Growing elderberries is surprisingly easy. Yes, you can buy rooted, potted plants, but they’re incredibly expensive. And yes, you can forage elderflowers and elderberries each year – and, if you don’t already have established elderberry trees I highly recommend you do forage if you do have elders in your area. But when you forage, you’re competing with other foragers, you have to get permission if the trees are on someone else’s property, and you have to travel to the site. So, by far the easiest way to get elderberries without buying them is propagating elderberry cuttings yourself.
Elderberry propagation just requires you to take a few hardwood cuttings in late fall up to mid-winter, a little rooting compound, and some quality growing medium.
How and Where to Get Elderberry Cuttings
You’ve got a couple of options when it comes to getting elderberry cuttings. You can buy them, or you can cut your own. If you choose to buy your cuttings (this is much cheaper than buying rooted plants), make sure you order from a reputable supplier. And make sure you’re either ordering European black elder, (Sambucus niger), or American black elder (Sambucus canadensis).
If you’re taking your own cuttings, there are just a few steps to follow.
- Make sure you have permission from the landowner, if applicable.
- Please don’t take too many cuttings from any one tree. Only take a handful from each one. Remember, each elder feeds birds and wildlife, provides nesting space, helps combat soil erosion, and more, so don’t take so many cuttings in one year that you damage or weaken the tree.
- Wait until late fall or even into mid-winter, when the elders are dormant.
- Take health cuttings free of scars, pests, and diseases. Each cutting should be roughly 8 inches long and have at least 4 buds.
- Take a sharp, strong knife and make a clean, slanted cut at the bottom or “root” end, so you know which end is which. You can also look at the buds and make sure they are facing upward.
- Trim the top end with a clean, straight cut.
PRO TIP: If you have a long, healthy branch, you can make multiple cuttings.
How to Start Elderberry Cuttings
Elderberry propagation is pretty easy, you just have to get your cuttings off to the right start. Whether you buy the cuttings online or take your own, the process for starting them is the same. Put your cuttings into about 2 inches of water for 24 hours, root end down. Soaking them in fresh water rehydrates the cuttings, allowing them to take up plenty of water to help fuel them for the next stage of growth. If you’re using willow water as a DIY rooting hormone, soak the cuttings in the willow water instead.
How to Root Elderberry Cuttings
Now they’ve soaked, you need to coat the tips in rooting hormone. Technically, you don’t have to, but your elderberry cuttings will root faster, more vigorously, and with more success if you do. You can use a commercial rooting hormone, but I personally don’t. I don’t like the idea of using synthetic hormones or chemicals that I’m then going to put in my soil, and will potentially eat traces of. Particularly not when there’s a cheaper (or free), and better natural alternative.
The free version involves making water. You can find out how to make willow water here. However, if you don’t have willow water to-hand, for this tutorial on how to root elderberry cuttings, I strongly recommend using willow bark powder as rooting hormone. Yes, that’s right – white willow bark powder, that natural pain relief remedy! We use these capsules from BulkSupplements and use the powder in them as necessary. We can then also use the capsules as pain relief.
- Prepare a tray of large cells or small pots, filling them with a high-quality potting medium, such as rich potting soil or coco coir, slightly moistened.
- Take the wet “root” end of the cutting and dip it in the white willow bark powder coating it about an inch. If you’re using willow water, soak the root ends of the cuttings in the willow water for around eight hours. Or, as mentioned above, soak the cuttings in the willow water for 24 hours instead of rehydrating in regular water.
- Use your finger to make a hole in each pot. You use your finger instead of a cutting so that the rooting powder doesn’t get wiped off as the elderberry cutting drives through the potting material.
- Place one prepared elderberry cutting in the hole, “root” end down, and gently tamp the soil down around each.
Why Use Willow for Rooting Elderberry?
All plants and trees have a small amount of naturally occurring rooting hormone, but willow has a lot. This high concentration of natural rooting hormone makes willow the perfect choice for a natural alternative to synthetic commercial products.
How to Care for Elderberry Cuttings
Now you’ve mastered planting elderberry cuttings, you have to care for them while they form roots and start to grow. You need to keep the seedlings reasonably cool to encourage root formation. Around 40°F (5°C) is ideal. If they get too cold they’ll go dormant or die. Much warmer, or in direct sunlight, and the cuttings will put all their energy into producing top growth, and only growing shallow, weak roots. If you have mild winters with no strong winds and only a few mild frosts, you can probably keep your elderberry cutting in a sheltered spot outdoors. This year I’m keeping mine in a lightweight outdoor grow house. A moist, semi-dark, cool basement works too.
Water and Wait
Growing elderberries from cuttings requires patience. You need to keep the soil moist but don’t drench it. If you over-water the cuttings, they’ll die. It’ll take 8-10 weeks for the elderberry cuttings to develop roots and start to produce a little top growth from their buds.
How to Plant Elderberry Cuttings
Now your cuttings are showing signs of life, transplant them into roomier, individual pots and keep them cool and moist. In early spring (or a little later in colder climates). plant the little elderberry saplings in their final outdoor location.
If you’re worried about an extra cold snap or wind damage, protect the young plants with fleece or a windbreak of some kind until they’re more established.
As you can see, it really is easy to grow elderberries from cuttings with a little simple preparation. Your own seasonal supply of elderflowers and elderberries is so important if you want to move toward self-reliance and have access to your own herbal remedies. Elderberries are packed full of beneficial compounds and have been used for thousands of years in a variety of remedies. If you want to know how to use your elderberries, check out my super-charged elderberry syrup recipe.
How long does it take elderberry cuttings to root?
In my experience, it usually takes 8-10 weeks for elderberry cuttings to root. However, it can take longer, depending on the temperature and conditions you keep them in. The rooting hormone choose can also impact how quickly the elderberry cuttings take root.
How long does it take for elderberry cuttings to produce fruit?
Around two years. Elderberries, if you get them off to a good start, grow vigorously. In the first year, your young elder saplings will produce lots of elderflowers. But don't let them turn into berries! Harvest the flowers and make syrup for immune-boosting goodness, make elderflower cordial or elderflower lemonade. Preventing berry growth in the first year encourages the elders to put all of their energy into root growth, so they develop strong extensive root systems.
How many elderberry trees/plants do I need?
How many elders you need depends on how many elderflowers you want to harvest. On average, after the third year, you should be able to harvest around 5lbs of berries per plant. That's assuming that you haven't harvested too many flowers.