Planting Elderberry

As many of you might already know, I had been searching high and low for an elderberry plant to purchase and have shipped to California (because many will not ship to California for some reason), with not a lot of success. With the help of the Let This Mind Be in You Facebook community, I was able to find a vendor that would ship elderberry plants to me, but with an extra charge of $15 just to let it into the state. A couple of friends and I had planned to order together, but we all decided to try something different before sinking money into plants none of us were confident would acclimate properly to our area. I was also informed through further research that I would need to raise more than one of these plants to be able to successfully get a harvest, which would be more of a gamble. The more I researched, the more I realized that I really didn’t know what I was doing, and thought I’d better start smaller in order to gain my confidence in raising elderberry. One of my aforementioned friends and I decided to purchase some elderberry seeds and try our hand at growing them on our own. My feeling is that if I can get them to germinate, they will automatically be acclimated to our climate, as well as the microclimate of my yard.

In order to be able to germinate the seeds, there is some prep to do before you plant them.

For the seeds that I bought, the instructions are to soak the seeds overnight in cool water before planting.

Before I planted them, I checked the pH level that elderberry plants tend to prefer, and it falls between 5.5 and 6.5, but will tolerate a wide range of acidity, soil texture and fertility. Because elderberries do not do well (germination-wise) in sterile soil, it is recommended to plant outdoors in a shady, moist are of your yard. Because of our western alkaline soil, however, I opted to plant them in containers instead of right into the ground. The soil in our yard tends to range between 7.0-7.5 pH, so I needed to prepare a soil that was closer to the proper pH range. To do that, I mixed 1 part homemade compost to 1 part peat moss, making enough of the mixture to fill 6 10-12” pots.

I added an unmeasured couple of handfuls of azalea food and sulfur (maybe about 4 Tbsp each); the point was to put enough in to bring down the pH to an acceptable level, so I didn’t worry too much about putting just the right amount. Having said that, I would recommend that you study and get to know the products that you are using and follow the instructions on the package for best results. My pH meter wasn’t working well, so I ran a quick soil test of the soil, which yielded the results that my soil mixture was somewhere around 6.0—good enough to proceed.

I filled all 6 of my pots with my soil mixture and brought them to my workspace for planting. With my fingertip, I made 4 shallow indents into the soil in each pot.

I then put two seeds in each small indent and lightly covered them up.

After that, I found a shady place with moist soil underneath. The reason I did this is because I wanted to keep it in a place that would provide as close to the desired conditions as possible, even though they are planted in pots.

Now that they are all planted, I will water them frequently, careful to keep the soil moist until they sprout–but you will need to wait a while for this to happen, it could take months! I will keep you posted!

To read more about planting, growing, and caring for elderberries, click here:
eHow, How to Grow and Elderberry Tree from Seeds
Horizon Herbs, Elderberry, Black (you can view info on the seeds I used and purchase from here)
Cornell University, Elderberries (sambucus, spp.)

Have you successfully grown elderberry from seed? I’d love to hear about it!
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  1. says

    Hi Cape Rose! Sure—I got mine from The second link toward the end of the post will lead you to a page where you can view info on the very seeds I used, and you can purchase them right from that page.

    Hope that helps, and thanks for stopping by! :)

  2. says

    I’m a little sad after reading this post, simply because I was under the impression that elderberry liked it where I live, but it sounds like it prefers more acidic soils. Our blueberries have struggled so much, even with helps, that I’m hesitant to try something else with similar needs. Thank you for posting this because it brought some important things to my attention!

    With love,
    -Laura at TenThingsFarm

    • says

      Well, it’s not AS bad as blueberry, Laura, so you might still be ok. While blueberry wants 4.5-5.5 pH, elderberries like 5.5-6.5 pH, and will tolerate imperfect conditions as well. Matter of fact, I’m way more west than you are (which seems to mean more alkaline soil), and elderberries were actually a regularly relied-upon crop by the Cahuilla Indians, which are native to the county I live in. I chose to plant mine in pots and settled with ‘imperfect’ conditions, in hopes that my elderberry seeds would be kind to me. :) I’ll try to keep their progress updated on the blog, and if I end up getting a plant, perhaps I could send you some cuttings! :)

    • says

      Hi Hannah! Thanks for stopping by and for the invite! I’m sorry I didn’t make it this time around–I’ve been sick this week, but I will try to make it next time. Saving the link now!

  3. says

    You are going to laugh I had a couple of eldeberberry bushes or shrubs and didn’t even know it how embarrassing but thats how it goes when you are learning and I constantly realize I am a work in progress. We had so many I was able to share one with a good friend of mine. We have very high acid soil here near the ocean so I guess they grow easy here. Thank you so much for linking this post up to “The Ole’ Saturday Homesteading Trading Post” blog hop this week!

    • says

      I don’t think it’s embarrassing, Karen Lynn! Sometimes when things are native to our area, we just don’t notice them until someone points them out. Lucky you! Thanks for stopping by, and for the bog hop. It was fun!

  4. says

    Hi Kristi,
    Elderberries are something I would like to add to our small fruits. I haven’t attempted planting them from seed, but I could get all the seed I need for free from my Dad! Thanks for sharing your talent on Wildcrafting Wednesday!

    I hope to see you again this Wednesday at:…nky-love-party.html
    Spoiler alert: I’m unveiling a cool new promotional tool tomorrow on The Self Sufficient HomeAcre at:

    • says

      Lisa Lynn, you might be better off taking a cutting from your dad’s elderberry tree–propagating is much quicker thank planting from seed!

      Thanks for stopping by!

  5. says

    The first elderberry bush that I put in was probably four years ago–If my memory is correct, it is a wild elderberry shrub from Pinetree Garden Seeds. It has done well in a clay-like soil that i enriched with peat.
    As far as i can tell they would ship to California. Their phone# is: 207-926-3400. Their website is:

    Last year i put in two cultivated elderberry bushes from Jungs’ nursery. Growth was slow last summer and we had a drought. The jury is still out on these two.

    • says

      Thanks for sharing that Carol! We have clay soil here. I ended up getting my seeds from Horizon Herbs and planted 48 of those. I see that the site you shared doesn’t say anything about extra charges for shipping to Cali, so I’ll keep them in mind just in case my seeds don’t sprout. Thanks!

    • says

      Nope, Nora, not yet. They probably won’t for a while. Horizon Herbs (where I got the seed) says they won’t germinate until spring, so I’m thinking they should germinate by June, I hope. Other sites say it could take 4-6 months for germination, and two years before you have a mature, productive plant.

  6. says

    Where your seeds successful? I’ve bought (twig) cuttings with no luck and recently mail ordered a small plant which is still small one year later. I’m very curious how your seed experiment went!!

  7. says

    I bought a small tree which grew in leaps and bounds. The birds ate the berries before they ever matured. Next year, I am going to have to cover the plant right when it flowers!

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