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Growing an Elderberry Plant from a Cutting

If you are thinking of growing an elderberry plant from a cutting let me explain how simple it is. When these tips are followed even the worst gardener will have success.  Here are 3 methods of encouraging your elderberry cutting to become a well rooted elderberry plant.

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elderberry cutting started in water

Elderberry Cutting in Water - Place the hardwood elderberry cutting into an individual container with water submerging only the bottom part of the cutting, place in sunny warm indoor location.  Take care that the water remains at 50 degrees or warmer, cold water will inhibit root development.Water will sometimes get chilled if placed to near a cold window. When roots have developed transition them to soil pots. After they have adapted to this and if the last average frost date has passed, and the soil is warmed,  transplant to their permanent home outside. Some may prefer water rooting because the root growth (or non growth) is easily visible. However roots developed in water are very fragile. The water must be changed occasionally, disturbing and possibly damaging these fragile roots. They can be transplant directly to permanent home from water but expect lower survival percentage. Transition from water to soil can be very stressful with mortality rates. ‘Water roots’ are not the same as ‘soil roots’ and the plant will need to develop soil roots upon moving.

elderberry cuttings in pot starting indoors for spring planting




Elderberry Hardwood Cutting in Pots


Place each hardwood elderberry cutting into a 4 inch pot with moistened potting soil. or one big tub as I did here.  Place in an indoor sunny warm location. Take care that soil is 50 degrees as cold soil will inhibit root development. When roots have developed, last average frost date has passed, and the outside soil is warmed,  harden off and transplant elderberry plant to permanent home. The survival rate of this method is good. Minimal transplant stress as long as pot dirt is moved intact. Must evaluate and meet water requirements regularly. Monitoring soil heat is important to increase survival rate. Do not place pot in window sill and not check soil temperature. 


elderberry cutting planted directly into groundElderberry Hardwood Cutting Directly into Permanent Home.

There are two variations to this method, winter planting and spring planting.

1)Planting in winter the cutting is placed in its permanent home as soon as it is acquired. The cutting should not have been warmed so that the cutting is still ‘sleeping’ in dormancy. Dig a small hole where you want the elderberry to grow and water to set soil. When temperatures outside begin to warm make sure soil nearest cutting never drys out. This method allows mother nature and the weather to ‘wake’ the stick from dormancy when the conditions become right for it to grow.

2) Spring outdoor planting requires that you mimic winter until the weather is right to plant outside. You can do this by keeping bottoms of cuttings in moist soil in refrigerator. Many growers ship with cutting bottoms in closed bags of moist soil. If this is the case you will only need to spritz the soil occasionally. When temperatures outside have warmed and soil is 50 degrees dig a small hole where you want elderberry plants to be, place cutting in hole with bottom nodes 2-3 inches below soil level line and water in.  It is very important to monitor watering needs in a direct planting as the roots will be so tiny that they can’t reach out for more water. Consider placing a mulch over base of stick to help retain moisture for roots. Cuttings done in direct method planting are never subjected to stress of transplanting. Growth rate will be behind indoor starting methods (but will even out long before berry time.) This method has the least amount of effort and time for results that you will get. Even with an average survival rate you may end up with a few empty spots in a row or a planting area. A prevention for holes in your row would be to start 2-3 cuttings indoors at the same time you plant outdoors with spring planting or winter planting. When you can tell an outdoor plant in your row is not going to make it, replace it with one of your indoor starters. If they all survive plant indoor starters at the end of your row.

Plant Spacing

My acre plant spacing is four feet between plants and 10 feet between each row. The four feet between plants has worked out fine. The ten feet could be improved. In hindsight I would allow 15 feet between rows. In the beginning years the ten feet spacing was more than wide enough to allow tractor passage for our 5 foot wide tractor between the rows. After the third year the the growth of the elderberry plants made the tractor no longer an option. In the years that I do not prune the elderberry plants to the ground the sides of all elderberry plants must be trimmed back to even allow for mower passage. If the rows had been 15 feet apart it would not necessitate forced side trimming for mower passage, 15 feet row spacing during the dormant times would allow tractor passage. Being able to drive the tractor down the rows during the dormant season would help in removal of dead branches.  

Elderberry cuttings are typically sold between January and March. 



Elderberry plants from cuttings Cut your own or buy elderberry cuttings from Elderberry Edge Farm

Elderberry Cuttings DIY

Elderberry cuttings should be taken when plants are dormant. Many growers set the date of January 1st as the day to begin taking cuttings, and selling may begin shortly after that and last until spring. Cuttings can be started in a warm greenhouse or indoors in late winter and set out in spring. Alternatively cuttings can be held under refrigeration until spring when the cuttings are then placed directly into the ground. If you know someone with a great elderberry bush already and would like to take some cuttings from their stock, or you frequently harvest from a specific wild bush that you would like a bit more accessible, taking a cutting from it is like taking a replica of that plant and putting it at your back doorstep.

How to take your own elderberry cuttings

  1. Always take cuttings from a known cultivar type or if wild, an elderberry plant that is a good producer with uniform ripening.
  2. Wait until the plant is dormant, January thru bud break is best, if potted up to early your cutting will become rootbound in its pot waiting for spring.
  3. Look for a branch about pencil size in diameter and find a set of nodules. [two opposing bumps]
  4. Make your first cut about ½ inch below the bottom set of nodules and at a diagonal, this will let you know later which end is down. It may be obvious to you now, but not so much later.
  5. Going up from the first set of nodules find the next set and make a straight cut about ½ inch above that.

Cuttings larger than pencil size usually do quite well, cuttings below pencil size tend to have a much lower survival rate. If you are not planting immediately place the cuttings in plastic baggie with moist soil covering the bottom nodules and place in a cold place. You need to simulate winter conditions so that the cutting does not sprout until you are ready.



   Not looking to take your own but buy some already cut? Check out my Farm Store if they are in season I will have some.