Propagating Elderberry Plants

Updated on August 22, 2019
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Amelia has been an avid gardener since childhood and enjoys experimenting with natural and sustainable gardening methods.

The berries of edible elderberries are used for boosting the immune system.
The berries of edible elderberries are used for boosting the immune system.

Propagating elderberry is so easy I wondered if I could even write a whole article about it! So, if you have access to this versatile, hardy, and immune-boosting plant, I encourage you to start your own plants or multiply the ones you have.

The elderberry pictured here is a single year's growth and is about 6 feet tall.
The elderberry pictured here is a single year's growth and is about 6 feet tall.

Tips for Growing Elderberries

  • Not all elderberries are edible. If you plan to consume the berries, make sure that the plant you propagate from bears edible berries.
  • Elderberry is not self-fertile and will therefore need a pollinator in order to harvest fruit. It doesn’t have to be in your yard, just nearby, but the closer the better. So, if you are getting cuttings or suckers from a friend or neighbor, it would behoove you to get ones from more than one bush.
  • Water new plants regularly throughout the first summer.
  • For best results, plant elderberry in full sun. However, it tolerates shade well.
  • In some cases, a new plant will try to flower and bear fruit the first year. To encourage root growth and allow the main stem to stay straight, trim off the blossoms as they appear.

The elderberry on the left was propagated by transplanting a sucker.
The elderberry on the left was propagated by transplanting a sucker.

How to Propagate Elderberry

There are four main ways to multiply elderberry plants and your method depends upon what parts of the plant you have access to.

  1. Seed: I have never tried this method, because the other methods work so effectively, easily, and predictably. However, the birds around here multiply elderberry by this method regularly. My advice: leave this method to the birds.
  2. Do Nothing: If the plants are already in your yard and you just want more, then they will do the work for you. Within a year, they will spread several feet. Within two years, the radius will be about 10 feet.
  3. Transplant Suckers: If you want to grow elderberry in a new place—either because the original plants aren’t yours or because you want to start a new colony—one simple and dependable way is to dig up one of the small plants coming up near the original. This is known as a sucker. You will have to cut the root where it connects to the main plant, but maintain as much other root as possible. If the sucker exceeds 4 feet tall, it is best to cut it down to about 3 feet tall to reduce transplant shock. Save these cut-off sections for method four. Plant the sucker in the new location and water liberally. This is best done early in spring as soon as the ground thaws, or in the fall when the plant has lost its leaves.
  4. Plant Cuttings: This method is nothing short of miraculous. All you have to do is take a cutting from last season’s growth, use your fingernail to peel off a bit of bark around the bottom, and stick it in the ground about 6 inches deep. This works great in early spring when the stress on the plant is the least. The stick should be 2–3 feet long. Make sure the soil does not dry out for the next eight weeks or so. Voila! You have a new plant. I did this last winter, and every single stick I planted grew into a new plant.

These elderberry plants were all propagated from cuttings several months ago.
These elderberry plants were all propagated from cuttings several months ago.

Soon you can be well on your way to your own stand of elderberry. With some basic care, they will quickly fill unused space in your yard and provide attractive flowers and berries.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.


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