Elder information, tips for growing and looking after this shrub

elder sambucus nigra

elder sambucus nigra

The elder (Sambucus nigra) is a species that is part of the Caprifoliaceae family and it is very spread in South-East Europe. This plant species also spontaneously grows in areas surrounding forests and rivers. People have started considering it a crop due to its fruits, but it is also used by landscape artists as they have planted it in parks, gardens or other recreation areas. The elderflower plant’s flowers contain essential oils and sugars and these elements are essential for preparing a good elderflower cordial. The fruits are rich in anthocyanins and vitamins. The products obtained from the elderflower fruits and flowers have a vitalizing, laxative, softening effects and fortify our immune systems. Be extra careful as excessively consuming the elderflower fruits can lead to digestion issues, nausea, or even convulsions.

Biological particularities

The elderflower plant grows as a shrub that can reach a height of over 9-m. This shrub has a variable number of stems. This is a deciduous plant, with leaves that fall off, that are compound and placed on the opposite side from one another. The leaflets are lanceolate and their margins are slightly serrated. The flowers are grouped in an umbrella shaped inflorescence. These are small and white and have a pleasant scent. This species is self-sterile. For this reason, several elderflowers species must be planted on a parcel to make sure the pollination process will be successfully carried out. The fruits are globular, black, and reach the consumption maturity at the end of July – beginning of September.

elder sambucus nigra - plant biology

Climate and soil requirements

This plant species can well tolerate the low, winter time temperatures, but during the vegetation period it can be affected by late frosts. It doesn’t like the direct sunlight and it prefers semi-shady or even shady parcels. It prefers fertile soils, with a clay consistency, that can assure the needed amount of moisture. It prefers to have ground-water not very deep.

Crop technology

Choosing the parcel and preparing the soil

The soil must respect the specie requirements. Avoid planting it on acid soils, or on soils that have a low amount of nutrients. The elderflower needs to be planted on soils that are not under direct sunlight and that can assure the plant’s needed water intake. The parcel must be cleaned of the previous crop, the vegetal residues must be incorporated into the soil using a 18-20-cm deep plough, or by using the disk cultivator. A month after the parcel has been cleared, base fertilizers need to be applied, using 30-40 tons of organic compost per hectare. After this, plough the parcel at a 30-40-cm depth. After 2-3 weeks using the disking cultivator twice to better mince the soil. If the parcel is severely infested by pest plants, a total-action herbicide can be applied. Product examples: Roundup, Clinic Xpert sau Taifun.

elder sambucus nigra - cultivator


The optimum planting period is during the autumn season, when the shrubs are passing through their vegetative rest period. If due to unforeseen circumstances you cannot plant the elderflower seedlings during autumn, you can try to plant them during spring, but the success rate is very low. Use seedlings that have powerful roots and that have been bought from trusted sources or authorized nurseries. The following planting scheme is recommended: 3.5-m distance between the rows and a 3-m distance between the plants on each row. After establishing the needed planting scheme, the parcel must be marked. This consists of placing a stake into the soil where each plant should be. the following steps to be followed are: digging the holes and the actual planting process. The holes can either be dug manually, or using the drilling tractor. The dimensions of the holes must be: 40 x 40 x 40 cm.

elder sambucus nigra - seedling

Before planting, the roots must be cleaned. This process consists of removing the wounded parts of the roots and smooth the existing small wounds. This process also rejuvenated the root system. The dead roots need to be completely removed and the living ones must be shortened to a 10-15-cm length. after this, the roots need to be mulched. mulching represents placing the roots into a mixture of yellow soil, cattle organic compost and water. The mulching layer helps the shrubs better adapt to the new orchard conditions. It is recommended that the mulching layer has the consistency of sour-cream. The most common species are: Ina, Nora, Bradet.

During the first 3 years from planting, we must pay attention to maintaining the soil clean and up-to-date with the procedures to be carried out. This needs to be kept clean by repeatedly ploughing, mulching or milling. Starting with the third year, if the needed water intake can be assured, the distance between the rows can be ploughed with perennial herbs. The grass needs to be periodically mowed and the hay must be left of the soil as help for mulching.


This procedure needs to be done using natural fertilizers (organic compost, etc.). Once every 3-4 years around 30-40 tons need to be applied per hectare. These fertilizers need to be incorporated into the soil. The optimum fertilizing period ranges between November to February. On an annual basis, you can also apply 90 kg of active nitrogen per hectare, 110-115 kg of active phosphorus per hectare and 90-100 kg of active potassium per hectare. These above-mentioned fertilizers can be applied in one batch, or split in phases. You can also consider applying leaf fertilizers. Products to be used: Cropmax, Terra-Sorb, Amalgerol, Razormin.

The elderflower is plant species that has high water requirements. The crop must be irrigated as many times as needed if the water intake cannot be supported by the environment. During drier periods, the flower and fruit production considerably decreases. Surface-leak irrigation, drip irrigation or sprinkler irrigation can be used.

Preventing pests and diseases

For more information about the diseases and pests that can affect the elderflower crop, please search for the relevant article on our website.


Right after planting, the seedlings must be shortened to a 30-35-cm length to favor branching and the growth of new branches. During spring, pick a few stems (2-3) that are uniformly placed. Reduce around 30% of their length. During the following yea, using the same principle, pick 5-6 stems and shorten the main branches by 30%. The best growth- guiding technique is to follow the rows. This will not affect the branches when carrying out the needed maintenance procedures.


The flowers can be harvested once they have blossomed and can be used in manufacturing the well-known elderflower cordial. The fruits will reach maturity between July and September. Harvesting the flowers needs to be done manually by cutting the inflorescences off and placing them in crates. These must not be consumed fresh as it will cause digestion problems. After processing them, the fruits will be harmless and very tasty.

elder sambucus nigra - harvesting

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