Elder Overview

Description This wonderful, branching shrub features panicles of blooms that give way to their rich black berries. With foliage that comes in a variety of stunning colors, these plants make great additions to any garden. The wildlife will also appreciate their planting, as the tasty berries make snacks for the birds.
Genus Name Sambucus
Common Name Elder
Plant Type Shrub
Light Part Sun, Sun
Height 3 to 8 feet
Width 4 to 15 feet
Flower Color Pink, White
Foliage Color Blue/Green, Chartreuse/Gold, Purple/Burgundy
Season Features Spring Bloom, Summer Bloom
Special Features Attracts Birds, Fragrance, Good for Containers, Low Maintenance
Zones 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9
Propagation Seed, Stem Cuttings

Colorful Combinations

Elders come in many different foliage colors, which makes these plants helpful accents in any garden setting. The lace-like leaves on the shrubs add a delightfully soft texture that won't take attention away from other plants. As long as they aren't pruned too heavily in spring, their beautiful white—and sometimes pink—blooms look stunning against the rich-colored foliage.

Elder Care Must-Knows

Elders are easy-to-grow shrubs that need little care and maintenance. Ideally, these shrubs are planted in rich, well-drained soils. These plants don't handle drought well, so keep them evenly moist throughout the growing season, especially if you're growing them for berry production. Plants have the best berry production in full sun, and colored foliage varieties, especially the purple ones, will show the richest colors in full sun. Some purple types can fade to a muddy green in too much shade.

If you plan on growing elders for fruit production, there are a few additional things to know. Primarily, elders require at least two plants for cross-pollination. They don't have to be right next to each other though; somewhere within the same yard is close enough for bees to do their work.

Most elders only bloom on old wood, which means that plants create their flower buds in the fall and hold onto them all winter. If you prune plants in the spring or late winter, you are probably removing any chance of flowers and berries. The only early pruning you should do on these shrubs in spring is to remove dead growth. Any other pruning is best done after the flowers sprout. Don't plan on pruning your shrubs until their third year in order to establish the shrub.

New Innovations

There has been a lot of new research in the world of elders recently, mostly for ornamental reasons as opposed to berry production. Many new varieties have been created that tout smaller plant habits great for garden settings and container plantings. There are also new varieties featuring rich foliage colors; this includes columnar varieties with burgundy foliage that make fantastic focal points in any garden.

More Varieties for Elder

'Black Lace' elder


(Sambucus nigra 'Black Lace') is a large shrub with finely cut, deep purple-black foliage. In spring it bears creamy pink flowers that become edible purple fruits in fall. It grows 8 feet tall and 9 feet wide. Zones 4-7

'Madonna' elder


(Sambucus nigra 'Madonna') shows off green foliage boldly variegated in yellow. It produces clusters of white flowers that become edible fruits in fall. It grows 10 feet tall and wide. Zones 4-8



Sambucus nigra subsp. canadensis is a vigorous shrub that grows to 12 feet tall. In early summer, it produces large clusters of white flowers that mature into blue-black edible fruits. Birds are attracted to the fruits, so if you want to harvest them for juice, protect the ripening clusters with bird netting. Zones 3-9

'Guincho Purple' elder


(Sambucus nigra 'Guincho Purple') features lovely purple-green leaves and clusters of purple fruits in fall. It grows 20 feet tall and wide. Zones 5-8

'Pulverulenta' elder


(Sambucus nigra 'Pulverulenta') is a distinct selection with green leaves mottled heavily in white. It produces clusters of white flowers and purple fruits. It grows 10 feet tall and wide. Zones 4-8

'Sutherland Gold' elder


(Sambucus racemosa 'Sutherland Gold') offers finely cut foliage in a brilliant shade of chartreuse and clusters of creamy white flowers in spring. It does best in partial shade and grows 10 feet tall and wide. Zones 3-7

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