Production Guide

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Elderberry is a perennial fruit woody shrub native to Missouri. The plant produces berries that are processed into juice, jelly, wine and health supplements. In addition, the flowers are used fresh and dried as a flavoring agent and in teas, energy drinks and other products.

Site Selection

Elderberry grows best on soils that are moderately fertile and have adequate surface and internal water drainage. To reduce the risk of damage from spring frost, select sites that are elevated relative to surrounding land. Elderberry requires full sun for optimum production.


Soil test in advance of planting, and adjust the soil pH level to 5.5 to 6.5, phosphorus level to 50 pounds per acre and potassium level to 200 pounds to 300 pounds per acre. Do not apply nitrogen at planting time. A light application – no more than 10 pounds per acre – of nitrogen may be made four weeks to eight weeks after planting. Mature bearing elderberry plantings benefit from 60 pounds to 80 pounds of nitrogen per acre annually, applied as growth begins in late March to early April. Additional nutrients, such as phosphorus and potassium, are applied in later years as indicated by soil or foliar test results.

Variety Selection
Variety Fruit Characteristics Ripening
Bob Gordon (*2011) Produces large clusters of berries on first year shoots, as well as smaller clusters on older shoots. Medium to large berries. Ripens with Adams 2. Tends to have pendulous cymes that resist bird predation.
Wyldewood (*2010) Produces large clusters of berries on first year shoots, as well as smaller clusters on older shoots. This is a large, vigorous, upright shrub. Medium to large berries. Ripens 7 days to 10 days later than Adams 2.
Adams 1 & Adams 2 (*1926) Medium berries, with Adams 2 berries slightly smaller but more productive than Adams 1.
York (*1964) Produces the largest berries among American cultivars. Ripens earlier than Adams 2 in Missouri.
Johns (*1954) Long grown in northeastern U.S. Medium to large berries. Ripens several days earlier than Adams.
Kent (*1957) Medium to large berries. Ripens 7-10 days earlier than Adams 2.
Nova (*1959) Medium to large berries. Berries sweeter than Kent or Victoria. Ripens earlier than Adams 2.
Scotia (*1959) Medium to large berries. Berries sweeter than Kent or Victoria.
Victoria(*1957) Medium to large berries. Ripens 3 days to 6 days earlier than Adams 2.
European elderberry may also offer potential for production.

Form planting rows into “berms,” or raised ridges, prior to planting, or plant on level ground. Establish a non-competitive ground cover in the alleys between rows to facilitate operations in the planting. Planting rows are typically spaced 10 feet to 12 feet apart, and space plants 4 feet apart in the planting row. Plant in spring or fall. Plant dormant plants, bare root one-year-old plants dug from a nursery or recently propagated container-grown plants. Elderberry plantings may also be established by placing unrooted dormant hardwood cuttings directly in the field in early spring; however, rooting and survival can be erratic, and this method of establishment is generally not recommended.

Water Management

Elderberries are not drought tolerant and require 1 inch to 2 inches of water per week for optimum growth and fruit development. Drip or trickle irrigation systems are useful for elderberry.

Weed Control

Control problem perennial weeds such as bermuda grass, Johnson grass, blackberry and poison ivy before planting elderberry. Mulches are helpful in controlling annual weeds in established plantings. Several herbicides are labeled for weed control in elderberry.

  • Preemergence control: dichlobenil and oryzalin
  • Postemergence control: carfentrazone, clethodim, glufosinate, glyphosate, and paraquat
Insects and Diseases

Insect and mite pests of economic significance include eriophyid mites, Japanese beetle, elderberry sawfly and elderberry longhorn beetle. Diseases noted on elderberry include a bacterial leaf spot disease tentatively identified as Pseudomonas viridiflava and an elderberry rust disease identified as Puccinia bolleyana.

Harvest and Storage

Flowering cymes harvested for fresh use or drying are clipped when all flowers are open. Individual flowers are easily removed from the cyme by rubbing over screens. The flowers may then be dried or frozen for future use. Elderberry fruit harvest takes place in late July, August and early September. At present, the elderberry crop is harvested by hand. Entire cymes are clipped and harvested when all berries are fully colored. Harvest plants at weekly intervals. Harvest early in the day for best fruit quality. Yields may range from 2 tons to 4 tons per acre for mature bearing plantings. Harvested fruit is highly perishable; refrigerate at 32°F to 40°F as soon as possible after harvest. Whole cymes may be frozen. Separate individual berries from the stems by hand shattering or placing frozen cymes in a fruit de-stemmer. Berries may be stored frozen for a few months before processing.

Author Information

Patrick Byers
University of Missouri Extension
Page last updated: November 20, 2014