How to Root Elderberry Cuttings
Norm’s Farms carefully creates our elderberry cuttings from 1st and 2nd year wood in the winter after the elderberries have lost all of their leaves and are fully dormant. Each cutting is made in the same way with the slope cut located at the “rooting end” of the cutting and the flat cut at the “leafing end” of the cutting. Each of our cuttings has at least two node pairs as well. These node pairs will produce roots and new elderberry shoots below ground and leaves above.
Norm’s Farms cuttings are shipped between January 1st and March 30th of each year. When you receive your cuttings you’ll need a few supplies to root them, and, if you wish to root them directly in the ground, you’ll need to have prepared a small garden bed to receive them. Elderberries root best in cold to cool weather, and typically take 8 to 10 weeks to develop enough roots to allow them to be transplanted.
To get your cuttings rooted you will need the following supplies:
- Rooting hormone or rooting stimulant, like Rootone, Super Thrive, honey, or willow bark.
- Large pots or a prepared garden bed.
- Soil-less potting medium like coarse sand, regular potting mix, coconut coir, or blends such as a mixture of one part peat and one part Perlite (by volume), or one part peat and one part sand (by volume).
- A spade, if you are planning on starting your cuttings outdoors in the ground.
Elderberry Cuttings are propagated following typical hard wood propagation techniques. When you receive your cuttings the first thing you want to do is soak them in well water or distilled water for 24 hours. Fill a large glass container like a canning jar with the well water or distilled water and place your cuttings in the water, angle side down. Place the jar in a cool location away from direct sunlight and let sit for 24 hours. After the 24 hour soak period it’s time to prepare the cuttings for planting.
Remove the cuttings from the container of well or distilled water, and place them on a paper towel to air dry for a couple of minutes. Empty a small amount of rooting hormone into a clean bowl. Dust the angled end of the cutting with rooting hormone, and tap the cutting against the side of the bowl to remove the excess rooting hormone.
Using Rooting hormone helps prevent fungus and bacteria from infecting your cutting and helps speed the rooting process. Most commercially available rooting hormone products contain a synthetic version of a class of plant hormones called auxins. These synthetic hormones are called IBA or NAA. Due to their synthetic nature, IBA and NAA are not approved for use in certified organic crop production. However, many gardeners and farmers–who lean organic, but choose not to be certified–use IBA and NAA, believing that these chemicals do not negatively affect the quality of their produce. If you want to use only natural products, both honey and willow bark water are reported to work well as a rooting stimulant.
Fill a large container with a soil-less potting mix and using your clean index finger or a pencil, create a hole in the potting mix into which you will insert the cutting. Doing so helps to insure that you won’t knock off too much of the rooting hormone when you plant your cuttings.
Plant up to three cuttings in each large pot by carefully inserting the angled end dusted with rooting hormone into the soil-less potting medium. Be sure to leave the top nodes located near the flat end of the cutting exposed as this is where the new elderberry plant will develop leaves.
Water well until the soil-less medium is soaked through. If you live in a place that experiences mild to moderate winters the best place for your elderberry cuttings is outdoors in a sheltered and shady spot. The shelter and shade will prevent the rooting cuttings from drying out due to too much sun or wind, and the cool winter air provides the best rooting environment possible by encouraging root growth rather than leaf growth. For added insurance, heal the potted cuttings into the surrounding soil.
Folks that live up north where winters can be long and quite cold should either plant their cuttings directly in the ground or place their potted cuttings in an unheated space like a garage and provide the cuttings with a tent to help keep them moist.
If you choose to root your cuttings indoors in an unheated, sheltered and shady spot, be sure to check the pots weekly to ensure that the soil is still moist and water as needed. Keep the pot tented, as shown above, until the cuttings have rooted well. Placing the pot in a tray to collect any water that runs out of the pot is also a good idea.
The best permanent location for an elderberry bush is one that receives at least 6 hours of direct sunlight per day and allows the elderberry to get about 10 feet tall and 6 to 8 feet around. Elderberry is one of those plants that “sleeps, creeps and then leaps”, meaning that it spends most of its first year establishing a good root system, begins to take off on the second year, and then grows vigorously during its third year. You can control the size of your elderberry bush by pruning away the old third year wood and removing any canes that are growing where you don’t want them to be.