How to grow elder

How to grow elder

Find out how to grow elder, both as a shrub and a tree, in our detailed Grow Guide.

A table displaying which months are best to sow, plant and harvest.
Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
Plant
Plant

Do Plant in January

Do Plant in February

Do Plant in March

Do not Plant in April

Do not Plant in May

Do not Plant in June

Do not Plant in July

Do not Plant in August

Do Plant in September

Do Plant in October

Do Plant in November

Do Plant in December

Flowers
Flowers

Plant does not flower in January

Plant does not flower in February

Plant does not flower in March

Plant does not flower in April

Plant does flower in May

Plant does flower in June

Plant does flower in July

Plant does not flower in August

Plant does not flower in September

Plant does not flower in October

Plant does not flower in November

Plant does not flower in December

Fruits
Fruits

Plant does not fruit in January

Plant does not fruit in February

Plant does not fruit in March

Plant does not fruit in April

Plant does not fruit in May

Plant does not fruit in June

Plant does not fruit in July

Plant does fruit in August

Plant does fruit in September

Plant does not fruit in October

Plant does not fruit in November

Plant does not fruit in December

Take cuttings
Take cuttings

Do not Take cuttings in January

Do not Take cuttings in February

Do not Take cuttings in March

Do not Take cuttings in April

Do not Take cuttings in May

Do Take cuttings in June

Do Take cuttings in July

Do Take cuttings in August

Do not Take cuttings in September

Do not Take cuttings in October

Do not Take cuttings in November

Do not Take cuttings in December

Common elder, Sambucus nigra, is a pretty, native shrub or small tree with tiny white, fragrant flowers in early summer followed by small black fruits. The foliage is also attractive, with green and dark, almost black-leaved varieties available, some with very finely cut and highly ornamental leaves. Elder flowers can be used to infuse syrups, cordial and gin and elder berries can be used to make syrups and wine – they should not be eaten raw as they can cause nausea. Commonly found in country hedgerows, allotments and gardens, elder is a good choice for a mixed border or mixed native hedge, or a wildlife or woodland planting scheme – bees love the blossoms and birds love the fruits.

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How to grow elder

Grow elder in moist but well-drained sun in full sun to full shade. Cut back hard in spring to maintain large leaves and a shrubby habit, or leave to develop into a tree. Mulch annually with well-rotted manure or leaf mould.

More on growing elder:


Where to grow elder

How to grow elder - where to grow elder
How to grow elder – where to grow elder

Elder is tolerant of most soils, but will get off to a good start in moist but well-drained soil. Choose a position in full sun to partial shade.


How to plant elder

Plant young elders in autumn, digging a generous hole and adding mycorrhizal fungi to encourage root growth. Plant bare-root whips and small trees from autumn to spring, providing the soil isn’t frozen.


How to care for elder

How to grow elder - pruning elder stems
How to grow elder – pruning elder stems

If you’re growing elder as a shrub, prune it back annually to maintain its shape. Prune hard – down to a few stumps in the ground – for the best results. New stems bear bigger, better coloured leaves than those left unpruned.

In this video guide, Monty Don explains how much to prune away and where to make the cuts:


How to propagate elder

How to grow elder - taking semi-ripe cuttings
How to grow elder – taking semi-ripe cuttings

Take semi-ripe cuttings in late summer and early autumn, or hardwood cuttings in winter.


Growing elder: problem solving

Elder is a tough, native tree, which rarely suffers from pests or diseases. Some species suffer from black fly on young shoots. These are usually removed by birds and other predators, but you could also use soap sprays to manually remove them.


Great elder varieties to grow

How to grow elder - great elder varieties to grow
How to grow elder – great elder varieties to grow
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  • Sambucus nigra ‘Black Lace’ – good for a long season of interest, with finely cut, almost black foliage, and pink-flushed blooms in summer. In autumn, its leaves turn a rich red.
  • Sambucus nigra ‘Marginata’ – a variegated elder with good year-round interest. Small scented, white flowers appear in spring, followed by black berries in late summer, and the foliage is striking with yellow-margined, dark green leaves.
  • Sambucus nigra ‘Black Beauty’ – a very ornamental cultivar with almost black foliage and sweet, lemon scented, pale pink flowers in early summer.
  • Sambucus nigra ‘Golden Tower’ – this has a more narrow, upright habit, which makes it a good for smaller gardens. The finely cut foliage is a vibrant golden green colour with clusters of white flowers appearing in summer.
  • Sambucus nigra f. porphyrophylla ‘Guincho Purple’ – grows up to 6m high, with stunning foliage that starts out green, turning purple and red through the seasons. Typical elder flowers appear in spring with black fruits following in late summer and autumn.
  • Sambucus racemosa ‘Sutherland Gold’- a medium-sized elder, typical clusters of creamy flowers appear in spring, but this cultivar is prized for its bright, golden yellow, finely cut foliage.