How To Take and Propagate Elderberry Cuttings

Elderberries make a great addition to any garden. Not only are they beautiful with fragrant blossoms, but the berries themselves are packed full of nutrition and a delicious flavor that you can turn into tea, syrup, pie, and preservatives. In order to do this, you will need to propagate elderberry cuttings first.

Elderberry Cuttings

To propagate elderberries, select your elderberry cuttings in the early spring and let them soak in water for six to eight weeks. If you don’t like the water method, you can let them sit in a mini greenhouse for six weeks instead. Once sturdy roots have grown, transplant the elderberry cuttings to your garden for them to grow permanently.

If you are interested in learning more about propagating elderberry cuttings, keep reading. This article answers key questions about elderberry propagation, including the following:

When Is the Best Time to Take Elderberry Cuttings?

The best time to take elderberry cuttings depends on if you want to propagate from hardwood or softwood. If you want to propagate from softwood, which is recommended, take elderberry cuttings in the early spring before the plants are mature.

Ideal Cutting Time: Early Spring

Elderberries are known as the harbinger of spring and with good reason. While other plants are still dormant during this time, elderberries are just beginning to come out of their dormancy and pop through the cold ground. This is the best time to take elderberry cuttings.

During this time, the elderberry plants are out of their dormancy, but they aren’t mature yet. At this age, it will be easier to get the elderberry cuttings to propagate. So, you want the elderberry cuttings to be right before maturation but still at a dormancy.

Other Cutting Time Option

In the case that you want to propagate your elderberry from hardwood matter, take the elderberry cuttings in the winter. This is when the plant will be dormant. It is more difficult to propagate from hardwood elderberries, which is why we recommend the softwood method.

If you want hardwood cutting specifically, cut from the elderberry plant during the month of January to March. The exact time you should cut the plant will depend on where you live. If you don’t see any growth or budding, it’s time to cut.

Unless there is a specific reason why you need hardwood, select softwood from the early spring for your cutting.

How Do You Cut From Elderberry Plants?

To propagate from hardwood elderberry cuttings, you can select hardwood or softwood cuttings. Most people agree that softwood cuttings are the easiest, but you might want to select hardwood cuttings as well. Here is how to cut from either plant.

Elderberry Bush

Hardwood Cuttings

Look for branches that are about the same size as a pencil. You want the cutting to be 6 to 8 inches long. Make sure there are at least two or four nodes on the branch. In case you are unfamiliar, the nodes are the spots where you will expect leaves and branches to grow.

The best hardwood cuttings will have a lot of lenticels. Lenticels are little bumps, almost like pores. The purpose of these lenticels is to enable gas exchange, which is required for a healthy plant and successful propagation. Make sure there is no damage on the wood either, including mold, mildew, or obvious cuts, dents, or damage.

To actually cut the hardwood, you can use a pair of clippers or a sharp knife to snip the stem. Try cutting at a 45-degree angle and cut straight. If you don’t have a sharp knife, you can pull the entire branch back at the joint to remove some bark along with the branch.

Softwood Cuttings

The best way to propagate elderberries is with softwood cuttings. Softwood cuttings are best during the early spring, right before the plant is mature. Softwood will be a lot lighter, softer, and easier to bend.

Find some softwood that is about the size of a pencil, and make the length 6 to 8 inches. Once again, there needs to be anywhere from two to four nodes on the length. Pay attention to lenticels, leaves, and the healthiness of the plant. You likely won’t have to worry about mold and mildew since the plant is so young, but it doesn’t hurt to look.

Use clippers to cut at a 45-degree angle through the softwood. This will not take much effort since the softwood is easier to cut through than the hardwood.

How Do You Propagate Elderberry Cuttings?

Now that you have your elderberry cuttings, it’s time to propagate them. Propagating hardwood elderberry is a lot more difficult than propagating softwood. For this reason, we are going to focus on propagating softwood varieties from here on out.

Step 1: Soak the Cuttings

The first step for propagating your elderberry cuttings is to soak them in water. Place the cut side directly into a jar of water. The water should come halfway up the cutting. Make sure that the jar stays in a sunny area for a minimum of six weeks, but it can stay in this place for eight weeks as well. Most plants need the full eight weeks.

Clean the water once a week or so and mist the cutting every three days. By week 8, you should see roots beginning to grow. Be careful at first. These roots will be fragile. Only transplant the cutting to the garden once the roots look substantial.

Step 2: Environment

In order to propagate elderberry cuttings, you need to create the ideal environment for the plants while the cuttings are soaking. The best way to do this is to replicate the native soil and environment elderberries grow in.

Elderberry plants grow in hardiness zones 3 through 8. These zones take up most of the United States, with the exception of the northernmost and southernmost parts. The top of the United States is too cold for elderberry, whereas the very bottom is too hot. More than likely, you live in an area where elderberries grow easily.

Step 3: Prepare the Soil

Now, it’s time to prepare the soil. Elderberries do best in sunny areas with partial shade, fertile soil, and a lot of organic matter. The soil needs great drainage too. Make sure that the soil area has high amounts of phosphorus and potassium.

It might be a good idea to test your soil. This will let you know what nutrients are in the ground. Add any supplements to your soil if needed. This is the best way to give your elderberries the best chance of survival.

Step 4: Plant the Elderberries

Once the soil is prepared and your cuttings have substantial roots, it’s time to finally plant your elderberries. Dig a hole that is large enough to hold the base of the stem at the same level as the soil. If you are planting multiple elderberries, there should be 6 to 10 feet between them so that there is enough space as the plant grows.

Elderberry Plant

Speed Up The Elderberry Propagation Process

Let’s say that you want to propagate your elderberry cuttings but don’t want to wait 8 weeks for the plants to sit in the water. If that’s the case, there is another method. You will need to begin by soaking the cuttings for a period of 12 to 24 hours.

After that, mix one part of peat moss (or substitute) with one part of sand. Combine this mixture with water. Slowly add more water until the texture is crumbly and damp but not sodden. Put this mixture in a 2 to 4 inch container. Stick the bottom third of the elderberry cutting into the soil.

Next, put a clear plastic bag around the pot and plant. Use twist ties, a rubber band, or some other material so that the bag is tight around the pot. This will create a greenhouse-like effect. Place the pot in a bright area with indirect sunlight. Every few days, mist the cutting and replace the bag when needed.

You will not have to wait for eight weeks, but you will have to wait for six weeks. Even though this is not too much faster than the above method, it is at least a little bit faster. Plus, the roots will be slightly sturdier when it’s time to transplant.

It’s time to transplant whenever you feel some resistance when pulling on the cutting. Continue with steps two through four as described above when the time comes.


If you want to grow some elderberry plants in your yard, one of the best ways to do this is to propagate softwood cuttings. Although it takes several weeks to get started, propagating elderberries can be a great way to get a beautiful plant with nutritional value in your yard.

Follow the steps above to perfect elderberry cuttings and propagate the plants accordingly. By summertime, you should have some beautiful elderberry plants that you can turn into syrup or pie.


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    Author, blogger, podcaster, homesteading and permaculture enthusiast. I have a passion for sharing what I learn and helping others on their journey. If you're looking for me, you'll usually find me in the garden.

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