Sunday, June 19, 2011

Respect the Elders

No, today's article is not about respecting your elders, as in your parents, grandparents and such, though you should! They can impart a GREAT deal of knowledge and wisdom from their vast experiences.
No, today we are venturing into the world of an underrated fruiting plant, Sambucus canadensis, or Elderberry.
The Elderberry is one of the most common fruit-bearing, native shrubs of North America. In fact, Elderberries were once so common, people considered them a "ditch weed". Native Americans ate them and used various parts of the plant for medicinal purposes. All parts of the Elderberry have long enjoyed a strong medicinal reputation on their own merits, however, ONLY the berries and flowers are recommended for internal use today.



The two most common types of Elderberries available are the European Elderberry (Sambucus nigra) and the American Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis). The American Elderberry is the wild species often found growing in old fields and meadows. It grows 10 to 12 feet tall and wide and is hardy in zones 3 to 9. The European Elderberry grows up to 20 feet tall and wide depending on the variety, it blooms earlier than the American species, it is hardy in zones 4 to 8, and some have pink flowers.
Elderberries grow best in moist, fertile, well-drained soil with a pH between 5.5 and 6.5, but will tolerate a wide range of soil textures, fertility, and acidity. They do not like constantly wet feet, it is a myth that they prefer swampy areas, though they love moisture, so make sure the area is well-drained. They are shallow rooted, so keep an eye on the moisture level.
Best grown in full sun, though they can be grown in shaded locations with good air circulation around the plants to reduce leaf and disease problems.
Elderberries are considered partially self-fruitful. Two or more cultivars should be planted near each other to provide for cross-pollination. This is for a heavier fruit crop. I do not know if I have a freak plant or there are some somewhere in the neighborhood, but I have one plant and it fruits pretty heavy. I am thinking of getting another cultivar just to see if I get more fruit.
There are 10-inch clusters of tiny fragrant cream-colored flowers that cover the shrub in Summer and the dark purple fruit appears in the later part of Summer. I grow mine in a container. The flowers started in Early to Mid-Spring and I am harvesting fruit by middle June. I am assuming this is because the soil is much warmer in a container. The wild Elderberries in the area are still in heavy flower while I am picking fruit.
Elderberries respond well to fertilization. In addition to incorporating manure or compost before planting, apply additional fertilizer annually in early Spring. A balanced 10-10-10 fertilizer is adequate.
Pruning is relatively simple. Elderberries send up many new canes each year. The canes usually reach full height in one season and develop lateral branches in the second. Flowers and fruit develop on the tips of the current season's growth. In late Winter to early Spring while the plants are dormant, remove all dead, broken or weak canes, plus all canes more than three years old.
Elderberries make nice landscape plants. They perform well as a tall, deciduous hedge or windscreen. If growing the shrub for its fruit however, look for the cultivars "Adams" "Nova" or "York." These produce heavy crops.
Harvest elderberry fruit when they turn to a dark purple color. When ripe, the entire cluster should be removed and the berries stripped from the cluster. The berries are rarely eaten raw, primarily because of their astringent flavor, which is greatly improved by cooking. They can be used like blueberries in pies, muffins, pancakes, teas and a wealth of other things. If pectin and plenty of sugar are added, they make good jam and jelly. The berries can also be dried and added to oatmeal as it cooks. Most people know the Elderberry for the wine it makes.
There are a few disease and pest problems associated with Elderberries.
Tomato ringspot virus is spread by nematodes and by pollen transfer. Infected plants may seem weakened and have reduced productivity. A soil test for the presence of Xiphinema nematodes before establishing a large planting of elderberry should be done to guard against this disease.
Fungal stem cankers are caused by many different fungi. A canker can girdle a stem, causing the tissue above the canker to die. Stressful conditions such as Winter injury, drought, and flooding, are causes that lead to infection. The infected shoots should be removed and properly disposed of to prevent the spread.
Powdery mildew fungi may attack certain years, though it is not a serious problem.
Certain species of aphids feed on Elderberry. Usually only a few branch tips are involved, but the feeding may result in distorted leaves. If aphids become problematic, wash them from the plants with a strong spray of water, or prune out and destroy the infested areas. Horticultural oil and Insecticidal Soaps are another option.
The larval stage of the Elder Shoot Borer is a worm that bores into the stems and shoots. The adult moth lays eggs in canes at least one year old around Mid-Summer. Eggs hatch the following Spring. An effective control method is to prune out infested shoots and canes. Destroy all pruned material.
I won't even mention are better to just go ahead and put a net over the won't win otherwise.
To me, it is amazing that this fruit is not utilized more. A half of a cup of Elderberries has only 73 calories, but is loaded with vitamin C and A, Potassium and Viburnic acid which is beneficial for asthma, bronchitis and nasal congestion. Some people add elderberries to their diet when they feel a cold or flu coming on and swear that it shortens the duration and lessens the symptoms. See if you can find some in your area and plant some. It might be difficult, due to lack of demand. If you find some wild Elderberries, they can be rooted. Root cuttings of pencil diameter size, four to six inches long, they may be dug in late Winter before growth begins. Place cuttings horizontally in a pot and cover with one inch of light soil or soilless medium and keep warm and moist. You can expect yields of 12 to 15 pounds of fruit per mature (3 to 4 year old) shrub, if grown properly. That is sure a lot of healthy!
Happy Growing!

1 comment:

  1. Darren, every elderberry I know of in manhattan, even established ones, died sometime this year. We think because of the drought.