How to Propagate Elderberry Plants From Seed


Elder, or elderberry, is a perennial shrub with both European and American varieties. The European variety grows up to 22 feet (7 meters), and the American variety up to 12 feet (3 meters). Plants produce scented white flowers in summer, then fruit. Those starting elderberry from seed need patience---they may not germinate for 2-5 years, thus, seedlings shouldn't be expected for at least two springs after planting. After emerging from the soil, it takes as little as 2-3 years for elderberry to flower and fruit and only 3-4 years to reach full-size.

Sowing Seeds Directly to Soil

Step 1

Choose a location to sow the seeds. Elderberry likes moist, well-drained soil in the sun, though it can tolerate some shade. Elderberry can be found natively along stream banks.

Step 2

Plant in autumn about a 1/4 inch deep at a density of about 35 plants per square foot in rich soil.

Step 3

Cover with about 3/8 inch of sawdust mulch.

Starting Seed in a Greenhouse

Step 1

Stratify seeds by placing a layer of seeds in a warm, moist mixture of peat, vermiculite and sand for 2 months. The mix should be kept at 70 to 85 degrees Fahrenheit (21 to 31 degrees Centigrade).

Step 2

Plant seeds in flats close to the soil surface. Flats may contain hundreds of seeds.

Step 3

Pot seedlings in deep 3-inch pots.

Step 4

Choose the eventual outdoor location of seedlings.

Step 5

Transplant seedlings to the outdoor location in either fall or spring when they are 6-8 months old.

Step 6

Give seedlings moisture if you're planting during a dry season, to establish them.

Tips and Warnings

  • Weeds can be a problem for elderberry. Hand weed and be especially careful around new shoots and plants.

Things You'll Need

  • Elderberry seeds
  • Sawdust mulch
  • Peat, vermiculite, sand mixture
  • Flats
  • Garden soil
  • Deep, 3-inch pots


  • The Herb Book; Arabella Boxer, pilippa Back; 1980
  • USDA and the Natural Resources Conservation Service; Blue Elderberry; Michelle Stevens and Guy Nesom; June 2003
  • Sambucus canadensis---Elderberry; Michigan State University Extension

Who Can Help

  • Minor Fruits: Elderberries
  • Extension Service Garden Hints: Grow Elderberries as a Fruit-bearing Ornamental
Keywords: elderberry, propagating elderberry, elderberry from seeds

About this Author

Sophie Johnson is a freelance writer and editor of both print and film media. A freelancer for more than 20 years, Johnson has had the opportunity to cover topics ranging from construction to music to celebrity interviews.