Elderberry tree or bush

American Elderberry

1-2′ (1 Year)

About American Elderberry…

This native shrub, American Elder or Sambucus canadensis, has been known for its delicious fruit (for use in jellies, pies or wine) since native American times. It has more recently been used in landscapes for its spectacular blossoms and dramatically colored berries. Our Elderberry bushes for sale also offer a fantastic wildlife habitat, providing both shelter for small animals and a healthy food source. We also have more berry plants for sale online. Elderberries are both drought and cold-tolerant, adapt to almost any soil type and most drainage conditions and have few pests. They grow 6 to 12 feet high in an oval or rounded shape. The white flower clusters are generally 6 to 10 inches in diameter and are very showy with a nice fragrance. The fruit, which is pleasantly tart but high in vitamin C, is a smooth round berry measuring three-sixteenths-inch in diameter growing in broad flat clusters. Willis Orchard has elderberry plants for sale all year long, however, the deep purple to black berries ripen in early August to late September and are a treat for song birds, turkey, quail, squirrels, deer and people.

Plant and Care for Elderberry Bush

The Mystery of the Elderberry

One of the most unknown commodities in the gardening world is the elderberry bush. It’s a native plant to North America, but the popularity of the elderberry bush isn’t high by any means. Still, it’s an exciting plant, part of a fantastic genus, and may be one of the most versatile plants Gurney’s offers. Here’s some more info on the elderberry bush.

What Is It?

Elderberry bushes (or elderberry trees–they’re the same thing) are mostly known as wildlife plants, but they look great in a natural garden setting, as well. They’re hardy plants that bloom white flowers in late spring, which, in turn, produce dark, edible berries that are ready for harvesting when their color is dark purple (or even black), usually in late summer or early fall (August-September).


Elderberry bushes are a versatile plant, with tons of uses. Obviously, the flowers will look great in any part of your yard or garden (especially a landscape setting), but you’ll get the most practical use out of the berries, which are mainly used as an ingredient in syrups, pies, extracts, jams, wines and champagnes. The flowers can also be ground up for the same uses. Just make sure the berries are ripe and properly cleaned before you use them, just like any other fruit.

Health Benefits

Like most other berries, elderberries are chock-full of antioxidants, and contain high amounts of Vitamin C and potassium, which aid your immune system in preventing and fighting off cold and flu symptoms. You may have heard that unripe elderberries, in addition to the plant’s leaves, twigs, stems and roots, contain traces of cyanide. While that is true, the amount present is so miniscule it’s virtually a non-issue. As was mentioned in Uses, make sure berries are ripe and clean before consumption. The leaves, twigs, stems and roots should be avoided to begin with.

How to Plant an Elderberry Bush

You’re going to want to plant an elderberry bush in spring. Mail-order varieties are shipped at the proper planting time for your growing region, so as soon as you receive it, plant it, otherwise you risk drying it out. It’s best for the plant to be put into a moist environment that drains well. There’s some talk out there of the plant thriving in wet, not-so-well-drained areas, but that simply isn’t true. Make sure the area you decide to plant in drains well, because this plant is going to need to be watered often.
Space the plants approximately 5 feet apart in rows approximately 16 feet apart, and only a couple inches deep due to their shallow roots. These guys love to cross-pollinate, too, so don’t be afraid to plant a cultivar with it, usually around 60 feet apart.

Caring for an Elderberry Bush

Cultivation and fertilization are essential elements of elderberry bush care. Weeds are a continual problem with elderberry bushes, so take care of those as best you can. Gurney’s Weed Aside™ Weed Killer is recommened. Elderberry bushes also love fertilizers, so something like Gurney’s Timed-Released Fertilizer Tablets can help the plant grow.
New canes appear on the plant each year, usually hitting their full height during the first season. This is where the flowers and fruit will grow and develop, so let the plants run wild the first season or two. Canes usually don’t need pruning until after the second year, when the wood becomes weak and less vigorous.

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Sambucus ssp. Named after an ancient Greek lute made from its wood, elderberries are the one fruiting group you can count on to provide you with abundant harvests, no matter the conditions. Elderberry plants are so adaptable, they fit into tropical gardens, woodland gardens or cottage gardens. They’re perfect for damp spots that kill off less resolute shrubs, all while looking like Queen Anne’s Lace on steroids during bloomtime. And when their branches bend with the weight of the berries in late summer, it is the most evocative symbol of ripeness you’ll ever find in your garden.
Before using elderberries, make sure to remove the little stems on the berries. They create an undesirable waxy residue. Pick entire berry clusters, then put them on trays and pop them in the freezer for a few hours. When you pull out the trays and shake the clusters, the berries will separate readily and you’re on your way to big fun.

Loaded with anthocyanins and polyphenols that remain stable during fruit processing, elderberries make the best wine, jam, syrup and pie imaginable. No other wine can match the velvety claret color of fermented elderberry juice. Throw some handfuls of berries into an apple pie for a culinary epiphany. Breakfast will never be the same with elderberry jam spread on toast.
Self-fruitful, but bigger crops with two cultivars for cross-pollination. This applies to both the American (canadensis) and European (nigra) species. The American elderberry can be eaten straight off the bush, but it’s not all that tasty raw. Unripe berries of this species contain alkaloids and glycosides that can cause digestive problems. The European elderberry must be cooked to destroy these compounds. The red elderberry (there are American and European species) is never edible. The blue elderberry native to the Pacific Northwest is edible, but much less ornamental than the varieties offered below.
Hardy to below zero degrees and requires little winter chilling, so many parts of the country can enjoy this genus. Can be cut to the ground every Fall if desired to maintain smaller sized shrubs, but pruning is not necessary to maximize fruit production.
Elderberries are the ultimate wildlife habitat shrub. Blooms host numerous butterflies in the spring. When the berries form, woodpeckers, bluebirds, cedar waxwings, orioles, grosbeaks and dozens of other species fight over the ripe fruit. And deer seem to leave the plants alone, once established.
Shipping charges are 25% for CA, 30% for OR and WA, 40% for rest of U.S. Sorry, no shipping to FL, HI, AK.

Identifying the Elderberry That’s Right for You

By Natalie Carmolli, Proven Winners® ColorChoice®
Photographs courtesy of Proven Winners

If you’re like most people, you’ve probably heard of elderberries. For centuries, people have enjoyed using the fruit and flowers of the Sambucus plant to make tasty products like tea, wine, juice, and jam, and many people swear by syrups made from elderberries to help soothe coughs and colds. However, Sambucus is also often grown in landscapes simply for its beautiful foliage and showy flowers.

No matter what a gardener’s intentions are, it’s important to know that all Sambucus are not interchangeable. With multiple species, varieties and sizes to choose from, having a clear idea of what you want to do with the plant, and how much space you have to devote to one, is something to consider when choosing a Sambucus for your garden or landscape.

Sambucus fruit, toxicity, and pollination

If you’re looking for a fall harvest of fruit, Sambucus nigra (and S. canadensis, which is closely related to S. nigra) is the species of elderberry that is edible and has medicinal uses. Even at that, black elderberries should only be consumed when they are fully ripe and should not be eaten raw as the seeds contain glycosides, a mild toxin, and can make you sick. However, cooking the berries destroys the glycosides present in the seeds, making the berries with their seeds safe to eat. While the red berries on S. racemosa are technically edible, they are also considered the most toxic of the elderberries to humans, so unless you are an experienced herbalist or horticulturist, they should probably be left on the plant for the birds to enjoy. Leaves, woody stems, and roots on all species of Sambucus are toxic and should not be consumed under any circumstances.

For those looking to add an elderberry plant to their garden or landscape, Proven Winners® ColorChoice® offers three varieties of Sambucus nigra and one S. racemosa. It’s important to note: If you want any of your Sambucus plants to produce fruit you’ll need to plant another variety of the same species as a pollinator. Suggestions are listed below.

Sambucus nigra

In general, American black elderberry is a huge shrub, reaching heights/widths as large as 15′, but Proven Winners® Black Lace® Sambucus nigra is much smaller, at just 7-8′. With intense purple-black foliage that is finely cut like lace, the appearance is similar to that of Japanese maple. Showy pink flowers in early summer contrast with the dark leaves for a stunning effect and give way to the edible (when cooked!) black berries if a compatible pollinator, like Laced Up® or Black Beauty® Sambucus nigra is planted within about a 50′ radius.

The variegated Instant Karma® Sambucus nigra can grow to about 8′ tall and wide and offers neat, clean foliage of interplaying green and white. Large, white, lacy flower clusters appear in early summer, and if a pollinator variety (like Black Lace® or Laced Up® elderberry) is present, you’ll get a crop of purple-black fruit in autumn. This versatile plant can be grown as a small tree or large shrub – it even plays nice in a perennial garden if it is cut back in spring each year for a handsome spray of bright foliage.

Laced Up® elderberry will reach heights of about 10′, but has a tight, columnar habit that only takes up a few feet of ground. Feathery black foliage covers broomstick-straight stems that shoot toward the sky and early summer brings hundreds of pink flowers that give way to black berries when an appropriate pollinator (such as any of the Sambucus nigra listed above) is sited nearby.

Sambucus racemosa

Finally, Proven Winners® ColorChoice® hardiest elderberry, Lemony Lace® Sambucus racemosa offers finely dissected foliage in a cheery gold color. This North American native produces big clusters of white flowers in early spring before the foliage emerges, then bright yellow leaves take over, edged in red. As the foliage ages, it turns an attractive chartreuse. Consider Lemony Lace® for its beautiful foliage and flowers, for although Sambucus racemosa will produce a red berry when pollinated, and some claim they can be eaten, it is a hard, mealy berry that, as stated earlier in the article, can be more toxic than the black elderberry and consumption isn’t recommended. While several varieties of generic Sambucus racemosa are widely available, Proven Winners® does not carry a pollinator for this species.

Care and treatment

Sambucus in general take well to pruning, which is best done after blooming. It is a bold plant with vigorous growth, and many people find success treating it as a perennial, cutting it back hard in spring to control its size. Sambucus blooms on old wood, so this approach will remove the flowers, but the foliage of these five varieties is so attractive that you may not miss them.

Site your new elderberry plant in well-draining soil and plan on giving it a good weekly watering during its first summer in the ground. Once it’s established, Sambucus is very easy to grow and maintain. It’s hardy down to USDA zone 4, adaptable to almost any soil, drought tolerant, deer resistant, and a beautiful, ornamental plant.

A Plant You Should Know: Black Lace Elderberry

Looking for a dramatic plant to serve as a focal point in your garden? Think Black. Black Lace Elderberry, that is!

Black Lace™ Elderberry (Sambucus nigra ‘Eva’ ppaf) is fairly new to the United States, introduced in 2006. One could easily mistake this plant for an exotic Japanese Maple, given its lacy, finely-cut leaves that are purple-black in color. But unlike a Japanese Maple, it is easy to care for and thrives in full sun.

In early summer, creamy pink, domed flowers appear, contrasting beautifully with the dark foliage (the above photo was just taken in our nursery in full sun). The flowers will turn into black-red, edible berries in fall, which you can snack on, or leave for your birds to enjoy. An added extra is its deer resistance.

Black Lace Elderberry came to our nursery several years ago as a trial plant. It has proven to be very cold hardy. Its mature size is about 6-8 feet high and just as wide. It can be pruned yearly to maintain a preferred size, or trained into a tree.

Beautiful, easy to care for, adaptable as a focal point or a hedge and resistant to deer? Now that’s one plant you should know.

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