Grow your own elderberry shrubs from hardwood cuttings

Bob Dluzen
The Detroit News

Several  years ago, we planted a small patch of elderberries. This year we decided to expand our patch by propagating more from our existing bushes.

There are several ways to propagate new elderberry shrubs. To describe all of the different methods of propagation would take up a chapter in a book. I’ll just share with you the way we go about doing it.

The method involves taking dormant hardwood cuttings from existing plants when the buds on the twigs and branches are still closed. 

Now that it's mid-March and the temperatures are rising, we’re getting close to the deadline for taking hardwood cuttings. Once the buds begin to swell and start growing, then a different method of propagation must be used. 

Buds appear as larger bumps. The more numerous smaller bumps are lenticels. Roots only grow from buds.

Some people collect cuttings as early as January and refrigerate them until planting time. Waiting until now to take them, however, guarantees your cuttings will be fresher for planting and more likely to grow. 

Stems that are about the diameter of a pencil or a little bit bigger work best. 

Pencil-diameter branches work best. Take as many cutting as you can from each branch.

To take cuttings, start from the bottom end of a branch and find a set of buds. A slanting cut is made about half an inch or so below the buds or “node.” That will separate the branch from the shrub. 

Then moving up the branch, make a second cut above the next set of buds. The upper cut should be made straight across. Roots develop from the lower node located at the slanted cut while leaves emerge from the upper node. 

Since cuttings planted upside down will not root, using two types of cuts will help you quickly identify which end of the cutting goes up. 

Once enough cuttings are gathered, they're wrapped in plastic with some damp sawdust and placed in a refrigerator. The temperature inside the fridge simulates winter conditions and will keep the buds in a dormant state preventing them from opening. 

A bunch of elderberry cutting ready to place into the refrigerator.

In a couple of weeks, when the daily temperatures are consistently in the 40s, we’ll take the cuttings out and plant them. 

When the time comes, we will plant our cuttings into one end of a raised garden bed that is filled with loose, friable soil. That way we can keep a close eye on them while they are developing.

The bottom end of each cutting is placed at least two inches beneath the surface of the soil. Some gardeners plant them deeper than that, almost right up to the upper buds. 

A light dusting of rooting hormone on the bottom end will help root development but is not absolutely necessary.

It’s critical that the newly planted cuttings be kept evenly moist and never be allowed to dry out, but the soil should not be muddy either. 

In a couple of weeks, when we stick the cuttings, I’ll post a description here of the planting process.