Elderberry is a large deciduous shrub that grows 2.4 to 6 metres (8 to 20 feet) tall with a spread of the same size. The clusters of small white flowers bloom between May and June and are followed by clusters of small black glossy-berries. Common elder, or black elder (Sambucus negra) is native to Europe, north Africa and western Asia. The flowers and fruits of the elderberry attract butterflies, bees, and birds to the garden. Elderberry varieties propagate readily from cuttings of soft immature wood.
Take a softwood cutting from a mature, healthy elderberry shrub between May and July. Select wood that is still green, but beginning to firm up. Test a branch by bending it; if it is green but still snaps cleanly in half, the shrub is producing soft wood suitable for propagation.
Make a cut at a 45-degree angle, 15 to 20 cm (6 to 8 inches) from the tip of the branch just below a leaf node. Dip knives and pruning shears in a disinfectant solution between cuts to prevent spreading disease between trees. Snap off the lower leaves but leave three or four leaves at the top of the cutting.
Fill an 20 to 25 cm (8 to 12 inch) flower pot with a soil-free rooting medium. Only use pots with drainage holes in the bottom. A mix of half sand and half peat moss or half peat and half perlite provide a sterile environment with good drainage.
Roll the bottom 2.5 cm (1 inch) of the elderberry cutting in hormone rooting compound. Press the bottom third to half of the cutting into the centre of the pot and press the rooting mix firmly around the cutting. Soak the pot until water seeps from the drainage holes and wet the leaves.
Drive a 25 cm (10 inch) tall dowel or narrow stick into the soil at the edge of the pot. Place a plastic bag upside down over the pot and fasten it around the lip of the pot to give the elderberry cutting a humid environment.
Remove the plastic bag every three to five days and mist the leaves and the inside of the bag with water. Feel the top of the potting medium; when it is dry and crumbly add water to moisten the medium.
Place the pot in an area that gets indirect sunlight. A room or greenhouse where the temperature remains between 18 and 29 degrees C (65F to 85F) is ideal.
In the third or fourth week, when removing the plastic bag to water, give the elderberry cutting a very gentle tug to test the rooting progress. When the cutting feels firm in the soil, the roots are beginning to form.
Keep the cutting indoors in a greenhouse or inside for the first autumn and winter. In the spring, when the last frost has passed, transplant the elderberry cutting outdoors in an area that gets full sun or partial shade. Elderberries can also be grown in pots indoors or on a deck or patio.
Wrap the elderberry cutting in a damp paper towel and place it in a cool, dark place for up to 12 hours if immediate rooting is not convenient.
Tips and warnings
- Wrap the elderberry cutting in a damp paper towel and place it in a cool, dark place for up to 12 hours if immediate rooting is not convenient.