Elder Hedging

Elder hedging, Sambus Nigra, or Elderberry is a very familiar shrub or small tree commonly found in gardens and native hedgerows.

There are up to 30 species of deciduous shrubs, small trees and smaller herbaceous perennial plants in the Elder or Sambucus group that are usually found in the northern hemisphere but a few in Australasia and South America, all grown for their flowers and fruit and some for their ornamental leaves.

The large flat clusters of white flowers on Sambucus nigra appear in summer, often picked to use as an infusion to go with gooseberry dishes or to make wine, cordial or tea and sometimes used for medicinal purposes although effectiveness is not proven. The glossy black berries which replace the flowers and look so attractive en masse are similarly used for culinary purposes and in pies, flavouring yoghurts and making relishes. Traditionally the hollowed-out twigs of Elder have been used as an outlet to tap Maple trees for syrup. It is always recommended that the berries are cooked and not eaten raw. Birds and some moth larvae favour the Elder both feeding voraciously on the plant, a flock of birds has been known to strip the berries of a bush in no time.

A fast-growing plant, Sambucus nigra is more often found near farms as it prefers a nitrogen rich soil and so tends to grow near sites of organic waste as well as chalky soils and coastal sites. Growing at a rate of up to 60cm per year it will provide a dense hedge very quickly up to about 5 metres high. We would recommend 2-3 plants per metre and trimming as necessary.

Elder is supplied in bare root form and is available during the season when they are dormant from November until March. This is a very economical way to buy plants if you are working to a budget, however they will ideally need to be planted within a few days of delivery so it is a good idea to get the ground preparation done in advance.

Should you have any further questions regarding Sambucus nigra or any other bare root plant do phone one of our team and we will be only too pleased to help.

View full sizeKym PokornyI love my Sambucus ‘Black Lace,’ but have to prune it at least once a year to keep it under control.

Funny how things always take longer than you think. Well, not really funny. More like aggravating. Such was the case Sunday, when I had to

before I got to the fun part on my to-do list: filling in pots and my front beds.

for that purpose. I don’t know what I’d do without them. Begonias, too.

Back to the


. It always amuses me — in an irritated sort of way — that descriptions of

say it gets 8- to 10-feet tall. Let me stop and snort with laughter. Mine was 15 when I pruned it, and that was less than a year since its last haircut.

Of course, you don’t have to prune it. ‘Black Lace.’ The leaves are dark chocolate, finely cut and a perfect backdrop for the pink clusters of flowers.

. Butterflies and bees are pretty fond of elderberry, as well.

Left to its own devices, this elderberry grows thick and the shade underneath is dense. The roots soak up water, so either I don’t grow anything within 6 feet of the trunk or I have to water quite a bit. In my back garden, nothing is growing below it, which focuses attention on the arching form I’ve shaped created. In the front, there are epimedium, hosta, Vancouveria, wild ginger and Japanese anenome. I water twice a week during the summer, which hopefully will actually show up at some point.


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Sambucus nigra (Common Elder)

Sambucus nigra is also known as the common elder and whilst this shrub whose fruit is the elderberry is common in our hedgerows it is also very useful in the garden. The common variety makes an excellent hedge or can be added to a cottage garden to add height. In late spring early summer it has large flat-topped clusters of tiny white flowers and these are followed by the black berries used for making elderberry jam, cordial or wine. They are also very popular with birds.

Whilst the common elder is very useful in the garden even better are the black leaved varieties: Sambucus nigra ‘Black Beauty’; and Sambucus nigra ‘Black Lace’. Both of these have beautiful black leaves and beautiful pink flowers. ‘Black lace’ has beautiful finely cut very delicate looking leaves and the flowers of ‘Black beauty’ have a sweet lemon scent.

Despite their delicate appearance the black leaved varieties are hardy though a particularly severe winter might result in it dying back to the base like a perennial in which case simply cut down the branches and new growth will appear in the spring.

The common green leaved variety is fully hardy.

Sambucus nigra growing guide

Sambucus nigra is easy to grow and does well in virtually any soil including heavy clay or light soils. It does best with moisture but grows more drought-resistant as it ages.

They like full sun but will tolerate partial shade.

They are hardy but as mentioned above the ‘black lace’ and ‘ black beauty’ varieties may need to be heavily pruned back after a particularly hard winter. This is not a problem and indeed both should be pruned back to ground level in early spring to get the best coloured leaves.

Flowering takes place late spring/early summer.

The elders grow to around a meter tall and wide.

Sambucus nigra propagation

Both the green and black elders grow very well from cuttings and you are sure to want to propagate – especially if you have the stunning black elder in your garden. Success rates with cuttings are particularly good from young plants but still possible with older specimens.

Take semi-ripe cuttings in the summer or early autumn. The cutting should have a woody base but soft top growth. Cut just below a leaf node and aim for a cutting of about 10cm long. Remove the lower leaves and leave only about 4 leaves on the cutting. If these are large leaves cut them in half so that the cutting doesn’t lose too much water. Dip the cutting in rooting compost and push gently into a pot of cuttings compost of planting compost mixed 50:50 with sand or perlite. Cover the pots with a plastic bag and place in a sheltered, sunny position. Keep the compost moist. Once they show signs of growth you can remove the plastic bag and keep the cuttings out of frost. They should be ready for planting out the following spring.

The green-leaved common elder will self-seed prolifically and you should be able to find young trees by searching the garden near to your parent plant.

Planting Combinations

Sambucus nigra is an excellent addition to a cottage garden.

The black elders look particularly good planted next to bright red and orange flowers such as those of crocosmia or heleniums.

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