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Growing Elderberries: Sambucus nigra

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A member of the Adoxaceae family, Sambucus nigra is the European Black Elderberry found in Europe and Western Asia. Two varieties are native to North America, Sambucus nigra var. canadensis (Black or Common Elderberry) and Sambucus nigra var. caerulea (Blue or Mexican Elderberry), found in western North America. The two varieties overlap ranges in the west.

Form: A multi-stemmed, suckering, large shrub or small tree.
Lifespan: Possibly 60 years.
Leaf retention: Drought and cold deciduous.
Growth rate: Moderate to rapid.
Mature Size: 6-30' high and 6-20' wide.
Flowers: Fragrant, yellow to white, in clusters. Edible when cooked, and fried like fritters, or used to make tea or wine.
Bloom: Two months or more starting in late winter or spring, then again in late summer and fall.
Self-fruitful: No. A second plant must be present within 60'.
Years before fruiting: 2-3.
Fruit: Blue-black or purple berries, one-eighth to one-quarter inch in diameter depending on water, edible when ripe and cooked. No berries are produced without sufficient water and a companion plant.
Months for fruit to ripen: 5-15 days. Ripe when dark and a whitish coating has developed.
Storage after harvest: Place in sealed container without washing and store in refrigerator up to 5 days, or wash and freeze, or wash and prepare for wine or to cook.
Leaves: Dark green, lance-shaped, sawtooth edged, leaflets.
Stems: No thorns.
Roots: Deep taproot, extensive root mass, produces new suckers (canes) yearly which aid in fruit production.
Cultivars of Note:
'Adams' pairs well with 'Johns' for cross pollination.
'Nova' and 'York' are 6' tall shrubs and also pair well.
Wildlife: Attracts birds and pollinating insects. A hummingbird nesting site.
Toxic / Danger: All parts poisonous except ripe, cooked, blue to purple berries and cooked flowers. Green berries are poisonous. Red berries of other species are poisonous.
Origin: North America.

Cultivation and Uses
USDA hardiness zones: 5-10.
Sunset climate zones: A1-A3, 1-17.
Chill hours: Very low, possibly 100-300.
Heat tolerant: Yes.
Sun: Full sun or part shade.
Drought tolerant: Yes, but loses leaves.
Water once established: Monthly. Deep water weekly when bearing fruit.
Soil: Tolerant, pH 6.1-7.8 (slightly acidic to slightly alkaline). Survives in soil that is well-drained, with low organic content, but enriched, slightly acidic soil is best for fruit production.
Prune: In late winter, during dormancy, remove dead, weak and broken canes, as well as all canes older than 3 years. Flowers and fruit develop on tips of new growth, especially on laterals of previous year's canes. After three years, canes produce few flowers.
Litter: Low.
Propagation: Usually by cuttings, also seed (slow).
Uses: Ornamental, edible berries for jams, jellies and wine.

Formerly classified as a member of the Honeysuckle family. Grown as a spring ornamental in mountain regions of USDA zone 8b.

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Elderberry: Sambucus nigra - flowers

Elderberry: Sambucus nigra - fruit

Elderberry: Sambucus nigra - leaves

Elderberry: Sambucus nigra

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