American Elderberry Cuttings – care and instructions

Your New Cuttings

We harvest cuttings in late winter, while the parent plants are dormant. They will keep in your refrigerator until planting time – the frost-free date in your zone. In northeast Ohio, this is mid to late May. If you want, you could start them indoors to get a head start, but maintaining ideal conditions in pots is challenging, and potting is typically not necessary; your elderberry cuttings will do just fine once planted in their final location.

Location and Soil Preparation

Elderberries are quite resilient and will grow most everywhere. They grow best in full sun, but will still thrive in wooded edges (though with fewer flowers and fruit). Elderberries like water, and could even tolerate having their roots wet for a period of time. Best to provide irrigation for the driest part of the summer.

Ideal soil conditions would be well-worked (work in compost or leaf mold) soil free of weeds in a 2-4′ diameter area . You should check for pH (5.5-6.5) and amend if necessary. Loosen the soil in a 2′ diameter area from the center.


A typical spacing would be 2-4′ apart, in rows 12-16′ apart. Elderberries are shallow-rooted, so loosening soil in a 2′ diameter area helps. Your cuttings have two sets of buds, all of them pointing upward. Insert the cutting into the ground so the bottom set of buds is 2-3″ deep. These bottom buds will develop into the root system, and the upper buds will make leaves. Mulch heavily – any combination of landscape fabric, cardboard, compost, wood chips or leaf mold. New plantings need 1/2 to 1″ of water per week during the growing season (more during drought and fruit ripening), and the mulch keeps those new shallow roots moist and protected.


Keep the area weeded and mulch topped off as needed, and water, water, water for the best results. Surround the developing plants with wire or netting – deer love the new sprouting leaves. Just for the first year, steel yourself and pinch off all the flowers (as a result, no berry harvest this year). This encourages more vigorous root growth, which you’ll appreciate in years to come. That’s about it until harvest. You might fertilize (start small) each year when the leaves appear and again in May/June. Be generous with compost each fall to continue building soil health.


The clusters of flowers will be replaced with small berries that ripen to purple-black in the fall. Cut off the entire cluster and remove the small berries however you can. We recommend dropping them in the freezer because they’ll be a lot easier to remove from the stems once frozen. Then process within a day or two.

Annual Pruning

Elderberry bushes need pruning each year after they’ve gone dormant and lost their leaves; late winter, typically. We recommend cutting all canes to near ground level – really! – which spurs vigorous new growth. Don’t worry, they’ll grow back quite fast, and although they’ll produce fewer flower clusters than unpruned bushes, the berries will be larger.