Elderberry Growing Guide

Elderberry Growing Guide

Our Complete Elderberry Guide

Elderberries are a fruit that have been used for centuries in traditional medicine, food, and drink. They grow on shrubs, and their berries are small, dark purple, and packed with antioxidants and nutrients.

Elderberries are easy to grow and can thrive anywhere as long as they get enough sunlight and water. In this article, we will discuss how to plant, grow, harvest, process, and bake with elderberries in Michigan. We will also share some tips and tricks for maximizing your elderberry harvest.

(Featured Image: Elderberry Jam by Isabel Schulz)

Elderberry: Michigan’s Native Fruit

Elderberries are native to Michigan! Native plants are essential to local ecosystems, providing habitat and vital food sources to insects, mammals, and birds. Native plants can help benefit soil and the plants around it.

The fact that elderberries are also edible and delicious is a huge bonus! Elderberries are well-suited for Northern Michigan’s climate and soil, making them easy to grow and likely to thrive with little upkeep on your end. That’s a win-win all around.

Planting, Growing, and Harvesting Elderberries

1. How To Plant Elderberries

Elderberries are best planted in well-draining soil that is rich in organic matter. In Michigan, elderberries grow best in the northern and central parts of the state, where temperatures are cooler and the soil is moist. The ideal time to plant elderberries is in the spring or fall when the soil is warm and moist.

Before planting, ensure that the soil is well-drained and has a pH level of 5.5-6.5. Use a digital pH tester for the most accurate measurement. Elderberries prefer full sun, but can still grow in partial shade. It is recommended to plant elderberries in rows, with a spacing of 6-8 feet between plants and 10-12 feet between rows.

To plant elderberries, dig a hole that is twice the size of the plant’s root ball. Place the plant in the hole and fill it with soil, ensuring that the roots are covered completely. Water the plant thoroughly and add a layer of mulch around the base to help retain moisture and prevent weed growth.

Ripe elderberries ready for harvest in Michigan

Elderberry by Andy Rogers

2. Growing Elderberries In Michigan

Elderberries require regular watering, especially during the first year of growth. Ensure that the soil is always moist, but not waterlogged. It is recommended to water the plants deeply once per week.

Elderberries do not require much fertilization, but can benefit from an annual application of compost or organic fertilizer. Pruning is also important to ensure healthy growth and a bountiful harvest. The best time to prune elderberries is in the late winter or early spring before new growth begins. Remove any dead, diseased, or damaged wood, and cut back any branches that are crossing or too close together. This will help improve airflow and light penetration, which will produce larger and healthier berries.

Native elderberry shrub in Traverse City, Michigan.

Elderberry Flower by Franco Folini

3. How To Harvest Elderberries

Elderberries typically ripen in late summer or early fall, depending on the weather conditions. The berries should be dark purple and plump when they are ready for harvest. It is best to pick the berries when they are fully ripe, as unripe berries contain toxins that can cause stomach issues.

To harvest elderberries, gently shake the branches to loosen the berries. Use a berry comb or a plastic fork to remove the berries from the stem, being careful not to crush them. Place the berries in a large container and repeat until all the berries have been harvested.

Elderberries by Gerwin Sturm

4. How To Process Michigan Elderberries

Once you have harvested your elderberries, they can be processed in various ways. Elderberries can be used to make jams, jellies, syrups, and tinctures. The berries can also be dried and used for tea or added to baked goods such as muffins, cakes, and bread.

To make elderberry syrup, combine 1 cup of elderberries, 3 cups of water, and 1 cup of sugar in a medium saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Strain the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve and discard the solids. Let the syrup cool to room temperature before pouring it into a glass jar. Store the syrup in the refrigerator for up to 2 weeks.

To dry elderberries, wash and rinse the berries and remove them from the stems. Spread the berries on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper and place them in a warm, dry place. Allow the berries to dry for 2-3 days, or until they are completely dry and brittle. Store the dried berries in an airtight container in a cool, dry place.

A close up image of freshly harvested elderberries in Michigan.

Elderberries Close Up by Gerwin Sturm

Baking With Elderberries

Elderberries can add a delicious and nutritious twist to your baked goods. They pair well with lemon, apple, cinnamon, and nutmeg, and can be used in muffins, cakes, bread, and scones.

To make elderberry muffins:

  • Preheat your oven to 375°F and grease a muffin tin.
  • In a large mixing bowl, whisk together 2 cups of flour, 1 tablespoon of baking powder, ½ teaspoon of salt, and ½ cup of sugar.
  • In a separate bowl, whisk together 1 egg, 1 cup of milk, and ¼ cup of melted butter.
  • Fold in 1 cup of fresh or frozen elderberries, then pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir until just combined.
  • Spoon the batter into the muffin tin and bake for 20-25 minutes, or until golden brown.

Grown Your Own Elderberries

Elderberries are a versatile and nutritious fruit that can be easily grown and harvested in Michigan. This fruit can produce a continuous harvest, especially on a mature plant. Elderberries are easy to grow and can produce fruit for years to come!

If you’re in search of elderberries in Northern Michigan, Bright Lane Gardens sells both bare-root and potted elderberry plants. Sourced specifically for hardiness to withstand Michigan’s harsh winters and hot summers, our plants are the perfect choice for growing berries in Michigan!

An elderberry cupcake baked with freshly harvested elderberries.

Elderberry Cupcake by F.A.