Saturday, July 15, 2017

Growing Elderberries in Colorado by Donna Duffy

Elderberries, photo courtesy Plantalk

Elderberry is a remarkable shrub or small tree of several species and many forms and colors of foliage, flowers and berries It has been found in Stone Age and Bronze Age excavations, was one of the sacred trees of the Druids, and has been used as a medicinal herb by early Europeans, native Americans and modern herbalists. However, it has not been popular in landscapes until recently when selections have been made for special leaf colors and textures. And now home-food and food-medicine gardeners want elderberries because scientific research has verified herbal lore that elderberries have health benefits. The Wall Street Journal identified elderberry with seven other berries as “nutritional royalty.”

Elderberry flowers, photo by Donna Duffy

Plantalk Colorado provides the following information about growing Elderberries successfully in Colorado.

Elderberries are native shrubs that produce fruit used in jellies, pies and wine. The fruit is seedy and tart, but high in vitamin C. These shrubs also are used for landscaping and wildlife habitat. Elderberries are upright, spreading shrubs that grow six to twelve feet high. Their leaves are opposite and compound with five to eleven leaflets, similar to green and white ash trees. The leaves also have serrated margins.

Their showy, white flower-clusters generally are six-to-ten inches in diameter and have a pleasant fragrance. The fruit is a smooth globular berry that measures three-sixteenths of an inch in diameter. The broad, flat clusters of berries, which ripen in early August to late September, are deep purple to black. Some elderberries are partially self-fruitful and generally show increased fruit-set when two or more cultivars are planted in close proximity. Many birds and mammals feed on the fruit.
Elderberries are drought and cold tolerant. They also tolerate almost any moisture condition and soil type. They grow at a pH of 5.5-7.5, but prefer a pH of 5.5-6.5.  It’s important to cultivate around these shrubs carefully because the root system is shallow and can easily be damaged. Elderberries have few pests, and natural predators often control any outbreaks.

Plant elderberries five to seven feet on center to accommodate good air circulation. Plant bare root stock or rooted cuttings in early spring and container-grown plants anytime during the growing season.