Prized for making preserves, pastries and flavoring wine.
Elderberry is very ornamental with beautiful foliage and large, delicate clusters of tiny white flowers in early summer. It has been used in folk remedies for centuries, and the purple-black berries are good for preserves, flavoring wine and additions to pastries. The berries ripen in late summer and are high in vitamin C and many other components. Shrubs are often good additions to the full sun border, easy to grow and develop a full canopy. This collection includes two varieties, Adams and York, both of which are needed for cross-pollination and good fruit set. CAUTION: Only the ripe berries are edible. The seeds, bark, leaves, flowers and unripened fruit of elderberries contain toxic alkaloids.
Plant in full sun, well-drained, but moist, loamy soils. If soil is poor, plan ahead and add in organic matter while working to loosen the soil. Space plants 10-12 feet apart. Plant as soon as possible after they arrive to prevent plants from drying out. Set plants in holes 2-3 times larger than the root system, with the base of the crown at soil level. Fill in the hole with loose, loamy soil, and tamp down to get rid of air pockets. Water thoroughly after planting. Elderberries are shallow-rooted, so keep them well-watered during the first season of growth.
After planting, use mulch when needed to keep weeds out and moisture steady. Do not cultivate deeper than 2 inches, to avoid disturbing shallow roots. Let the top grow for 2 years, after which pruning can be done. Water regularly, especially during summers without much rain. Plants benefit from adding compost each year.
Plants send up many new canes each year, which branch out the second season. Flowers and fruits develop on the tip ends of the current season's growth, especially on the side branches. Older, 3-4 year old wood that have become weak can be removed in late winter to early spring, while plants are dormant. Leave an equal number of canes 1, 2 and 3-years old. Elderberries are often free of problem pests, which make the shrubs useful as ornamentals.
Two different varieties are needed for cross-pollination for plants to set fruit. Fruits ripen from August to September, for around 2 weeks. Pick regularly, to keep birds from enjoying the harvest. Cover plants with netting to keep birds from quickly harvesting your crop.
Elderberries are borne in large, flat clusters. Fully ripe elderberries are plump, slightly soft and dull purple in color. Once berries turn from green to reddish, then deep purple black, test and squish a few berries. The juice must be very deep red and the berry soft, to be considered ripe enough to use. Berries in the same flower head do not ripen all at the same time, so one finds fully ripe, a few reddish berries and even green ones in the center of the same cluster. Berries with little, clear to light red juice are not ripe. Uncooked berries have dark purple juice and are astringent and inedible.
Fully ripe berries will come off easily, with a gentle pull, from the flower head. Harvesting can be done in two ways: 1) Take a part of the whole flower cluster. Roll berries with your thumb against your fingers from the center to the end of each section. This easily strips off the ripe berries which come off easily. 2) With the clipped flower cluster in hand, knock it off against the inside of a bucket filled with cold water. The ripe berries will come off easily. The harder, green unripe berries and small stems will float and can be sorted out of the harvest.