Elderberries, popular in making jelly, jam and wine, are often a wild shrub. A few varieties are sold for the home landscape. In home landscapes they can be used for aesthetic purposes, for their fruit or to attract birds. If you are considering growing elderberry bushes, take a little time to familiar yourself with the more common problems you might face and what you can do about them.
Only a few insects present problems for elderberries. The elder shoot borer, a few different aphids and the cecropia moth can cause damage to foliage and berries. Because only a few insecticides have been approved for use with elderberries, it is important to check labels carefully before using anything on your bush.
Some diseases affect all kinds of plants like leaf spot, cankers and powdery mildew. Elderberry bushes are susceptible to these as well as thread blight, root rot and verticillium wilt. Cankers are serious because they cause cankers which can girdle the branch, killing anything beyond the canker. Root rot if left untreated can lead to death.
Elderberries are inviting to birds. Some people plant elderberries strictly to draw birds. Birds can strip a bush of its fruit in short order. If you have multiple bushes, the loss may acceptable. If there is only one or two bushes, cover them with nets to protect your fruit. You can also reduce the risk of bird problems by planting them away from wooded areas where birds congregate.
Swampy or poorly drained sites are not suitable for elderberry bushes. Alkaline soils are not ideal as elderberries prefer slightly acidic soils. They should not be situated in full sun. Instead, look for shady, cool locations as a planting site. Maintain good air flow throughout the plant to prevent overcrowding which can foster disease conditions.
When planting young plants, maintain stringent weed control. Weeds can rapidly take over and choke a young elderberry bush.
Elderberries are self-unfruitful which means they need cross pollination from another variety of elderberry in order to produce fruit. A second bush should be planted nearby to ensure pollination.
Sources: New York State College of Agriculture
University of Wisconsin