How to Propagate Elderberry Cuttings into New Bushes

When we moved into our property in New Hampshire over 10 years ago there was a small patch of elderberry growing next to our pond. It was always a bit difficult to get to and a few years ago I decided to try to root some elderberry cuttings to create another patch closer to the house. We have a slightly wet area right behind and downhills from our large vegetable garden, and since Elderberry like slightly soggy feet, this is perfect.

I was surprised how easy it was to propagate elderberry cuttings and have had a relatively high success rate. In this article I’ll share exactly what I did to grow elderberry from cuttings as well as some general information on growing elderberry.

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What you Need to Grow Elderberry Cuttings

You will need a few supplies to propagate elderberry cuttings. Here is what I used:

  • A healthy, established elderberry bush with cuttings.
  • Pot with drainage hole
  • Plastic bag or dome for humidity
  • Rooting Hormone (optional but recommended)
  • Potting soil
Propagate Elderberry Cuttings Supplies
Supplies to Propagate Elderberry Cuttings

Step By Step Guide to Propagating Elderberry

Take your Cutting

Taking the right cutting is crucial for the success of propagating elderberries. During the growing season, elderberry will have woody growth and new growth. I like to take my cuttings on the old wood when it is dormant. Here’s how to do it effectively:

  • Timing: As mentioned earlier, take hardwood cuttings in late winter or early spring when the plant is dormant. For softwood cuttings, early summer when the new growth is still green and pliable is ideal.
  • Selecting the Branch: Choose a healthy branch from the parent plant. The branch should be free of disease, pests, and damage. Look for robust growth that is about the thickness of a pencil.
  • Cutting Technique: Use clean, sharp pruning shears to take the cutting. Make a straight cut just below a leaf node (the point where leaves are attached to the stem). This node is where the roots will emerge. Each cutting should be 6-12 inches long.
  • Preparation: For hardwood cuttings, strip the leaves and any side shoots from the lower two-thirds of the cutting. For softwood cuttings, remove the leaves from the lower half. This reduces the amount of water lost through transpiration and prevents rot when planted.
Healthy dormant Elderberry
Take your cutting to be 7-10 inches in length

Plant Your Cutting

Here’s wat I do when I root my cuttings for my elderberry:

  • Rooting Medium: Use a well-draining potting soil. You want the right balance of moisture retention and aeration. Avoid compacted soil. I like to dip the end of my cutting in rooting hormone.
  • Containers: Choose containers with drainage holes to prevent waterlogging. Small pots or seed trays work well. I used a small plastic pot with holes in the bottom and put several cutting in each.
  • Planting Depth: Insert the cutting into the rooting medium, ensuring that at least one leaf node is buried. Typically, 2-3 inches deep is sufficient. Firm the medium around the base of the cutting to ensure good contact.
  • Spacing: If planting multiple cuttings in the same container, space them at least a few inches apart to allow for air circulation and prevent competition for resources.
Propagate Elderberry Cuttings
Elderberry cuttings
Dip in rooting hormone and plant.

Provide the Perfect Environment for Root Growth

The next step requires a bit of patience. You will want to create an environment that is humid and conducive to root growth. Here’s what I did.

  • Humidity: High humidity is essential to prevent the cuttings from drying out. Cover the cuttings with a plastic dome or place them in a propagator to maintain humidity. Alternatively, you can cover the pot with a clear plastic bag, ensuring it doesn’t touch the leaves. This is wat I did using a large bag I had available. You will want to check occasionally for mold.
  • Temperature: Maintain a moderate temperature around 65-75°F (18-24°C). This temperature range is ideal for root development. Avoid placing cuttings in direct sunlight, which can cause overheating and dehydration. I kept my most recent cuttings in our barn during the spring. I would have had better rates of success in the house where the temperature is more consistent.
  • Light: Direct sunlight can be too intense and dry out the cuttings. If growing indoors, a north or east-facing window is ideal, or use grow lights to ensure adequate light levels. I prefer to leave my seedlings in an area with a small amount of indirect light.
  • Watering: Keep the rooting medium consistently moist but not waterlogged. Mist the cuttings regularly to maintain humidity. Be careful not to overwater, as this can lead to rot. I found that over about 1 month, I only watered 2 times.

After about a month – give your elderberry cutting a very gentle tug. If the cutting doesn’t easily pull up, it’s starting to develop roots! At this point I remove the plastic bag or humidity dome and give the plant access to the air. Water frequently (like twice a day). If your leaves start to wilt, you should put the cutting back in the high humidity environment.

Maintain humidity and check on growth for the next month on your elderberry cuttings

Prepare your Elderberry for Planting

Once the cuttings have rooted and are ready for transplanting, proper preparation is key:

  • Hardening Off: Gradually acclimate the rooted cuttings to outdoor conditions. Start by placing them outside in a sheltered, shaded area for a few hours each day, gradually increasing their exposure to direct sunlight and outdoor temperatures over a period of 7-10 days. This process is known as hardening off and helps the plants adjust to the outdoor environment.
  • Site Selection: Choose a planting site with well-drained soil and adequate sunlight. Elderberries thrive in full sun to partial shade and prefer slightly acidic to neutral soil pH (6.0-7.0).
  • Soil Preparation: Prepare the planting site by loosening the soil and incorporating organic matter such as compost to improve soil structure and fertility. This will provide the young plants with the nutrients they need to establish strong roots.

Plant your Elderberry Plants

Once your plants have rooted and are ready to plant outside, there are a few last things to remember when planting them outside.

  • Planting Holes: Dig planting holes that are large enough to accommodate the root system of the young plants. The holes should be about twice the diameter of the root ball and just deep enough so that the plants are at the same depth they were in the rooting medium.
  • Spacing: Space the plants 5-8 feet apart to allow room for growth and air circulation. Elderberries can form large bushes, so adequate spacing is important to prevent overcrowding.
  • Planting: Place each plant in its prepared hole, ensuring the roots are spread out and not crowded. Backfill the hole with soil, firming it gently around the base of the plant to eliminate air pockets.
  • Watering: Water the newly planted elderberries thoroughly to settle the soil around the roots. Continue to water regularly, especially during dry periods, to help the plants establish a strong root system.
  • Mulching: Apply a layer of mulch around the base of the plants to conserve moisture, suppress weeds, and regulate soil temperature. Keep the mulch a few inches away from the stem to prevent rot.

General Tips for Growing Elderberry

  • Choose the Right Location: Plant elderberries in a location that receives full sun to partial shade. They thrive in well-drained, fertile soil.
  • Soil Preparation: Ensure the soil is rich in organic matter. Amend the planting site with compost to improve soil structure and fertility.
  • Proper Spacing: Space plants about 6-10 feet apart to allow for adequate air circulation and growth.
  • Watering: Keep the soil consistently moist, especially during the first year after planting. Elderberries prefer evenly moist soil but can tolerate short periods of drought.
  • Fertilization: Apply a balanced fertilizer in early spring to encourage healthy growth. Avoid over-fertilizing, as this can lead to excessive vegetative growth at the expense of fruit production.
  • Pruning: Prune annually in late winter or early spring to remove dead or weak branches and to encourage new growth. This helps maintain the plant’s shape and promotes better fruiting.
  • Pest and Disease Management: Monitor for common pests such as aphids and elder shoot borers. Employ integrated pest management strategies to keep pests under control. Regularly inspect plants for signs of disease, such as powdery mildew or leaf spot.
  • Mulching: Apply a layer of mulch around the base of the plants to help retain soil moisture, suppress weeds, and regulate soil temperature.
  • Pollination: Elderberries are partially self-fertile but benefit from cross-pollination. Planting more than one variety can enhance fruit set and yield.
  • Harvesting: Harvest elderflowers in early summer and berries in late summer to early fall when they are fully ripe and dark purple. Use them in various culinary and medicinal preparations.

What to Harvest from Your Elderberry

I love growing elderberry as you can harvest both Elderberry flowers, often called elderflowers, are highly prized for their delicate flavor and can be harvested in early summer. These fragrant blooms can be used to make elderflower cordial, a refreshing syrup that’s perfect for summer beverages, or dried for use in teas and culinary dishes.

As for the berries, typically ready for picking in late summer to early fall, they are a powerhouse of nutrients and can be transformed into a variety of delicious and healthful products such as jams, jellies, syrups, and even wine. Both elderflowers and elderberries are rich in antioxidants and have been traditionally used to support immune health. When harvesting, ensure you’re collecting from Sambucus nigra, the European elderberry, or its American counterpart, Sambucus canadensis, and always cook the berries before consumption to eliminate any toxic compounds.

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