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Growing Elderberries in California

Why elderberry in hedgerows?

  • Serve as field boundaries, fencing in livestock, and creating natural windbreaks

  • Provide natural habitat for wildlife such as birds, insects, and mammals

  • Support natural enemies of common crop pests and crop pollinators

  • Store carbon long-term in woody biomass

  • Provide supplemental food, such as fruits, nuts, and herbs

How do I propagate Blue elderberry?

  • Blue elderberry is a wild plant – no clonally propagated cultivars exist yet.

  • Propagation from seed is more reliable and contributes to genetic diversity.

  • Propagation from cuttings may be more difficult but increases consistency and predictability.

  • Propagation from regionally-sourced planting stock will ensure locally-adapted plants.

Site selection, cultivation and planting

  • Blue elderberry is tolerant of a wide variety of growing conditions in western states.

  • Individual blue elderberry plants can grow to 20-30 ft tall and just as wide in good conditions.

  • A riparian species, blue elderberry can also thrive without irrigation in many parts of California once established.

  • Permanent hedgerow plantings are ideal for Central Valley locations where endangered species restrictions may limit management options.

Sacramento Valley elderberry field assessment

  • Blue elderberry seedlings yielded more and grew faster than American elderberry cultivars over the first two growing seasons

  • Un-irrigated mature blue elderberry shrubs were highly productive but yield was variable. Genetic differences, spacing, water access, and many other factors interact. 

  • Main blue elderberry bloom on second-year plants began in mid-April and ended by late July, although occasional flowers persisted through September

  • Harvest window for blue elderberries was mid June to late September, with a peak in early August. Yield peak timing in young plants may differ from un-irrigated mature shrubs. 

  • Good weed management, proper land preparation, and frequent irrigation may increase growth and yield over the first two growing seasons

Blue elderberry compared to black

  • The genus Sambucus includes many species and subspecies of elderberry.

  • Often colloquially, and sometimes in marketing, the Sambucus nigra ssp. nigra and Sambucus nigra canadensis are referred to as “Black” elderberry and Sambucus nigra ssp. cerulea is known as “Blue” elderberry.

  • All three subspecies have similar levels of phenolic compounds associated with health benefits, on par with blueberries, cranberries and raspberries.

Valley Elderberry Longhorn Beetle - what California growers need to know

  • The Valley Elderberry Longhorn Beetle, which lives exclusively on elderberry, is listed as ‘threatened’ under the federal Endangered Species Act.

  • The floor of the Central Valley, from approximately Shasta County down to Fresno County, is the only known range of the Valley Elderberry Longhorn Beetle.

  • For conservation of the beetle’s habitat, the US Fish and Wildlife Service has placed restrictions on pruning and removal of elderberry plants within the beetle’s range.

  • Landowners in several Central Valley counties can join a Programmatic Safe Harbor Agreement to allow for more active management of planted elderberry, free from regulatory burdens or penalties.