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College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences



Elderberries have been a medicinal plant and a landscape shrub for quite some time in the Midwest and beyond. Two main types of elderberries in Ohio are American Elderberry (Sambucus Canadensis), and European elderberry (Sambucus nigra).  During the last 20 years, elderberries have been trialed and planted a fruit crop at the University of Missouri. Usage of both fruit and flowers for wine, juice, jelly, colorant, and dietary supplement products was reported to be on the rise (Byers et. al., 2014).

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Figure 1. Elderberry jelly is very tasty. Photo by Dr. Gary Gao, The Ohio State University.

A research project on elderberries was conducted from 2014 to 2016 at OSU South Center in Piketon, Ohio as a part of a Specialty Crop Block Grant from Ohio Department of Agriculture and US Department of Agriculture. Several elderberry plots have been installed and maintained at CFAES South Centers.

Figure 2.  Ripening fruits of ‘Wyldewood’ elderberry at OSU South Centers in Piketon, Ohio. Photo by Gary Gao, The Ohio State University.

Since most of the elderberry cultivars that have done well in the Midwest are American elderberries.  This fact sheet will focus on the American elderberries.  Growers in Ohio are encouraged to try American elderberries first since they have been shown to be more productive.  A small number of European elderberries can still be planted for trial though.

Cultivar Selection

There are quite a few American elderberry cultivars in the commercial trade. ‘Bob Gordon’ and ‘Wyldewood’ are two top cultivars that Patrick Byers of the University of Missouri highly recommends for the Midwest.

Here are Patrick Byers’ comments on common elderberry cultivars:

•  ‘Adams I’ and ‘Adams II’ – from New York, with hardy, small berries

•  ‘Bob Gordon’, ‘Wyldewood’ – adapted to the Midwest, and features abundant crops, medium berries

•  ‘Nova’, ‘Scotia’, ‘Johns’ – from Canada, with hardy, sweet berries

•  ‘York’ – From New York, with hardy, large berries

A few cultivars of elderberries were planted in 2014 at OSU South Centers in Piketon.  The spacing of the planting was 6 feet between plants and 10 feet between rows.    

Table 1. 2015 Yield data of American Elderberries at OSU South Centers in Piketon, Ohio


1st Harvest (lbs/Plant) (8/19/2015)

2nd Harvest  (lbs/Plant) (8/26/2015)

3rd Harvest (lbs/Plant)


4th Harvest (lbs/Plant)


Total Yield Per Plant (lbs)

Total Yield Per Acre (lbs/acre)




































Based on our preliminary data, ‘Adams,’ ‘Johns’ and ‘Wyldewood’ have performed well.  All of the canes were pruned to the ground in March 2015.  Hence, fruits were all from the new shoots.

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Figure 3. Elderberry flowers are white and very showy. Photo by M. Ryan Slaughter, The Ohio State University.

Table 2.  2016 Yield data of American Elderberries at OSU South Centers in Piketon, Ohio   

Harvest Date


Total Wt. (Kg)

Total Wt. (lbs)

 Avg. lbs./plant

Total lbs./ac.*

$ Price/ac. at

$0.50 - $3.50/lb.

Fresh or Frozen







$1,088 - $7,616







$885 - $6,195







$973 - $6,811







$862  - $6,034







$452 - $3,167

Site Selection

Elderberries are found in a wide range of soil conditions.  For maximum yield and highest quality, it will be beneficial to grow elderberries on raised beds to improve soil drainage.  Adjust pH level to 5.5-6.5, phosphorus level to 50 lbs/acre, and potassium level to 200-300 lbs/acre (Byers et al., 2014).  Elderberry plants require full sun.  Since the profit margin for elderberry production is not very high, it is important for growers to keep costs as low as possible.  Effective weed control before planting is one good way to reduce labor and chemical costs.


Elderberry planting rows are typically spaced 10 to 12 feet apart to accommodate machinery for pest management, pruning and fruit harvest.  The plant spacing within each row is typically 4 to 5 feet on center.  Elderberry plants sucker freely and will form a solid hedge within two to three years.

During the year of planting, the flower cymes should be removed to encourage root and plant growth. A light crop is expected during the second year.  A full crop should be expected during the third or fourth year.


Elderberries are relatively easy to propagate.  Hardwood, softwood and root cuttings are all good ways to propagate elderberries.  Growers can collect 2-4 node cuttings of the previous season’s growth when canes are still dormant.  February and March are typically suitable for dormant cane collection. It is critical to collect the cuttings that are free of insect, disease, and cold damage. Cuttings can be rooted immediately in a sterile commercial potting mix.  Hardwood cuttings can be stored in a refrigerator for several weeks for later rooting.  It is not essential to dip the basal end of the cuttings in a rooting hormone. We have tried rooting hardwood cuttings with and without a rooting hormone on a small scale FAES South Centers at Piketon, Ohio. The difference was not significant for us.  However, growers may still want to use a rooting hormone to improve rooting percentage. 

Hardwood cuttings behave like hardwood grape cuttings. Keep cuttings moist and warm. Buds will break first before rooting. Shoots will grow for several weeks while good rooting will take place in about 4 to 6 weeks.

Root cuttings can also be used a way to propagate elderberries. Root cuttings can be dug when ground is not frozen.  Late March or April may be a suitable time. Several plants can be obtained from one root cutting. Softwood cuttings can be another way to propagate elderberry plants.  It is important to keep cuttings moist in an intermittent misting system until cuttings are well rooted.    


Standard fertilizer recommendations are still being developed for elderberries. However, 10 lbs of actual nitrogen per acre broadcast on the soil surface may be sufficient during the year of planting. About 60-80 lbs of nitrogen per acre could be a good starting point for a mature elderberry. Growers should do a soil test for more accurate fertilizer recommendations.    


Elderberries are sensitive to drought stress.  Supplemental irrigation could be needed, especially during the hot and dry summer months. One to two inches of water per week is needed if it does not rain. Mulch could be used and does help conserve water.  However, the mulch used should allow for the growth of new shoots from the roots and the crown.  Hence, landscape fabric may not be a suitable material. Pine bark, wood chops, and straw may be examples of acceptable mulches.      


Since this factsheet mainly deals with American elderberries, cutting all stems to the ground with a lopper or a sickle-bar cutter in March is probably the easiest and most efficient way.  With this approach, elderberry plants will bloom and set fruit on new wood.  Fruits will mature at about the same time to accommodate more efficient harvesting and processing.  In addition, diseases and insects will be better managed.  We have used this pruning method in our trials at CFAES South Centers in Piketon and believe this is a good method.    

It is not recommended to cut all stems of European elderberry cultivars to the ground in March.  No fruit will be produced this way since European elderberry plants produce fruits on stems from the previous year’s growth. 


A variety of elderberry products are created and sold in the U.S.: seeds, cuttings, plants in pots, fresh and frozen elderberries, dried flowers, wine, juice, concentrate, extract, syrup, jelly, jam, food colorants, vinegar, fudge, barbeque sauces, salad dressing, carbonated beverages, cordials, juice blends, yogurt, and pie (Byers et al., 2014).  Growers should work closely with their perspective buyers to determine the optimum harvest parameters. Specific harvest parameters have not been well established for specific products, especially elderberry juice for wines.  Typical elderberry juice characteristics include total soluble solids levels of 11-12°Brix, juice pH of 4.5-5.0, and juice titratable acidity in terms of malic acid of 0.60-0.70 g/100 ml (Byers et al., 2014).

Whole fruit clusters or cymes are typically harvested.  To more easily separate fruits from the fruit stems, fruit cluster/cymes should be frozen first and then passed through a screening device, such as a grape de-stemmer. 

Insects and Diseases

Japanese beetles have been observed as a major pest in our trial plots. Spotted wing drosophila (SWD) has been reported as a problem in Missouri.  SWD will likely become a significant problem in Ohio as it has on other fruit crops.

Figure 4. Japanese beetles feed on the flowers and leaves of elderberries. Photo by Dr. Gary Gao, The Ohio State University.

Very little is known about diseases in elderberries.  A bacterial leaf spot and a rust disease have been reported in Missouri (Byers et al., 2014).  Little information is available on control.

Nuisance Birds

Birds can consume a lot of fruits in an elderberry planting.  A bird netting, though expensive and time consuming to install, is a highly effective way to reduce bird depredation.

Figure 5. Bird netting is needed to keep nuisance birds from devouring the fruits. Photo by Dr. Gary Gao, The Ohio State University.  


Elderberries, especially the American type, can be a good alternative cash crop for farmers in Ohio.  More and more growers in Ohio are growing them and are also finding ways to market them. Potential growers are encouraged to do their homework in identifying buyers before they install a large planting.      

Useful Reference

Byers, P. L., A. L. Thomas, M. A. Gold, M. Cernusca, L. D. Godsey. Growing and Marketing Elderberries in Missouri.  University of Missouri Center for Agroforestry AF1016 – 2014.


The authors would like to thank Ohio Department of Agriculture and U.S. Department of Agriculture for their financial support of our “super fruit” research project at CFAES South Centers through a specialty crop block grant from 2014 to 2016. Our sincere appreciation also goes to Patrick Byers of the University of Missouri for supply cuttings of ‘Bob Gordon’ and ‘Wyldewood,’ and proving expert advice on elderberry production and marketing.