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Elderberry is one of the most pruning native plants. If you follow our tips when pruning elderberry, you can not only curb vigorous growth, but also increase harvest yields or effectively stop the bush from aging.

In a nutshell

  • the typical cutting time is between autumn and spring
  • is thinned out over the entire season
  • Elderberry tolerates pruning and is easy to train
  • a good cut strengthens the new shoots in the coming year

The best time

In order to ideally cut an elder, you have to choose the right date so that the plant can recover after the cut. An exception are intensive cutting measures. If, for example, you want to plant the elder completely or cut it back heavily (e.g. after an illness), this may only be done between October 1st and March 1st according to § 39 of the German Federal Nature Conservation Act (BNatSchG). The reason: from spring to autumn, shrubs and trees offer numerous animals a shelter that must not be removed. Only grooming and shaping cuts are allowed outside of this period as long as the loss of material is not too high. If you don't stick to the deadline, you can expect fines of up to 50,000 euros. The other pruning measures are recommended at the following time:

  • mid-September to early March
  • Exact date depends on cutting measure
  • dry day
  • Frost free
  • covered

Notice: Be careful not to cut the elderberry too late in spring, otherwise there is a risk of the flowers falling out.

tools and aids

Before you can start cutting, you need the right tools. With the right tool, you reduce the effort involved in cutting and improve the result. Disinfect the tools thoroughly before pruning, especially if diseased plants have been pruned with them beforehand. This prevents pathogens from getting into the open wounds. The same goes for blunt tools. If the tools are crushed or torn, the risk of diseases caused by fungi, bacteria and viruses increases. The following list gives you an overview of the necessary tools for the Sambucus cut:

  • Rose or secateurs
  • pruning shears
  • ladder
  • optional: pruning saw (for thick branches)
  • optional: telescopic rod
Tree pruning with pruning shears

Thin out elderberry

One of the classic cutting measures on a Sambucus is regular thinning. Since elderberry grows extensively regardless of the species and keeps sprouting even after ruthless pruning, you have to take good care of it. Fortunately, only minor measures are required to give the wood sufficient strength. Elderberry plants are not thinned out over the cool seasons. They take care of the trees throughout the season if necessary. The goal of pruning is to remove branches that are sapping your strength. These just have to be cut off. These include the following shoots and branches:

  • broken
  • dried up
  • flagging
  • fell ill
  • growing inwards
  • growing obliquely outwards

Tip: You can remove biennial branches entirely if they have not formed new branches. In most cases, these only get longer, but no longer have a positive effect on the structure of the elderberry.

care cut

In addition to regular thinning, it is particularly important to take care of the elderberry once a year. The care cut serves to maintain the natural growth form and health of the Sambucus so that it can grow vigorously in the coming season. The approach is not difficult, but the effort can be quite high depending on the dimensions of the elderberry. With the following instructions, you will be able to cut back by mid-October at the latest:

  • Cut harvested shoots first
  • can be recognized by the fact that they hang down
  • Shorten by 2/3 or remove completely
  • Place the cutting tool 3 to 5 mm diagonally over an eye
  • Thin out the elderberry well afterwards
  • only fresh and healthy wood should remain
  • now the young shoots follow
  • recognizable by the bark: smooth, light grey
  • Select 10 to 13 healthy young shoots
  • should be located as close as possible to the base or trunk
  • shorten only if too long
  • Completely remove remaining young shoots
  • if necessary, shorten all remaining shoots by 1/3
  • Shorten shoots that are too long to suit the look
  • Wound closure agents not necessary due to the robustness
  • Then dispose of the clippings
  • Do not dispose of diseased or pest-infested clippings in the compost

Notice: If you can no longer cut the elder, you can stop cutting for a season if there is no case of illness.

taper cut

If the Sambucus has not been pruned for a long period of time, it will begin to age. This particularly affects the branches close to the ground, as they no longer get enough light and are becoming more and more bare. A rejuvenation cut should also be used when the elder has grown very high and harvesting is no longer possible without a ladder or is no longer possible at all. To fix this problem, you need to apply an intense makeover cut. Fortunately, the wood is very robust, which makes even such pruning measures possible without any problems. The following guide will help you with the cut:

  • cut in late winter or early spring
  • Choose a day without risk of night frost
  • Prune the shrub radically
  • cut as much as needed
  • remove thick branches as well
  • cut back to the ground
  • leave 10 to 15 shoots at the end
  • choose the healthiest
  • clear the selected shoots of unnecessary branches and twigs

Notice: After the rejuvenation pruning, you will have to do without flowering and berries in the same year. The shrub will not fully recover until next season.

High trunk: training cut

In addition to the cuts already mentioned, the training cut must also be mentioned. Many gardeners prefer their elder plants as a standard, as they take up significantly less space and make it easier to harvest the flowers or berries. Although pruning is more commonly used than topiary, you have to approach proper training differently. The ideal approach as follows:

  • Plant cuttings or young plants in autumn
  • Remove all shoots except the middle one
  • Center drive should be strong
  • leave the 3 healthiest shoots on the middle shoot
  • should be in the upper part of the center wheel
  • Remove the remaining shoots from the center shoot
  • Cut off the lower shoots again next spring
  • Check shape-giving shoots for health in June
  • then shorten
  • by St. John's Day (24 June) at the latest
  • do so in the years to come
  • the standard form becomes clearer with each passing year
  • Don't forget to thin out over the years

frequently asked Questions

How are elder hedges cut?

The pruning of an elder hedge is only recommended from the 2nd year. After that, you should trim the hedge every year so that it doesn't get too big. Pruning is done in the spring because it does not require a complete care cut. Remove the oldest shoots growing on the ground and overhanging wood that is no longer strong enough. Long young shoots from last season are significantly shortened or removed.

Can the cutting measures be left out completely?

The biggest advantage of Sambucus plants is the possibility to completely do without pruning. But this is only possible if you prefer a naturally growing elderberry bush. The shrub will then simply grow unhindered, which will affect the size and shape accordingly. For this reason, sufficient space is essential if you do not want to use pruning measures.

When and how are the flowers harvested?

If you want to harvest the aromatic elderflowers, you have to cut them off. Remember that harvested flowers can no longer form berries. It is harvested during the elderberry blossom on dry, sunny days before noon. Cut off the entire flower and put them in a basket, as bags will affect their freshness. Before use, shake the cones to remove insects and dirt.

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