Norm's Farms is an industry leader for growing elderberries in North America. This is a title we are proud to hold, and it's something we take very seriously. We often get emails and calls from customers and DIY elderberry enthusiasts asking about elderberry farming, so we decided to put together a short Q&A on the topic. Here are the answers to our most frequently asked farming questions, straight from the mouths of our lead elderberry farmers.
Q. Should I grow elderberries from seeds or cuttings?
A. Growing elderberry from cuttings is the most effective way, and it ensures you get the same plant variety since harvesting cuttings is the natural act of cloning the parent plant. Common elderberry seeds require scarification and (or) stratification of good germination during the first year after collection. It's more work, and it doesn't guarantee the qualities you might be looking for in an elderberry bush.
Check out our blog How To Root Elderberry Cuttings to see if rooting your own cuttings is the challenge you have been waiting for. If you are still working on your green thumb, our rooted elderberry plants may be a good option for you. These plants already have roots and are ready to be planted outdoors.
Q. What variety of elderberry should I grow in my state?
A. We sell York & Bob Gordon plants because these varieties are hardy and produce big, quality elderberries. Bob Gordon has a hardiness for zones 4-8, while York does well in zones 3-9. The best way to find out if a specific variety of elderberry will do well in your area is to reach out to your local extension office. They will offer the best, most up-to-date knowledge about farming elderberries locally.
Q. How long will it take to harvest berries after planting?
A. Elderberry is an investment crop. It takes three years to reach your first harvest, and five years to reach plant maturity/max harvest potential. While you wait for your first chance to make your own DIY supplements, check out our Original Elderberry Extract. It's made with American elderberries straight off our farms, harvested at peak season, and crafted with the utmost care for the highest natural potency.
Q, How do you keep wildlife out of the berries?
A. This a question we get all of the time. Honestly, we haven't had many problems with wildlife eating tons of berries. Our theory is we have so many other options for the deer and birds to eat in our area, they are just not interested in our elderberry fields. If you're just getting started growing elderberry and are having trouble with deer, it's best to put a deer fence around them. This will protect starter plants from being chewed on or trampled on. Growing a more appealing "sacrifice plant" nearby could also deter deer. Draping netting over your berry bushes and small fruit trees is a good option too as it helps prevent birds from getting at the vast majority of your harvest.
Q.Can I pick the flowers and the berries?
No, unfortunately, you have to pick between harvesting elderflower or elderberries each season. We use wildcrafted elderflowers in our Elderflower Simple Syrups, but once the elderflowers are picked from the plant, there won't be an elderberry harvest.
Q. I live in an apartment. Can I grow the plants in a pot?
A. Yes! You can grow elderberries in a pot, especially when they are young. However, elderberries are unlikely to fully mature or produce a strong harvest in a pot, so if you have space it's best to plant them in the ground outside. Elderberry could make a great decorative addition to your apartment patio though!
Q. How much should I water the plants?
A. This depends on if you have a young or a mature plant. If you have a young plant they need less water overall, but they need to be watered more frequently. The soil needs to remain wet for root development, but you don't want to drown them. If you have a mature plant, they will need 3-5 gallons of water a week per plant.
Q. How much sun does an elderberry plant need?
A. Elderberry does best in full sun. If you do not have the conditions to give the elderberry full sun, they need at least half a day in the sun.
Q. How far should you space elderberry plants?
A. We allow for a distance of 4 feet between each elderberry plant because their roots expand outward. Eventually, shoots will sprout up from the roots and fill the space between each original plant, creating a seamless row of elderberry. This makes growing elderberries easier and cost-effective.
Q. Should I prune my plants?
A. We've found that it's best to cut the plants down to 18 inches every two years. You will need to cut the plants in the fall when they're dormant when it's cold outside and your plants no longer have foliage. It can seriously harm the plants production to cut them before they go dormant. Regular pruning is necessary as it allows for new growth and prevents disease. Even after pruning, you will get a harvest the next summer.
Q. Can I plant my berries on the woodland edge?
A. Yes, you can plant elderberries on the woodland edges. However, deer could be a potential threat to your elderberry plants in this location.
Q. Do you have to plant multiple varieties in the same area?
A. You don't have to plant multiple varieties in one field to get elderberries, but planting multiple varieties helps with pollination. We sell Bob Gordon and York cuttings once a year and Bob Gordon and York plants once a year for those interested in starting their elderberry journey.
We hope this answers some of your basic questions about growing elderberries. If you ever have additional questions about growing elderberries, email firstname.lastname@example.org and we will be happy to help. As we grow and learn more about the American Elderberry we will continue to educate home growers like you on best practices. Happy growing.