A family of mainly deciduous shrubs and small trees, loved for their summer flowers, fruits and attractive finely cut foliage.
Botanical Name: Sambucus
Common Names: Elder
Foliage: Deciduous, finely dissected leaves (pinnate) with five to seven leaflets. Leaf colour can be green, black, yellow or variegated, depending on variety.
Flowers: Flat clusters of small white or pink flowers, followed by red, white or black berries.
Flowering Period: Summer (May/June).
Soil: Moist but well-drained soil (chalk, clay, sand or loam). Any pH.
Conditions: Full sun or partial shade. Can be grown in a north, south, east or west-facing aspect, in a sheltered or exposed location.
Type: Shrub or small tree.
Origin: Europe, West Asia, North Africa, North America.
Toxicity: All parts are mildly toxic if ingested. However, the flowers and berries can be edible when cooked or used in wine making.
Hardiness: Hardy in the UK.
Sambucus is very hardy and tolerant of poor conditions.
Plant outside in early autumn or spring. Container grown plants can be planted out at any reasonable time of year. Most colourful forms make fine decorative shrubs.
Best grow in an open sunny position in any good, well drained, fertile garden soil. Yellow leaved forms need good light for the best colour, but may scorch in full sun.
Water thoroughly during dry weather until well established. Mulch with organic matter in spring and apply a general fertilizer suitable for shrubs.
Pruning is not normally necessary except to shape or restrict growth, in late winter or early spring.
Can be pruned back hard to restrict the size to a small shrub or to fully regenerate if they become leggy. Varieties with coloured leaves can be pruned hard in spring to encourage fresh new growth.
Young shoots are susceptible to attack by aphids. Can be affected by verticillium wilt.
Can be increased from softwood cuttings taken in early summer. Alternatively, plant 12in (30cm) hardwood cuttings in late autumn.
Sambucus canadensis (American black elderberry, Canada elderberry) is a deciduous suckering shrub with large white flat flower clusters borne above the green pinnate leaves. Dark purple to black berries in autumn.
Sambucus nigra (common elder) is a large shrub with creamy white fragrant flower heads in early summer, followed by black fruits in autumn. Height up to 26ft (8m), spread to 16ft (5m). Good cultivars include:
'Aurea' a low growing form, with golden foliage.
'Black Lace' has almost black dissected foliage with creamy pink buds and flowers from May to June, followed by blackish red berries in autumn. Available at You Garden. Available at Gardening Express. Available at Van Meuwen.
'Eva' produces delicate pink flower clusters in early summer. The deep, dark burgundy leaves turn a bright, majestic red in autumn. Available at Thompson & Morgan.
'Golden Tower' forms a tall and relatively narrow deciduous shrub of bright golden yellow leaves. Available at Thompson & Morgan.
'Laciniata' has finely divided fern-like green leaves. Creamy-white flowers in May.
'Linearis' has delicate slender leaves with a fine lacy texture. The white elder flowers are borne in May and June, followed by clusters of black elderberries from late summer. Available at Thompson & Morgan.
'Madonna' is a unique golden variegated Elder with white flat headed flower clusters in early summer, turning into rich black fruit in autumn. Available at Gardening Express. Available at Thompson & Morgan.
'Marginata' has dark green foliage edged with creamy-yellow margins. White flowers from June to August.
'Purpurea' the young foliage is flushed with red-purple.
Sambucus racemosa (red elderberry) is a very attractive red-berried shrub. Height and spread to 12ft (3.5m). Cultivar 'Plumosa Aurea' is a slow growing form with golden feathery foliage and white flowers followed by red berries. 'Sutherland Gold' - produces conical clusters of creamy yellow flowers in mid spring followed by glossy red fruits and deeply cut bronze young leaves that turn golden yellow. Available at Gardening Express. Available at Van Meuwen.