What Happens to Elderberry in the Wintertime?
It’s been a cold January on the farm. We’re all wrapped up in extra coats, scarves, and gloves to stay cozy, but how are our elderberry plants holding up? We get so many questions this time of year asking about how to winterize elderberry plants. And the answer is *drumroll please* you don’t have to do anything. Elderberry plants prepare for wintertime entirely on their own. (Isn’t plant science rad?) Let us break it down for ya.
Elderberry Goes Dormant in the Wintertime
Elderberry doesn't mind the winter at all. They’re hardy perennials, meaning they come back on their own every year. An elderberry plant goes dormant in the winter by moving and storing sugars and carbohydrates from its leaves down into its roots, a process called hardening. This helps to nourish the plant through the winter months when sunshine and food is scarce. It’s kind of like when a bear stores food in his den for winter hibernation.
If Plants Didn’t Go Dormant
What a mess it would be if plants did not go dormant. Low temperatures could freeze the water stored in the trunk of the plant, bursting and breaking it from the inside out. But elderberry plants use the shortening daylight and dropping fall temperatures as signals to know when to go dormant in preparation for winter.
What About an Unexpected Freeze?
It’s true that a plant used to weeks of progressively lower temperatures will be much more likely to survive a freeze than that same plant without prior hardening. That’s why sudden, early fall freezes can be so damaging. Knowing your plants natural hardiness, and its state of hardening, will determine how much protection it will require from a frost or freeze. Elderberries are very hardy plants, but if you believe your elderberry plant is too young or not properly prepared for an early frost, try using a frost cloth to help protect it.
Is it Okay to Plant Elderberry in the Fall?
We recommend that first-time elderberry growers plant their American elderberries in the springtime for best results, but this year we planted some of our elderberries in the fall as well. If you time it just right, these plants should have enough time to get settled in before going dormant for the winter.
How to Prune Elderberry Plants in Wintertime
It is important to prune your mature and maturing elderberry plants in late winter while the plants are still dormant. The elderberry plants need to be cut completely down to 18-24 inches off of the ground. The amazing part about elderberry is that you can root and plant the cuttings to create new plants! Check out our blog on How To Make Your Own Elderberry Cuttings and How To Root Elderberry Cuttings for more information. Make sure to prune your elderberry plant every few years to stimulate new growth and get more fruit in the next harvest season.
This winter, don’t worry so much about wrapping your elderberry plants in blankets, hats, and scarves. All on its own, the elderberry plant will get chilly, notice the shorter day, and shut down until spring. Good luck on your elderberry journey!