The berries from the elderberry plant have a number of assets, among them their use in flavorful jams, pies and even wine. High in vitamin C, elderberries have more phosphorus and potassium than any berry or fruit grown in temperate climates, according to the Cornell University Department of Agriculture. But elderberry shrubs need specific conditions in which to thrive.
The North American geographical range of the elderberry shrub, which in some cases can attain small-tree size, is from southeastern parts of Manitoba in Canada to as far east as Nova Scotia. The elderberry grows southward from there all the way to southern sections of Florida and as far west as southern Texas. In the Deep South, the plant is often evergreen, while it loses its leaves in the fall in northern climates.
Soil and Planting Considerations
Elderberry shrubs grow well if you plant them in moist rich soil that drains well. The pH levels should stay within the range of 5.5 to 6.5, but the elderberry will grow in places that are higher or lower in that regard. For best results, plant the elderberry in the spring. Getting them in the ground before they have a chance to dry out is the best approach and often means planting them as soon as you purchase them.
Since elderberries frequently occur near water in the wild, especially along rivers, streams and near wetlands, people naturally associate them with water. This gives rise to the misconception that they only grow where the ground is saturated. While it is a fact that although dry soil severely cripples an elderberry's growth, when faced with conditions of soggy soil where drainage is substandard, they will not thrive either.
Fertilization enhances the growth rate of an elderberry bush. Manure is a good option; till it into the ground where you plant the shrub. Apply ammonium nitrate as another fertilizer that elderberries react to quite well.
Maintaining a weed-free environment for an elderberry can be problematic, because the plant has such shallow roots. Pull all weeds that threaten an elderberry by hand to avoid doing any damage to the root system with a utensil such as a hoe. Mulch around the shrub to prevent weeds from growing, and mow frequently, as long as you avoid hitting the elderberry's trunk. Full-grown elderberries throw enough shade to keep weeds at bay by themselves.