A naturally small tree that typically reaches no more than 10 feet, the elderberry nonetheless requires regular pruning and shaping. Annual pruning that removes older, non-fruiting growth and shapes new growth ensures a healthy and productive plant. Prune elderberries either in late fall after you've harvested the fruit in September or in the dormant season after frost danger passes in your region.
Check your elderberry tree for dead, diseased or broken canes or branches. Diseased growth bears discoloration or scarring while dead growth feels brittle. These branches need to be removed for the health of the tree.
Cut off unhealthy growth at its base. Discard in a trash bin; do not compost. After every cut of unhealthy wood, spray your pruners with disinfectant spray to avoid infecting healthy parts of the elderberry with disease.
Remove old branches by pruning them off at the base. After three to four years, canes become weak and produce few berries. Old growth has thicker wood and will be darker in color.
Identify vigorous growing elderberry branches or canes. Leave these on the elderberry to ensure a vigorous crop of berries. Prune away weak growth, leaving six to eight canes that bear fruit on your small elderberry tree.
Thin out new weak growth to increase air circulation through the elderberry. Choose weak shoots and cut them off.