Containing more nutritional phosphorus and potassium than any other fruit crop grown in the temperate zones, elderberries (Sambucus nigra subsp. canadensis) are also rich in Vitamin C, according to Cornell University. Most varieties are hardy through U.S. Department of Agriculture hardiness zone 4, and some varieties are hardy through zone 3. Elderberries are also attractive plants and welcome additions to decorative landscapes.
Time of Year
The best time of year to plant elderberries is in very early spring, as soon as possible after the plants arrive from the nursery. Do not allow the plants to dry out prior to putting them in the ground or they will most likely die.
Elderberries are self-unfruitful, so it is necessary to plant two different varieties in order for them to set fruit. The varieties Adams #1 and #2 have been in commercial production since their introduction in 1926, and are good companions for planting together to ensure adequate pollination. Two other varieties also recommended by Cornell University Extension are Johns and York, both of which are extremely productive and produce large flower clusters and large berries. All of these varieties are suitable for cross pollination in the home garden.
Choose a site in full sun with moist, fertile and well-drained soil. The pH should be in the acid range, between 5.5 and 6.5 on the pH scale. Elderberries require good drainage, and if grown on well-drained soil, they tolerate a wide range of soil conditions.
Improve the soil at each individual planting site with the addition of 1- to 2-inches of peat moss, about 1 inch of well-rotted manure and up to 3 inches of compost, if available, applied to the surface of the soil in a 12- to 18-inch diameter circle. Incorporate these amendments either by tilling or digging them in. The first spring after planting, feed elderberries with 1/2 pound of 10-10-10 fertilizer per plant and repeat this feeding schedule every spring, adding 1/2 pound for every year of the plants' life, up to 4 lbs. of 10-10-10 fertilizer per plant.
Plant elderberries so they are spaced 6- to 10-feet apart. Use the smaller spacing to create an elderberry hedge or the larger spacing to grow them as distinct individual bushes. Dig a hole slightly larger than the root ball in the improved soil of the individual planting site and gently spread out the roots of the elderberry bush in the hole. Back fill the hole with soil, gently firming it down with your foot as you go. Ensure that the bush is growing at the same level as it was in the nursery. A good way to judge this is to look for the distinct difference of color on the main stem. The darker colored part should be below the level of the soil and the lighter part of the main stem above ground.
Make a ridge of soil around the perimeter of the planting hole with your hands. This will help keep water from running off away from the root ball. Water in the newly planted bushes by placing a slow-running hose near the base of each plant and leaving it there for 60 to 90 minutes. Because elderberries are shallow-rooted, provide them with the equivalent of 1 to 1 1/2 inch of rainfall during their first year in your garden.