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How to Plant Bare Root Elderberry

By Joan Puma ; Updated September 21, 2017

The elderberry is a native plant that is easy to grow. The common elderberry, Sambucus canadensis, grows 10 to 12 feet tall and makes a good hedge or specimen plant. The berries, rich in vitamin C, are used to make jams and jellies as well as wine. It grows well in USDA hardiness zones 3 through 9, flowers in late June and bears fruit in late summer. Elderberry is a good source of food for many wild birds.

Choose a suitable location. Elderberries prefer full sun and slightly acidic (pH 5.5-6.5), moist, well-drained soil. They cannot thrive in swampy areas. Space the plants 4 to 5 feet apart.

Place the bare root plant in a bucket of water. The roots should be completely submerged. Soak the plant for 4 to 24 hours, but no longer.

Dig a hole large enough to spread the roots out without bending or overcrowding. Mix some organic material (peat moss, leaf mold, manure or compost) into the soil that has been excavated. The ratio should be one-third organic matter to two-thirds soil.

Prune any visibly damaged roots. Place the shrub in the planting hole. The crown should be set just below the surface.

Fill in around the roots with the soil mixture. Once you have filled the hole two-thirds of the way with dirt, fill it to the brim with water. As the water drains it will settle the planting mix around the roots. Finish filling the hole and water again.

Prune the top of the plant to about 9 inches tall. This will allow it to put most of its energy into forming roots.

Check the moisture level of the soil for the next few weeks and water as needed. The soil should be moist but not wet. Elderberries are shallow rooted, so keep them well watered the first season.


Things You Will Need

  • Bucket filled with water
  • Shovel
  • Organic matter
  • Pruning shears
  • Garden hose


  • Elderberries are considered self-pollinating, but planting two separate varieties will increase yields remarkably.


  • The common elderberry, Sambucus canadensis, should not be confused with the red elderberry (Sambucus racemosa L.). The berries of the red elderberry can be toxic without sufficient preparation. The red elderberry prefers wetlands and produces red berries as opposed to the black berries of the common elderberry.