Elderberries produce tiny white flowers in clusters as large as 8 inches in diameter. Blossoms are sometimes used to make tea and some baked goods. However, elderberry flowers have been used for centuries to make jellies and jams, wine, and pies. The parts of the elderberry other than its flowers and berries are poisonous. In fact, berries must be cooked before consumption to neutralize the alkaloid poison in elderberries.
Elderberries need full sun. Although they aren't picky about soil types, they require moist soil. If you live in a dry climate, you may need to water your elderberry bushes frequently during the hot season. Elderberries are not suited for manicured hedges, but can make a good visual barrier in a more natural looking landscape.
A single elderberry bush cannot pollinate itself. You must plant two elderberry bushes within around 60 feet of each other to allow for adequate cross pollination. Two popular old cultivars were introduced in 1926 by the New York Agricultural Experiment Station. Adams No. 1 and Adams No. 2 are an example of an older, heirloom elderberry cultivar pairing that will cross-pollinate well.
Elderberry will grow better with a balanced fertilizer. Add 1/8 pound of 10-10-10 balanced fertilizer in the early spring for every year of growth on the bush. Don't exceed 1 pound of fertilizer.
Elderberries have shallow, tender roots. Control weeds by gently pulling them out for the first few years of bush growth. Try to avoid pulling weeds the first year by controlling weeds using an inch or two of mulch around your newly planted bushes. Pulling weeds the first year creates a greater risk of damaging sensitive root structures.
Elderberries have a reputation of quickly growing out of control. Proper pruning is critical for maintaining healthy growth. Flowers and fruit develop primarily at the tips of the current season's growth and on laterals growing from the previous season's growth. Growth older than 2 years old tends to become weak. Prune your elderberry bushes in the late winter or early spring by removing canes older than 3 years old. Leave an equal number of 1-, 2- and 3-year-old canes on the pruned bush.