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Vermont Garden Journal: Poor Growing Conditions Are Not A Problem For The Elderberry

Elderberry shrubs produce beautiful leaves and tasty berries even in poor gorwing conditions.
Elderberry shrubs produce beautiful leaves and tasty berries even in poor gorwing conditions.

The elderberry is an American shrub that's great for problem-places. It grows in full or partial sun and can withstand wet, clay soils and still thrive.

You often see the native Sambucus canadensis growing in roadside drainage ditches or in wet fields. It's a tough shrub that's cold-hardy and withstands less than ideal conditions. Plus, it produces beautiful white flowers that bees and butterflies love, and tasty black berries. The berries are good for making juice, wine, jam and a good tonic for a cough and winter cold. Look for varieties such as 'Adams,' 'York' and 'Nova' for the best berry production.

The European elderberry, Sambucus nigra, is a more attractive shrub in the landscape, though not as hardy or as good a berry producer. Recent introductions of this elderberry has made it a popular landscape plant as well as an edible. 'Black Lace' and 'Black Beauty' are two dark purple-leaved selections. Other species include 'Lemony Lace' with golden colored leaves and 'Marginata' with white and green leaves. These leaves make the shrub attractive even when it's not producing flowers or fruit.

While elderberry is forgiving of wet sites and limited sun, it still grows best in full sun and with adequate water drainage. Plant the bush in groups for the best production and look. Elderberry require little maintenance once established. Prune out three-year and older canes each spring to encourage new growth. Old canes become brittle and less productive. Harvest the flowers for making fritters or champagne. Cover plants with bird netting to protect the fruits and harvest the berries for making juice. To easily remove the berries from the stems, harvest entire berry clusters and freeze overnight. In the morning, shake the clusters and the berries will fall off.

Now for this weeks tip: look for adult, red lily leaf beetle on Asian and Oriental lilies, in particular, now. Handpick beetles in the morning when they're sluggish to reduce egg-laying and damage.

Charlie Nardozzi is a nationally recognized garden writer, radio and TV show host, consultant, and speaker. Charlie is the host of All Things Gardening on Sunday mornings at 9:35 during Weekend Edition on Vermont Public. Charlie is a guest on Vermont Public's Vermont Edition during the growing season. He also offers garden tips on local television and is a frequent guest on national programs.
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