starts, or seeds. Seeds are the most difficult way.

elderberry clusters growing in bush

All elderberry varieties have some toxicity when raw. The effects of eating them can be an unpleasant taste all the way to stomach problems. Some people can eat them just fine.

But cooking them will take care of any toxins in all types of elderberries. Just remember that some varieties of raw elderberries are quite toxic, so stick to the rule of cooking them before eating.

Elderberries have long been known as a beneficial plant. They make a wonderful addition to any garden. The flowers, berries, stems, leaves, and branches all have useful purposes.

You can use flowers to make elderflower water, lotion, cream, and salve. You can eat them raw or fried for a snack.

The berries can be used for making preserves, jam, wines, dye, and medication. They are also high in vitamin C and high in antioxidants.

The branches of elderberries can be used to make blowpipes, flutes, and woodworking. The leaves can be used externally in a poultice to reduce inflammation and in salves. You can also rub them on your skin to repel insects or use them to make an antifungal or insect repellent for the garden.

When are elderberries ripe?

Elderberries are ready to harvest when they are dark purple or black. If they shrink up and wrinkle like a raisin, they are overripe. You can still use them for a pie or something like that but the health benefits might be diminished.

ripe elderberries growing on bush

Harvesting elderberries

The growing habit of elderberries makes them very easy to harvest. Just snip off the entire cluster of berries to get a bunch at once. You make cuts very close to where the fruit begins to prevent loss of the plant in any way. Usually, they are ready to harvest in August and September. They ripen in about 5-14 days.

Wait two years before harvesting any berries. It’s better not to prune them the first two years either. Birds will eat your ripe berries, so watch for that and try to keep them away from the garden.

Growing elderberries in pots

You need a pot at least 24 inches deep and wide to grow elderberries. You grow one plant in each pot. Terracotta, ceramic, metal, or concrete pots are preferred to plastic since they are heavier than other pots. Make sure the bottom of the pot is nice and wide and stable so it won’t fall over easily.

Make sure the pot has drainage holes or drill some if it doesn’t. Soak the pot in 9 parts water, one part bleach for an hour, rinse it well, and let it dry in the sun. Once it’s sanitized, fill it with potting soil and plant your elderberry. Leave two inches from the top of the rim for water.

bowl of ripe elderberries in a bowl on a table

You can dry elderberries in the sun, a dehydrator, or the oven. Carefully wash each berry and drain them to dry. Once they are completely dry, place them on a baking sheet or dehydrator tray. If you have a gas oven, you can dry them with the pilot light only. If you have a bread proofer in your oven, you can use that.

If you don’t have either option on your oven, turn the oven on to the lowest temperature, and when it begins to preheat, turn it off. Fruit needs to be dehydrated at a low temperature, so you don’t want to dry them too fast.

Once they are shriveled and leathery like raisins, let them cool and then store them in a mason jar with a tight-fitting lid.

If you want to use a dehydrator, follow the same method, but set it on fruit and dehydrate for 4-5 hours or until the “raisin” stage is reached.

You can also dry the elderberries in the sun, but I’ve never tried it so I’m not sure how long it will take. If you live in a humid area as we do in Oklahoma, many times sun-drying leads to mold. So, I usually don’t try it.

Dried elderberries can be rehydrated in warm water and used. You can also make elderberry syrup from elderberries that have been dried. Just add water to the recipe.

To freeze elderberries, clip off the clusters and rinse them well. Lay the clusters on a towel to dry. Once they are completely dry, place them loosely in tightly sealed containers to avoid bruising. Once they are frozen solid, you can pack more into the containers.

To use them, just take out a cluster and they will easily be tickled off the stems and will be ready to use in your recipes. Freezing elderberries is the simplest way to save them.

I hope you will try growing your own elderberries for good health too. For the recipe we use to make elderberry syrup, and it’s delicious, click on the highlighted link! We make elderberry gummies too, check them out. Elderberry jam is amazing too!

For more tips on beginning gardening or getting your family to eat healthy food, check these articles out.

You can also make other healthy body products at home such as healing salve and more.

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    1. Hi Pam, I don’t know a whole lot about propagating plants, but I would think if there are roots they would still grow. Thanks for checking out the article.