Rooting Elderberry Cuttings: How To Propagate Elderberry Cuttings

By: Amy Grant

Elderberries (Sambucus canadensis) are native to parts of North America and are seen as a harbinger of spring. The delicious berries are made into preserves, pies, juices and syrup. Elderberries are woody plants, thus starting elderberry from cuttings is a simple and common method of elderberry propagation. How to propagate elderberry cuttings and when is the best time to take elderberry cuttings? Read on to learn more.

When to Take Elderberry Cuttings

Elderberry propagation via cuttings should be softwood cuttings. These are the best for propagating elderberries due to the new growth that is just at the cusp of maturity.

Take your softwood cuttings in early spring when the plant is just breaking dormancy. Cuttings form new roots from leaf nodes on the stem and, voila, you have a new elderberry plant that is a clone of the parent.

How to Propagate Elderberry Cuttings

Elderberries are suited to USDA plant hardiness zones 3-8. Once your soil has been prepared, it’s time to plant the cuttings. You can take a soft cutting from a neighbor or relative or order them through an online nursery. While cross pollination is not necessary to set fruit, blossoms that are cross pollinated tend to produce larger fruit, so ideally, you should select two cultivars and plant them within 60 feet (18 m.) of each other.

If you are cutting your own, select a soft, springy branch that is just beginning to harden up and turn from green to brown. Cut the branch into 4- to 6-inch (10-15 cm.) long segments; you should get multiple cuttings from one branch. Pinch off all the leaves from the lower two-thirds of the cutting. Be sure to leave at least one set of leaves at the top.

Rooting elderberry cuttings may begin either in water or a soil mix.

  • You can place the trimming cut side down in a jar filled with water, submerging halfway. Put the jar in a sunny area for six to eight weeks, changing the water every so often. Mist the cutting every few days. Roots should begin to form by week eight. They will be more fragile than those begun in soil, so wait until they look sturdy before transplanting them into the garden.
  • If using the soil method for rooting your cutting, soak the cuttings in water for 12-24 hours. Then combine one part peat moss to one part sand and combine it with water until the soil is damp and crumbly, not sodden. Fill a 2- to 4-inch (5-10 cm.) container with the mix and stick the bottom third of the cutting into the medium. Secure a clear plastic bag over the pot with twist ties or a rubber band to create a mini greenhouse. Place the cutting in an area of bright but indirect light. Mist the cutting every few days as the soil dries out, and then replace the bag. After six weeks, the elderberry cutting should have roots. A gentle tug should meet with resistance, which will let you know it’s time to transplant.

Before rooting your elderberry cuttings, select a site and prepare the soil. Elderberries like a sunny to partially shaded area with fertile soil, amended with plenty of organic matter. The soil should also be well-draining. A soil test available through your local extension office will clue you into any amendments the soil needs before starting elderberry from cuttings. You may need to incorporate additional phosphorus or potassium before planting.

Now just dig a hole and bury the cutting with the base of the stem level with the soil line. Space multiple elderberries out by 6-10 feet (2-3 m.) to allow for a 6- to 8-foot (2-2.5 m.) spread by each plant.

By summer, you should have elderberry blossoms which can be used to make syrup, tea or lemonade. By the next summer, you should have an abundance of antioxidant rich, juicy berries high in Vitamin C and iron to make into preserves, pies, wine, and syrup.

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Read more about Elderberries

Ultimate Guide to Growing Elderberry in Your Home Garden

Last Updated on March 25, 2021

Interested in growing elderberries and elderflowers in your garden? This comprehensive guide to growing elderberry contains everything you need to know about how to grow elderberry in your own backyard, including elderberry growing conditions, elderberry propagation methods, pruning elderberry, elderberry plant care, and elderberry companion plants.

This might be one of the most detailed guides to growing elderberry you’ll find. Read on to learn a lot about how to grow elderberries!

How to Grow Elderberries from Cuttings

If you’re taking your own cuttings, do it when the plants are dormant for the winter. Make a slanted cut on the “root” side of the cutting so that you plant them in the correct direction. If you forget, you can still look at the buds on the stick and see which direction they’re pointing before planting, but making a slanted cut during harvest save a lot of time on the potting bench.

Elderberry cuttings should be about 6 to 8 inches long and include at least 4 buds.

Whether you’ve ordered elderberry cuttings online or cut them fresh from existing plants, the process is the same once they’re in hand. Start by soaking the cuttings in water for 24 hours to thoroughly rehydrate them. Then prepare a tray of pots with moistened potting soil.

Since the elderberry cuttings have been soaking in water, the “root” end will be wet which is perfect for dipping into a rooting hormone. I’m using a commercial rooting hormone powder, which is dependable and effective. It’s a synthetic version of the same hormone plants produce naturally.

You can also use willow water as a rooting hormone. Willows have a lot of natural rooting hormone, and soaking a few willow twigs in water helps to extract it for use with other plants. I imagine willow bark powder would also work as a natural alternative.

Dip the slant cut “root” end in the rooting hormone, covering the cutting about an inch up the sides.

Dipping elderberry cuttings in rooting hormone before planting. As you can see, the direction of the bud shows which way is “up” even without the slant cut at the bottom.

To plant, make a hole in the potting medium with your finger first. The whole is so the powder doesn’t get knocked off the elderberry cutting during planting, so don’t just slide the cutting into the soil. Then push the soil back around the cutting and tamp down.

You can reasonably plant 3-4 cuttings in a 5 to 6” pot. They’ll need to be transplanted to their own pot later in the spring, but this saves on space early on when not all the cuttings will survive.

Once the elderberries are planted, it’s important to keep them cool (but not cold) to encourage root formation. The ideal is about 40 degrees F, out of direct sunlight and wind. Direct sunlight and warm temps encourage quick top growth, at the expense of good roots.

If you live somewhere with a mild winter, a sheltered outdoor location would work well. In our case, I think the high this week is a whopping 3 degrees, with high winds. We won’t see consistent 40-degree temps until April at least. My elderberry cuttings are going into the basement, which is about 50 degrees, but moist and semi-dark.

Keep the soil moist but not soggy and wait. Solid roots and new shoots should be present after 8 to 10 weeks. At that point, the elderberry cuttings (or tiny plants) can be potted up individually or planted out in the garden in spring.

When planting elderberries, be sure to give them plenty of space. They’ll stay small for the first few years, but mature plants can be 8 to 10 feet tall…

Taking elder cuttings must be done while the bush is dormant, usually January through March depending where you live. Use pruning shears to cut about a 20 cm (8”) section of elderberry cane, and each section must include three sets of buds. Be sure to cut slanted to improve the canes ability to draw up moisture.

Once cut, they can be placed in ozonated water. Never use tap water.

Optimum conditions are keeping them at approximately 4 degrees Celsius (40 degrees F) for spring planting however this is not easily done for many. Alternatively, keep your cuttings in the coolest part of your home where there is some daylight.

If keeping your cuttings in water, change the water every two weeks or so until roots appear then place in a large pot with suitable soil.

How to Propagate Sambucus Nigra

Sambucus Nigra is a large shrub with foliage in shades of dark, vivid purple and white blooms that appear in mid-summer. In late summer, Sambucus Nigra produces large clusters of dark blackish-purple berries that are more familiarly known as elderberries. The shrubs make lovely ornamental hedges and windscreens and the berries have been favored for years in teas, wines, jams, jellies and pies. Sambucus Nigra is easily propagated from softwood cuttings in early summer.

Cut several 4 to 6 inch tips from the stem of a healthy elderberry bush using a sharp knife or pruning shears. If the stem is ready to cut, it will break with a snap when it's bent. If the stem bends without breaking, it's too young. If the stem is so thick that it won't bend, it's too old.

  • Sambucus Nigra is a large shrub with foliage in shades of dark, vivid purple and white blooms that appear in mid-summer.
  • If the stem is ready to cut, it will break with a snap when it's bent.

Keep the stem cuttings cool and moist while you're working. Put the stem cuttings in a container with damp paper towels and keep them in the shade until you're ready to plant.

Fill a large plastic or clay pot with a mixture of half commercial potting mixture and half coarse sand. A two pound coffee can will work if you drill drainage holes in the bottom. Dampen the potting mixture with a spray bottle until it's damp clear through.

Strip the leaves from the bottom half of each stem cutting. Dip the cut ends in rooting hormone and plant the stem cuttings in the potting mixture with the bare stems in the soil and the leaves above the soil. Several stem cuttings can be planted in the same container as long as the stems aren't touching. Cutting off the tips of the leaves will allow more cuttings to be planted in the container and the smaller leaves will require less moisture.

  • Keep the stem cuttings cool and moist while you're working.
  • Put the stem cuttings in a container with damp paper towels and keep them in the shade until you're ready to plant.

Put the container in a large, clear plastic bag. If necessary, keep the plastic from dropping on the cuttings by installing a few stakes or a piece of bent coat hanger.

Keep the container in a warm room with bright light, but don't put the cuttings in bright afternoon sunlight or in a sunny window. Check the container every day, and if the soil is dry, open the plastic and mist inside until the soil is damp. It's crucial to keep the atmosphere humid, but don't overwater, as too much water will cause the cuttings to rot.

Check on the elderberry cuttings in about a month. If the cuttings are rooted, you'll feel resistance when you tug lightly on a cutting. If they aren't rooted, keep checking them every few days.

  • Put the container in a large, clear plastic bag.
  • If the cuttings are rooted, you'll feel resistance when you tug lightly on a cutting.

Remove the plastic when the elderberry cuttings have taken root and continue to keep the potting mixture damp. After about 10 days to two weeks, move each cutting into its own 4-inch pot filled with commercial potting soil.

Plant the elderberry bushes outdoors in autumn. The young bushes will have a better chance of survival if you plant them in a sheltered spot where they will be protected from cold and wind. Leave them there for at least a year before moving the bushes to their permanent location.

To root elderberry cuttings, you need to start by getting your hands on some good dormant cuttings. You can take your own cuttings if you have an established bush available to you, or purchase them online.

Taking your own cuttings

If you’re fortunate enough to have access to a good elderberry bush (and permission to cut from it, if it’s not your own), you can take your own cuttings for rooting. Cuttings should be taken in the winter, when the plant is dormant. It’s ideal for the cutting to come from robust first or second year canes.

Using sharp shears, make your cut at an angle, slightly below a pair of leaf nodes. Around those leaf nodes is where the roots will start to emerge, so you don’t want to make your cut too close. You want two sets of leaf nodes on each cutting – one will be below the soil to allow for root development, and the other set will be above the soil for leaf development. Follow up the branch that you’ve just cut, and make another cut about an inch above the next set of leaf nodes – this time flat across. If your branch is long, you may be able to get a few cuttings out of just one branch.

If you’re not able to start rooting your cuttings right away, put them in a sealed plastic bag in the fridge until you’re able to work with them.

Ordering cuttings from a nursery or grower

If you’re not able to take your own cuttings, or you’d like to add a variety to your collection that’s not available locally, you can very affordably order cuttings online. Here are a few places that offer elderberry cuttings of various varieties.

I ordered my elderberry cuttings from Norm’s Farms this year, and I just couldn’t be more pleased. The shipping was almost unbelievably fast, and they very generously included extras of each variety I ordered. The cuttings were clearly from young, robust wood, and had lively-looking leaf nodes just clearly full of vigor.

These folks offer a bundle of 10 cuttings of a variety of cultivars for $20, making it an incredibly inexpensive way to get a large patch of elderberry bushes started.

River Hills Harvest offers 4 excellent varieties at very affordable prices, and they also offer larger quantities of certified organic cuttings, which can be helpful if you’re looking to start an organic market-scale elderberry operation.

Soak the potting soil around the cutting. At this point, leave the plastic bag off and place the elderberry back into filtered indirect light. Fertilize the growing elderberry once a month using an all-purpose water-soluble balanced fertilizer as directed on the package label.

Transplant the elderberry cutting into the landscape in the spring following rooting. Pick a spot that gets full sun or part shade, with humus rich soil and good drainage, recommends Missouri Botanical Garden. Dig a planting hole and place the new elderberry shrub into the soil with the base of the stem level with the soil line.

In Mediterranean climates, American elderberry (Sambucus canadensis) is a good choice because it's hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 3 through 9. Look for this plant under some of its other common names -- Arizona elderberry, wild elderberry or New Mexican elder. There are a variety elderberry species that grow best in zones 3 through 8.

Take cuttings first thing in the morning, and keep them cool and damp until planting time or, better yet, plant them right away.

Watch the video: Lets plant some Elderberry cuttings!

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