Native to North America, elderberries were once so prevalent they were called "ditch weed." Today they are slowly being brought under cultivation in Europe and South America, with small commercial plantings in the midwestern United States. In addition to their use as fruiting plants, they are also suitable as landscape plants, hedges or windscreens. Elderberries produce white flowers in summer and gray/blue or purplish-black berries that are borne in clusters in early fall.
Plant elderberries in moist, well-drained but fertile soils. They tolerate sandy, loamy or clay soils but prefer the pH to be between 5.5 and 65. Elderberries will not tolerate soil with poor drainage.
Elderberries are shallow-rooted shrubs that greatly benefit from regular watering during their first year in your garden so they become well established. Thereafter, they will be somewhat drought tolerant.
Cultivate carefully to remove weeds so as not to damage elderberries' shallow roots. Applying a mulch will reduce the ability of most weeds to grow and all but eliminate the need to cultivate.
Berries are ready for harvest from late August through early September. Because the birds like them so much, protect your crop by covering the bushes with netting. Remove the entire cluster of berries when they are ripe and remove the berries from the cluster before using. Elderberries should be cooked before they are eaten because of their slight astringent taste. Use the fruits soon after harvesting. They are most often used to make jam, jellies or wine.
Beginning when the plants are four years old, prune out dead canes every year. Fruit is borne on 2-year-old canes, which then die after fruiting. The removal of dead canes will encourage the development of new canes and a good crop of berries every year.