The elder tree, with its diminutive size, flowers and berries and delicate shape is a popular tree to grow in home gardens, even those that are smaller in size. This little deciduous tree is a delight to people and wildlife and according to myth, planting an elder tree in your garden is said to protect your household from the devil!

Growing Elder:

If you want to grow elder from seed rather than buying a sapling from a garden centre or nursery then first you will have to gently separate the seeds from the berries by pulping them and using a sieve to separate the delicate seeds. Seeds should then be placed in a moist mixture of half compost, half horticultural sand, and left outside in a shady spot over the winter.

From February, you can check for signs of germination. If 10% or more of the seeds have germinated then it is time to sow the seeds. You can sow the seeds in a seed bed or into pots, four or five to a pot, covered with no more than 5mm of compost or grit.

As seedlings grow, be careful to keep them adequately hydrated and remember to thin out to the strongest specimen per pot. Elder grow quickly and should be ready to be planted out in their final position within one-two years.

Make sure to plant elders in a good free-draining soil as the roots are soft and can be prone to root rot. Also always make sure that you have cleared weeds, made a big enough hole to accommodate the root ball and that you replant the tree as the same depth as it was in the pot.

The elder thrives in moderately fertile, moist but well-draining soil and can also do well on extremely chalky sites. They are rather flexible and can live in sunny or partly shaded sites in exposed or sheltered spots. They will usually not exceed an ultimate height of 4 to 8 m, which they can reach in 10-20 years.

Why grow elder in the garden?

Elder flowers can be used to make wine, cordial or tea and the berries that follow them have a range of culinary uses, though it should be noted that when they are not cooked, flowers, leaves and berries are all mildly poisonous.

As well as being of use to the home-maker, elders are also of great value to the wildlife in your garden. The flowers provide nectar for a variety of insects and the berries are eaten by a whole range of birds and mammals.

You can buy many different cultivated varieties of elder with a range of different coloured foliage and flowers.

Depending on how superstitious you are, you may also enjoy the idea that an elder tree on your property could protect you and your household from supernatural evil. But watch out, some say that the elder is a witch in disguise and no wood should be taken from her without her consent.

Quick Facts

Latin Name
Sambucus Nigra