Though they are not widely known, elderberries are one of the most versatile and productive plants in the garden world.
Native to many parts of the United States, they have offered shade, protection, beautiful flowers, and a tasty berry to their keepers and the local wildlife for generations. In short, they require very little care and give back so much!
Whether you choose to grow them as a hedge, a place for butterflies to visit, or for food and medicinal recipes, you won’t be disappointed by the benefits they offer. And this plant is hearty enough for even first-time growers to master.
If you live in a growing zone that is pleasing to this shrub, I highly recommend giving elderberries a chance.
You can certainly propagate existing plants – especially if you are fortunate to have them growing wild in your region. But many gardeners choose to buy proven varieties from nurseries and garden centers.
The Best Elderberry Tree and Shrub Varieties
We’ve identified seven of our favorite cultivars for the home gardener to include:
This native cultivar of Sambucus canadensis goes by the common name “Adams.” It is one of the most common elderberries grown in North America and is similar to those found growing wild.
The signature white flowers, and large clusters of dark purple fruits, make it easily identifiable as a beautiful yard accent.
At full height, this beautiful bush can reach between 6 and 10 feet tall. It will thrive in USDA Hardiness Zones 3-9.
Find this plant for sale as a 4” potted shrub available from Amazon.
2. Black Beauty
A new import from Europe, this variety has very dark leaves, pinkish blooms, and a unique lemon scent.
It is best suited for US growing zones 4-7 and prefers moist or even wet growing conditions.
A smaller elderberry breed, this plant will grow to no more than 6 feet at maturity, but responds well to pruning.
Like other elderberries, it produces luscious fruits that have become popular for making delicious wines. Buy two to ensure proper cross-pollination.
You can find this plant for sale as a potted shrub from Nature Hills Nursery.
3. Black Lace
This unique version of the common Sambucus plant has dark leaves that appear lacey throughout the growing season. When the flowers come on, you’ll be delighted to find that they are pink!
This plant also produces the same versatile berry as other more common varietals.
Many gardeners find that the plant’s need for moisture makes it a perfect rain garden addition.
A bit smaller than other bushes, these plants will grow to just 8 feet tall at full height. It’s easy to prune, so feel free to trim it to the height that works best with your landscape design plans.
The Black Lace variety thrives in US Hardiness Zones 4-7. It is available as a shrub from Nature Hills.
This plant is native to the western United States, Mexico, and the West Coast.
With large, powdery-blue berries, it can sometimes be confused for a form of blueberry. The fruits on this stunning bush are known for having a rich flavor.
This blue variety differs from others in that it grows best from seed. It thrives in warmer regions, and therefore is best suited for growing zones 3 through 10. At maturity, it can reach a height of 10-30 feet, with a spread of 18 feet under ideal growing conditions.
Seeds for this unique plant are available from Amazon.
5. European Red
This imported beauty has amazing cherry-red fruits in the fall, and light green, feathery foliage makes it a beautiful yard accent.
Owners of the plant are usually stunned by how birds and pollinators are attracted to the large, showy flowers. Butterflies are almost always nearby!
Propagate in the spring for a full-grown, eye-catching bush within two to three years. It has the potential to reach up to 20 feet tall in growing zones 3-8. Please note that some experts caution against eating varieties with red berries, and many favor black varieties since red ones tend to be pungent and bitter, with many seeds.
You can expect this variety to reach a mature height of 10-20 feet.
Purchase seeds to start this plant from Amazon.
6. Lemon Lace
Also known as Lemony Lace, this is a very hardy and showy plant that has feathery, light-colored leaves. S. racemose produces red fruits in the fall, after the white flower bunches have died away.
Amazingly deer-, cold-, and wind-resistant, it does well in full sun and is a prized plant in the northern United States. It’s versatile enough, however, to thrive in partial shade in southern states as well.
A smaller cultivar, this type typically attains a height and spread of 3-5 feet at maturity.
Plant in zones 3-7 and enjoy this adaptable plant with its uniquely beautiful chartreuse color. Please note that some experts cautions against eating S. racemose cultivars, i.e. those with red berries.
Lemony Lace shrubs are available from Nature Hills.
Another old-style elderberry, this one is reported to have the largest berries and the highest fruit yield.
This resilient breed is also cold tolerant, making it a perfect choice for zones 3-9. Many growers use it as a natural fencing solution, since bushes can grow up to 12 feet tall.
Fall brings about a beautiful color change in this plant. Foliage becomes bright red before dropping off for the winter.
York is a cultivar of the American canadenesis, and is available as a shrub from Nature Hills Nursery.
Though most varieties of elderberry are self-fruiting, you can encourage higher yields by planting another cultivar of the same species nearby. York and Adams make excellent companions, and you can purchase bare root plants paired conveniently in the Elderberry Collection that is available from Burpee.
Which Plant is Best?
With so many options to choose from, it may be difficult to decide on a favorite. Luckily, most elderberries grow well together, giving you the choice to try multiple breeds for a rainbow of florals.
If it is your first time growing, you will likely do well with an established bush in a pot.
Remember that every breed thrives in moisture and works well in butterfly ecosystems. You can’t go wrong with the benefits that these varieties provide!
Which elderberry species or cultivar do you have experience growing? Do you prefer to choose by foliage, flower, or berry? Please leave your pick of the best in the comments!
And since we know that you’re an elderberry fan, be sure to check out our some of our other guides such as:
- How to Grow Elderberries
- Harvesting and Preserving Elderberry: A Fruit for Food and Medicine
- How to Use Elderflowers for Food and Medicine
- How to Grow Elderberries in Pots and Containers
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Product photos via Hirt’s Gardens, Nature Hills Nursery, Arvice Seeds, and rusli8. Uncredited photos: Shutterstock.
About Linsey Knerl
Born and raised in a small Nebraska town, Linsey Knerl is a homeschooling mother of six who enjoys blogging and working hard on her 3 1/2-acre Nebraska homestead. When she’s not working on her next fantasy novel, you will find her in her kitchen, perfecting the Danish recipes of her grandmother with those special ingredients you can only find in a backyard garden.