The elderberry is a shrub that produces clusters of fragrant flowers that turn into edible berries used in baking and jam recipes. The shrub is native to areas in North America and Central Europe and can be planted in fields for berry production. There are several varieties elderberry shrubs that are hardy in USDA growing zones 3 through 8. Elderberries grow best in locations with good air circulation and cool temperatures, as excessive heat will hinder plant growth.
Select a planting location for the elderberry shrubs that gets full sunlight and has a slightly acidic soil. The shrub tolerates most soil types as long as the soil is high in organic matter.
Work 2 to 3 inches of organic compost into the planting area with a tiller to a depth of 8 to 10 inches. Test the soil pH to verify it is 5.5 to 6.5. Work ground rock sulfur into the soil to lower the pH number. Let the soil rest for at least two weeks before planting.
Dig a hole that is the same depth and twice as wide as the container the shrub came in. Set the shrub into the hole and gently pack the soil around the roots. Space shrubs 6 to 10 feet apart.
Water the shrubs immediately after planting to stimulate root growth. Continue to water the shrubs during the first year of growth to keep the soil moist. Water established shrubs during the growing season when the weekly rainfall amount is less than 1 inch.
Fertilize the elderberry shrubs each spring with a 10-10-10 fertilizer at a rate of ½ pound for each year of shrub age. Do not apply more than 4 pounds of fertilizer per shrub.
Apply a 3- to 4-inch layer of mulch around the shrub root ball area. Elderberry shrubs have a shallow root system, and mulch assists with moisture retention and limits weed growth. Leave a 6-inch gap between the start of the mulch and stem of the shrub.
Prune to remove dead and damaged branches in spring. Remove 3-year-old branches from the stem of the elderberry in late winter, as these have low fruit production.
Cover the shrubs with netting once the berries begin to form to prevent berry loss to birds.