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How to Propagate Elderberry Plants From Seed

By Sophie Johnson ; Updated September 21, 2017

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

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.

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

Cover with about 3/8 inch of sawdust mulch.

Starting Seed in a Greenhouse

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).

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

Pot seedlings in deep 3-inch pots.

Choose the eventual outdoor location of seedlings.

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

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


Things You Will Need

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


  • To obtain seeds for planting, spread fruit in layers to dry with seeds attached and crush lightly. Plant as is, without separating.
  • Seeds can be stored for up to 16 years at 41 degrees Fahrenheit.


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

About the 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.