Elderberry grows as a medium shrub or a small tree. It is an attractive plant that flowers in June, producing edible berries. These berries are often too tart to eat fresh, so growers usually make them into jams, pies, juice and wine. These plants are hardy down to USDA zone 4, where temperatures do not drop below -30 degrees Fahrenheit. Knowledge of how to create the right environment for elderberry will give you an attractive landscape plant and a healthy harvest.
Take a hardwood cutting from an elderberry bush in late winter, before spring growth begins. Look for a 2- to 3-year-old healthy branch. Cut 4 to 6 inches from the tip with a sharp knife, making sure to include at least four or five nodes.
Fill a small pot with half peat and half perlite. Dip the bottom of the cutting in rooting hormone and place it in the pot, sticking two nodes beneath the surface of the soil. Water the potting medium and keep it moist, placing a plastic bag over the cutting until new growth appears.
Plant the elderberry outdoors in spring. Choose a site with partial shade and moist, fertile, well-drained soil with a pH between 5.5 and 6.5. Mix organic compost into the soil before planting. Plant the elderberry so that the top of the root ball is even with or slightly below soil level.
Water the plant deeply after planting. Keep the soil moist but not soaked through the first growing season. After the first growing season, the plant will survive on rainwater. Elderberry is not drought-tolerant, however, so you must water it in dry periods.
Control weeds around the elderberry. It does not compete well for water and nutrients. Do not cultivate around the plant, because the roots are shallow and fibrous. Instead, keep on top of the weeds and pull them out by hand when they are young. Alternatively, place a 2- to 3-inch layer of mulch around the base of the plant.
Fertilize the elderberry annually in March or April, starting the first year after planting. Apply 1/8 lb. of ammonium nitrate for every year of the plant's age. For example, if the plant is 3 years old, apply 3/8 lb. of ammonium nitrate. After year eight, however, apply only 1 lb. of ammonium nitrate.
Prune in winter or early spring while the plant is dormant. Cut out weak, dead or broken branches and branches more than 3 years old with pruning shears. After year three, the canes become weak and unproductive.