Research Results: Growing Elderberries in Ditches? Go Ahead and Plant!

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No Elderberries here? Think again, they’re nestled inside the grass waiting for their turn.

We are conducting numerous experiments in tandem, the majority of which are how we can plant things in the toughest locations and still have them excel.

We have found overall that it is actually kind of hard to mess up planting trees in the Southeast (ignoring cold sensitive species such as citrus for a moment). We have planted trees in freezing temperatures, full on summer heat, and everything in-between with great success all around.

Having said that, it would seem that we are in a good position to start calling “research complete” with our elderberries in ditches experiment.

Long post short, these guys are super hardy. And I mean super hardy.

Research Background

As a bit of background, this particular experiment we were looking for ways that we could use unproductive spaces that were water catchment ditches (also known as swales). We started this experiment in March just before the summer so that we could see exactly what would happen if we were to transplant plants in fairly extreme conditions, given absolutely no care.

Since these ditches can often hold water for a week or more in the winter time, we knew that if we were going to make these ditches productive we would need to plant something that was very wet tolerant during the winter. In summer these ditches remain extremely dry, although if there is enough water to run off the surface, it collects here.  These ditches also have absolutely no soil. They have been bare, hard capped “dirt/rock” for the last 2 years, making them less than ideal planting surfaces. To handle these sort of conditions our first choice was the Elderberry (Sambucus canadensis).

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Still alive. This plant is biding its time and gaining strength to dominate.

Elderberries naturally grow in extremely wet areas which is no surprise to many people, however what was not understood (until now) is their level of hardiness leaving the nursery. They would receive no additional water, no mulch, no weeding. Nothing.

Results After Five Months

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This was the largest one we planted. Sure enough it has fruit its first year in.

Now that summer is mostly well on its way to being over, the results are actually a bit more shocking and one sided than I thought they would be.

The spring and summer have been fairly wet this year, a bit more than in years passed which may have aided in the establishment of these elderberries. While it has been a wetter than usual year, there have been periods of 90+ degrees with no rain for a few weeks putting a bit of stress of water on some plants. (No trees, just herbaceous plants)

While some things could change by the end of the year it seems quite conclusive that elderberries are exceptionally hardy to being transplanted in rough conditions. Nearly every single cutting that we transplanted has made it. Even the smallest cuttings with the least amount of root made it and are still growing and healthy looking. This indicates to us that unless you live in a dry climate, there may be little value in waiting until cuttings are large and mature before moving out. So long as they have some sort of root mat, they’ll probably do just fine.

There does not seem to be any particular pattern seen in the few (2 or 3) that did not make it. One was the second largest one that we transplanted, so lack of size is not likely the issue. They may just have not been strong enough, or perhaps got sick while weakened and died. We aren’t sure, but well over 75% of them have made it.

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This little guy was a tinnie tiny transplant. Definitely alive.

Major Conclusions

  • Elderberries can be transplanted with minimal roots on them.
  • Elderberries can be transplanted directly into water holding ditches, being entirely submerged for a week or more and still live.
  • Elderberries are extremely hardy, even in the face of intense summers.

Now that we’ve got some evidence of some strength, lets proceed to plant more, and have less excuses why “now’s not the right time”.

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2 thoughts on “Research Results: Growing Elderberries in Ditches? Go Ahead and Plant!

  1. I’m curious to know if they produced in their first year. If so, how did you keep the wildlife from enjoying them?

    Thanks for the great research. I’m ready to give these a try.

    • For the ones we planted in the ditches that were basically cuttings no, however, the mother plant which we purchased as a 3.5 gallon plant did produce a little bit the first year. Definitely by the 2nd year it had good production and the 3rd year (this year) we got about 8 pounds of fruit off of it. Yes, 8 pounds.

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