Here at Eleven Acre Farm we grow Elderberry! Sambucus canadensis to be specific.
We have mainly grown two cultivars of Elderberry that were developed by Vermont horticultural legend, Lewis Hill. These two varieties are Coomer and Berry Hill.
We have found these two varieties to be high yielding with large berries, have great cold resistance, and to come to fruit all at one time, making it easier to harvest and keep from birds and other pests.
We are also growing Bob Gordon and Wyldewood which were developed at University of Missouri extension agency.
Here are our growing guidelines:
Soils– plant in heavier soils that retain water, slopes that are concave and not convex, and are either high in nutrients or have good nutrient holding capacities. Elderberry would rather have its feet wet all year long than to be too dry at any one time, making sandy soils along ridge lines poor choices for planting.
Spacing – Rows should be spaced at about 12-16′ apart with beds made to be about 3-4′ wide max. Tilling is not necessary and plants can be directly planted in existing soils as long as plants are large enough(18″+) Plants in rows should be 8′ apart. this spacing will allow for 600-750 plants per acre.
Timing – always plant elderberry in the early spring and or late fall. Long stretches of rainy weather are ideal for planting. Do not plant in times of drought, or during hot weather.
Division – Root zone divisions cut from mature roots will yield vigorous plants. make cutting at least 2-3 inches long. Plant in perennial potting mix and keep well watered. we plant into 4″ pots or quart grow bags and leave in part sun/part shade to root out.
Cuttings – Hardwood cuttings are taken in early spring/late winter from canes with lots of lenticels and up to 1 inch in diameter. Each cutting should be at least two nodes long, one node will be buried and the other exposed will grow leaves, of which only one set should be kept to minimize transpiration losses. we plant into 50 count trays or directly into one gallon pots. Cuttings can also be kept in buckets(up to 50 per) of water and rooted out and then planted, or directly planted as a live stake into the ground, in a shadier area, and kept wet.
Seed – Plants can be grown easily from seed obtained from the ripe berries. these plants however will not have genetic make up of their parents and can be wildly different in yield, harvest rates, and process.
Mulch – We use plastic woven fifteen year mulch on our beds. this keeps weeds down and allows for rain water to be absorbed into the soil. Do not use plastic film on elderberries. Other mulches can be used such as wood chips, hay, and straw.
Drip – Depending on soil types and water tables, drip irrigation is good insurance to keep plant roots and canes growing throughout the year and berries developing large in low rain years. Elderberries will do well with at least an inch of rain or water per week.
Weeding – Weeds are best removed a few times per year while keeping grass at bay with a plastic
Pruning – We prune bushes by hand to obtain cutting materials and to ensure a hardy plant free from old dead canes. We prune to 5 strong first or second year leaders and cut the rest to the ground. Brush hogging is also recommended for time saving and on larger scale venture of 1/4 acre or larger, this is done every three to five years and allows for vigorous return of established plant in the following year.
Flowers – we harvest the elderflower in the first 2 years if growing to keep plants growing vigorously and build lots of height. Flowers umbels are cut whole and then dried or used fresh in syrups, tinctures, or food.
Berries – We harvest as soon as ripe when the weight of berry laden umbels are facing ground and no longer facing up toward the sun. Harvest berry on umbel using shears and place into double bag lined buckets. Buckets will hold up to 25# of berries. Berries in bags are frozen from 0 to -20 degrees. berries are then separated from umbels using mechanical methods.