I think elderberry is one of the unique plants to grow. They have tasty fruit to use in jams and pastries. And their flowers are pretty and fragrant. The question was could I grow it in my container garden?

You can row elderberry in a pot that is at least 24 inches deep and wide. The elderberry is a bushy plant so you need a pot with a heavy base so the plant won’t topple over. Provide required watering, nutrients, and sunlight so the plant grows well in the pot.

It’s simple to grow elderberry in a pot once you know some basic details. I’ve written all the information below to make it easy for you to grow some in your garden.

1. Pick the right variety of elderberry

The elderberry plant is a bush variety that can grow several feet tall and wide. It’s best to choose a variety that is short when you want to grow them in a pot.

Let’s look at some popular varieties of this plant that would be suitable for you to grow. Note that these varieties will grow shorter and smaller when placed in a pot due to the limited space. And you can prune them to the required height so they don’t grow too tall.

Adams6-10 feet
Blackberry6 feet
Black Lace8 feet
Lemon Lace3-5 feet
Nova6 feet
York6 feet

2. Choose the best time to grow elderberry

Elderberry is a warm-season plant so it’s best to start growing them in spring when the temperature is above 65 degrees Fahrenheit.

You want to make sure the last frost date has passed so it’s best to wait at least 1-2 weeks after this date. If the weather is too cold, the plant won’t grow and may even die if it continues to remain cold.

Elderberry has shallow roots but it grows tall and wide. It’s best to grow them from a seedling or cutting as that will give the best chance of successfully growing them. You can start them from seeds but it’s much harder to get good germination rates.

3. Understand how long the variety will take to grow

You need to have patience with the elderberry plant especially if you want to eat elderberries. You’ll get a small first harvest after a year. The best harvest will be from the second and third years.

You need to check the particular variety you are growing on how many months it may take for the elderberries to appear on the plant.

If you purchased the seedling from a nursery or garden center, check if there is any tag with information attached to it that shows when you will be able to harvest.

The easiest way you’ll know is when the elderberries have grown and turned dark purple, black, or blue in color depending on the variety.

4. Choose the right pot to grow elderberry plant

The elderberry is a bushy plant that can grow tall and wide. That’s why you need a large pot that is at least 24 inches deep and wide.

I prefer to grow just one plant in such a pot because if you try to grow more they will overcrowd each other and compete for nutrients. This will also create an environment that attracts fungal diseases.

Usually, I prefer a pot made from plastic because it’s inexpensive, durable, and lightweight. But for the elderberry plant, I want something that has a strong and stable base.

This will make sure the plant does not topple over when it becomes top-heavy with the bush and fruits. I like pots made from terracotta, ceramic, metal, or concrete for such plants.

You do need to be careful to water the potting soil well as some of these materials may lose moisture fast compared to plastic ones.

You should make sure the pot has drainage holes at the bottom. This helps it drain out the excess water and protect the roots from getting root rot. If there are no holes, you can drill some before using the pot.

5. Prepare the pot to plant elderberry

Once you have got the pot with the required size for the elderberry plant, you need to sterilize it. This will make sure there are no pests, diseases, and chemicals present in the pot that can harm the plant.

The easiest way to sterilize is to soak the pot in a solution containing 1 part bleach and 9 parts water for at least an hour. Take it out and rinse it well with clean water and dry in the sun. You can then start adding potting soil to it.

I want to again recommend having drainage holes in the pot. This will help protect the elderberry plant from overwatering that causes issues such as root rot. If there are no drainage holes, drill some in the pot.

I suggest using potting soil for all the plants including elderberry in your container garden. The potting soil is better than garden soil as it provides the good texture required by the plant.

The garden soil may contain too much sand or clay making it unsuitable for growing elderberry. The soil won’t retain enough moisture or it may retain too much of it causing problems to the plant.

The garden soil may also contain pests, diseases, and chemicals that could harm the plant or you when you consume the elderberries.

It’s easy to get the potting soil at a garden center, nursery, or online store. You can also use the raw materials and create your own potting mix for cheap.

Add 1 part vermiculite, 1 part perlite, and 1 part coco coir to get a good potting mix for growing elderberry. Add in some compost that will help give it an even better texture and introduce nutrients as well as beneficial organisms to the potting soil.

coco coir
Coco coir products like coco coir bricks and pots

Fill the container with the potting soil till there’s a space of 2 inches left from the rim. This will prevent the soil from spilling out when watering.

6. Plant elderberry seeds in the pot

I would recommend that you start growing elderberry from a seedling or cutting as it will be much simpler. There is also a good chance that the plant will grow well.

If you want to start growing elderberry from seeds, you should know they have a poor germination rate and you may need to start with many seeds.

The good thing about starting seeds is you can choose from a larger variety of the plant. It’s also inexpensive and gives you a good experience of growing a plant.

You can try to start seeds indoors or directly plant them in the pot. Elderberry has shallow roots so it won’t have much problem with transplant shock.

The process remains the same whether you want to plant it in the seed starting tray or the pot. To plant the elderberry seeds in the pot, make a small hole and put the seeds 1/4 inch into the potting soil.

Make sure the temperature is at least 65 degrees Fahrenheit so the seedlings can germinate. You may need to use a heating mat if the indoor temperature is low.

You should water the potting soil every day but make sure it’s not soggy. Spray enough moisture on the potting soil every day and the seeds will germinate in 2-3 weeks.

7. Plant elderberry cuttings in the pot

The best option to ensure you get a healthy elderberry plant is to propagate it using a cutting from an existing plant.

It’s best to use softwood cuttings for propagation because they give the best chance of new growth in the plant. You can get the cutting in the winter when the plant becomes dormant.

You can either get the cutting from a friend or family who is growing elderberry or you can order it from a nursery or garden center.

If you’re getting the cutting yourself, pick a cane that is in the 1st or 2nd year of growth. You can cut an 8-9 inch portion of this cane.

The cut should be slanted at the rooting end of the cane and a flat cut at the leaf end. Make sure there are at least two nodes on the cutting you have taken.

Place the cutting in a jar of water with the rooting end in it and keep it for 24 hours. Make a hole in the potting soil that is about 2-4 inches deep.

Take the cutting out of the water and dip 1-inch of the rooting end in rooting hormone. You can now stick it in the hole in the potting soil and firm the soil near the base.

Make sure to keep the elderberry cuttings out of direct sunlight and wind till the plant starts growing. Keep watering the potting soil so it remains moist for the plant.

You should see new roots and leaves coming out of the cutting after 8-10 weeks of propagation.

8. Provide required sunlight to elderberry

Elderberry is a warm-weather plant that needs at least 6-8 hours of full sunlight so it can grow well. Just be careful that the temperature is not too hot otherwise the leaves will curl and the plant may be stunted.

If the temperature gets too high in the summer afternoon, you can move the pot to a location that has some shade to protect the plant from the heat.

If you think this is going to happen in your garden, it’s good to place the large and heavy pot on a moving tray to make it easy to move around.

9. Provide sufficient water to elderberry

The elderberry plant needs plenty of water to grow foliage and fruits. So make sure you provide at least 1-inch of water every week to the plant. Maybe more during the hot summer months as required.

I like to check my container garden every morning to see what’s going on with the plants. One of the inspections I do is whether the potting soil has enough moisture.

I put my finger 1-2 inches in the potting soil and check if the tip of my finger feels moist. If it’s dry, I water the potting soil well till the water drains out from the bottom of the pot through the drainage holes.

If you are afraid to water the plant, you’ll give it less water and stunt its growth. If you give too much water and it remains in the pot it will lead to overwatering. This will cause root rot or fungal diseases and cause the plant to die.

Mulch is a good addition to the potting soil so it keeps the temperature regulated. It also helps the potting soil retain moisture for a longer time so you don’t need to water as often.

You can use organic material such as dried leaves, grass clippings, straw, hay, or wood chips as mulch on the potting soil.

Add 2 inches of such material on the potting soil after the seedlings have germinated and grown 2-4 inches in height. Otherwise, the mulch will block the sunlight and prevent germination.

10. Thin elderberry seedlings in the pot

If you’re going to plant elderberry seeds, then it’s best to plant many of them in one pot. That’s because they have low germination rates. So at least a few can then germinate.

It may happen that more than one of the seedlings has sprouted after a couple of weeks. But we want only one seedling per pot otherwise it will lead to overcrowding and a fight for resources.

That’s why you need to thin the seedlings. This means you cut off the remaining seedlings and keep only one in the pot. The best time to thin the seedlings is when they have grown at least 3-4 leaves and the height is about 3-4 inches.

You don’t need to do any thinning if you buy the seedlings from the garden center or nursery. You can just transplant one seedling in the pot. Just make sure you pick the best possible seedling when you buy.

11. Fertilize elderberry plant in the pot

The best fertilizer any organic gardener can use is compost. It’s natural and very effective as it provides the nutrients and microorganisms that boost the potting soil.

You can mix the compost into the potting soil when you’re preparing the pot. And you can keep adding a little bit of compost every month to the potting soil during the growing season.

The problem is that many people cannot make their own compost or find good ones. You then need to rely on adding organic fertilizer to the potting soil.

organic fertilizer
Organic fertilizer I use for my plants

The second best choice is to use an organic, slow-release fertilizer. This could be a balanced fertilizer like N-P-K of 10-10-10 added to the potting soil when preparing it.

Once the elderberry plant has grown and is ready to flower, it’s good to use a fertilizer that is low in nitrogen. This helps the plant focus on growing flowers and elderberries rather than more leaves.

You can also use liquid fertilizer instead and spray it in the potting soil every couple of weeks. The liquid fertilizer can be fast-action especially if you spray it on the foliage.

Make sure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions when using any fertilizer. It will give you information on how much fertilizer to use and how often.

12. Pollinate elderberry plant in the pot

Elderberry is a self-pollinating plant which means it has both male and female flowers that can pollinate and produce fruit. This can happen either by the wind or by pollinators like bees.

The problem is that the self-pollinated elderberry plant produces a poor harvest of elderberries. If you want a good harvest, you need cross-pollination.

This means you’ll need to grow two elderberry plants of different cultivars in your container garden. And then attract pollinators to your garden. You can do this by growing native plants that develop fragrant flowers.

13. Prune elderberry plant in the pot

Once the elderberry starts growing, it can grow to several feet depending on the variety. The best option for growing in a pot is to pick a variety that is limited to 3-4 feet.

But if you pick a larger variety, you can keep it limited in growth if you prune the elderberry plant. Pruning means you cut off some parts of the plant including leaves, branches, flowers, and even fruits.

This encourages the plant to focus on growing in a horizontal direction that tends to make it bushier instead of tall.

The pruning also helps encourage the plant to focus its energy on a particular activity. If you prune the plant when it’s developing leaves, the plant will have more energy to focus on growing even more foliage.

If you prune the plant when it’s at the stage of developing flowers and fruit, the plant will focus its energy on growing flowers and fruit.

You could prune dead or diseased parts of the plant but could also be some healthy ones. Make sure not to prune more than 1/3rd of the plant at a time. If you prune a lot, it will stress the plant and it won’t be able to grow the required flowers and fruits.

I suggest using a bypass pruner when doing the pruning. They will help you get a clean cut and reduce the chances of infection. Make sure to clean them before and after use with rubbing alcohol.

14. Harvest elderberries from the pot

Elderberries will grow on the plant in the summer soon after the flowers are blooming on the plant. In the first year, the harvest will be small. The best harvest will start from the second and third year.

You should prune the canes that are three years old as they will not produce much harvest. Pruning will help grow more new canes that can help you continue getting a good harvest.

You can know when the berries are ready for harvest by looking and inspecting them. They should be dark purple, black in color. You can squeeze a couple on the cluster and they should have dark purple juice. If the color is pale and watery, it means the berries are still developing.

You can harvest an entire cluster of elderberries instead of each elderberry which can be time-consuming. You can use a bypass pruner to cut the cluster from the bush.

Make sure not to consume the leaves or branches as they are toxic. The elderberries are also toxic if you eat them raw. You need to cook them before eating them. Some common preparations are to cook them up in a jam or syrup.

Before cooking, you will need to remove the individual elderberries from the cluster. The easiest way to do this is to freeze the cluster in the refrigerator for a few hours in a freezer bag. Then take it out and shake the freezer bag to dislodge the individual berries.

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