How to cut elderberry correctly - tutorial for the correct cut

How to cut elderberry correctly - tutorial for the correct cut

Why is a cut recommended? - Cut options

In the wild, the spreading elderberry bushes are a familiar sight to us, but rarely a feast for the eyes. Where the wild fruit trees can develop freely, they become as high as a house, fall apart with curved shoots and age into an impenetrable shrubbery. With this silhouette, a Sambucus nigra is not a welcome guest in any garden. Thanks to its good-natured cut tolerance, you can easily keep the flowering and berry bush in shape. Recommended cutting options are summarized in the following overview:

also read

  • How fast and how high does an elder grow?
  • Cut black elder correctly - this is how it works
  • Raising elderberries to the standard - this is how you do it right
Cut typetargetPeriod / occasion
Body sectionConstruction of the scaffolding and orderly growth right from the start2nd and (if required) 3rd year of status
Clearance cutPromotion of abundance of flowers and fruit yield, preservation of form, prevention of agingOnce a year from the 3rd or 4th year
Taper cutRevitalize and rebuild old shrubwhen old age occurs
UpbringingYoung shrub raise to treePlanting year up to the 3rd or 4th year of standing
Hedge cuttingConstruction and maintenance as a free-growing, compact hedgefrom the 2nd year of standing at least once a year
Put on the stickto rejuvenate the aged, impenetrable hedgebetween October 1st and March 1st

Please note that this is a list of options for an elder pruning. A rejuvenating cut is not necessary if the shrub is given an annual clearing cut. The top cut for a large shrub is primarily recommended if it can already be foreseen during planting that the available space at the site is limited. You should only put an old hedge on the stick when there is no more getting through for the scissors and saw.

When is the best time?

An elder blooms and has the best fruit on its long shoots from the previous year. This growth behavior leaves little scope for choosing the best time to cut. Cutting back after the flowering period is at the expense of the fruit yield. If, on the other hand, you choose a date immediately after the autumn harvest, the scissors will, in the worst case, destroy the already established flower buds, which can hardly be seen at this time of the year.

The best time for almost every type of cut on the elder is therefore in late winter and early spring. Choose a date between late January and early March on a frost-free day. Shortly before budding, the flower buds are strongly swollen and clearly visible. This visual aspect makes it easier for beginners to distinguish between one-year old young shoots and worn, two-year-old and older branches.

Construction cut directs the growth to the large shrub

An elder develops naturally into a large, expansive shrub with numerous, lushly branched ground shoots, up to 10 meters high and 4 meters wide. You can not leave as much space in the garden the wild fruit trees, you conduct the second and third year after planting the growth with a bodywork interface into the desired shape. How to do it right:

  • In the spring of the second year of growth, select the 3 to 6 strongest ground shoots as a framework
  • Cut off all remaining shoots at ground level
  • As an exception, shorten scaffold drives that are too long by up to a third

If you are satisfied with the construction of the scaffolding at the beginning of the third year of standing, the construction section ends in the clearance section. If the shrub shape does not yet meet your expectations, correct the number of ground shoots in late winter. You no longer shorten annual long shoots, but slim down the shoot tips. To do this, simply cut away side shoots that are too long or that are growing in the wrong direction and that do not fit the desired shrub shape. In this phase of pruning, these can be annual or biennial shoots.

Clearance cut promotes shape and fruit quality

The annual clearing cut has the task of keeping the elderberry bush in shape and providing a rich bloom and berry costume. The focus is on preserving the annual long shoots on which numerous buds have survived the winter. This is how the uncomplicated maintenance cut succeeds:

  • Cut off bare old scaffold shoots close to the ground to make room for young shoots
  • Overhanging, worn branches lead to an annual side branch
  • Completely remove biennial branches without fresh branches

Annual side shoots that bloom and bear fruit this year indicate an upward and unbranched growth . Two-year-old shoots bore flowers and fruit in the previous year, which can be seen from their sagging, drooping state. Often fresh shoots from the previous year sprout cheerfully in the lower branch area. By diverting the older wood onto the young shoot, you can look forward to blossoms and fruits again at this point. You can read here how the derivative cut is very easy. The following video demonstrates the simple pruning of a young, still clear elderberry.


Rejuvenate elderberries in an exemplary manner - Instructions for rejuvenation pruning

Have you inherited an old elder or have you skipped the cut out for several years? Then simply turn the wheel of pruning to the beginning. You can do this with an uncomplicated taper cut , which you ideally carry out in at least two stages on very old and very large specimens . How to properly rejuvenate an elderberry:

  • First stage: cut off half of all scaffolding shoots at floor level
  • Second stage: cut the second half of the scaffold drives
  • In addition, determine 3 to 5 of the best specimens from the ground shoots of the previous year for the new frame
  • Remove the remaining annual ground shoots as part of the second stage

The figure below illustrates the professional approach. After the tapering cut, go to the explained clearance cut.

Elderberry cutout

Raising elderberries to become tall stems - that's how it works

In the small garden you don't have to do without the unspoilt charm of an elder. Thanks to its good-natured cut tolerance, you can raise the wild fruit tree into a space-saving tall trunk. Purchase a young plant from your trusted nursery or use a young elder from the garden. Select the strongest shoot as the future trunk and place a stick made of hardwood as a support for it. The support rod should extend to the later crown height and be connected to the trunk. This is how you train a young elderberry bush to become a standard stem:

  • The tip of the central shoot is capped above 4 to 5 sleeping eyes
  • The crown shoots sprouted from the sleeping eyes
  • Cut off all shoots below the crown
  • Ideally, tear off shoots that compete with the trunk and do not cut them off

Let the crown shoots grow uncut for the first year. Only in the spring of the second year do you cut the 4 to 5 long shoots back to 2 or 4 eyes. From the third year onwards, cut back worn biennial branches every spring or divert them to an annual branch. So that the crown does not become too expansive and heavy, you should not leave more than 10 to 15 annual twigs that bloom and bear fruit in summer. Please stay on the heels of nosy ground instincts. Because they are in competition with the trunk in the battle for water and nutrients, ground shoots have to give way every winter.

Cutting elderberry hedge perfectly - instructions for cutting hedge

An elderberry hedge should not be missing in the natural garden. The wild fruit grove is an ecological jewel because it is a land of milk and honey and a retreat for numerous beneficial insects. In order for the hedge to retain its natural character, it is cut more carefully than a solitaire. The annual clearing cut also serves to create the right shape so that the elder bushes thrive densely from the base. How to proceed professionally:

  • In the spring, thin out the oldest ground shoots for the purpose of continuous rejuvenation
  • Cut back or remove arched overhanging branches
  • Do not shorten young long shoots from the previous year as new blossom and fruit wood or only minimally

Give your elder hedge a trapezoidal shape with a broad base and a narrower crown. The wood base must not be shaded so that it does not become bald and the hedge character is lost. Regular lighting and the promotion of loose growth in the upper area allow the light to penetrate into the interior of the bush so that photosynthesis does not come to a standstill here.

Cut elderberry hedge

Putting elderberry hedge on the hive is limited in time

If the gardener fails to cut an elder hedge over many years, the bushes turn into an unsightly tangle of shoots. Radically taper the entire hedge, as described in this tutorial for a solitary elderberry. It is important to note that you can only put a hedge on the stick in the period from October 1st to March 1st. The Federal Nature Conservation Act provides for severe fines of up to 50,000 euros if this legal requirement is not observed.

Don't Cut Anywhere - Guide to Cutting Technique

The right cut of elder is a combination of expert shoot selection and targeted cutting technique. The focus is on the buds and sleeping eyes from which the lilac berries are freshly sprouting. Use scissors or a saw so that a point of vegetation is not damaged. A long stub should also not be left because it can become a source of infection for diseases and pests.

When thinning out a branch inside the bush or removing a crown shoot, keep an eye on the astring. The small bulge at the end of the branch must not be damaged because it contains the valuable cell tissue for the subsequent wound healing. An astring is usually not yet recognizable on the young elderberry bush. In this case, when making the incision, make sure that the bark is not injured.

Wound closure is out of date

If you follow the recommendation of this tutorial and cut your elderberry in late winter or early spring, you can safely put the topic of wound closure aside. Even with larger cuts, treatment is limited to smoothing the wound edges with a sharp knife. Please do not apply any tree wax (€ 5.99 at Amazon *), because the valuable cambium is prevented from forming wound wood (callus) by means of wound closure agents.

The right tool for the perfect cut - tips about saws and scissors

Conventional secateurs quickly reach their limits on a fully grown elder. In return, the two-handed pruning shears with ratchet gears are oversized for a parenting cut. The following overview shows you the right cutting tool for every type of cut on the elder:

  • One-hand secateurs for shoots up to 1.5 cm in diameter
  • One-hand pruning shears with power amplification through ratchet gear for branches up to 3 cm in diameter
  • Two-hand pruning shears with telescopic extension for branches up to 4 cm in diameter and up to 250-300 cm in height
  • Fixed or adjustable tree saw for all branches with a diameter of more than 4 cm
  • Manual hedge trimmer (€ 135.56 at Amazon *) with pull handle and up to 4 m reach

Most of the scissor models are available from specialist retailers with either a bypass or anvil mechanism. Each version has its advantages and disadvantages for a successful elder cut. The bypass scissors work with two sharp blades, but require more effort. The anvil scissors work with a sharp blade that presses the twig onto a blunt anvil. This reduces the stress on the arm, but can lead to bruises on the branch.

Electrically operated hedge trimmers are not suitable for the right cut on elderberries. As can be read in the tutorial, a distinction is made between annual and perennial shoots for the shape and thinning cut. This selection is only made possible by manual scissor models. When buying, please ensure a long range so that you can easily clear dead wood deep inside the hedge.

Careful blade cleaning is a top gardener duty

Contaminated cutting tools are the number one cause of disease in elderberry bushes. Please clean the scissors and saw thoroughly with hot water before and after use. The blades should also be disinfected with alcohol to remove stubborn pathogens.

Important facts for the cut in a nutshell - cut profile

A black elder can live up to 100 years. In the course of the years the correct care of the cut will become a matter of course. On the way there, the central facts will help if you have doubts about the further cut in the middle of the work. The following profile summarizes all cut-relevant properties:

  • Native, deciduous wild fruit trees
  • Common name: lilacberry
  • Growth height: 300 to 1000 cm (varieties: 200 to 300 cm)
  • Spread: 200 to 400 cm (varieties: 120 to 200 cm)
  • Annual growth: 50 to 70 cm (varieties: 10 to 40 cm)
  • Flowering period: June to July
  • Bud system: in the previous year on long shoots
  • Fruit ripening: from mid-August
  • Winter hardiness: very good
  • Best time to cut: between late January and early March
  • Cut tolerance: excellent, sprouts out of old wood
  • Toxicity: slightly toxic (berries not suitable for fresh consumption)

frequently asked Questions

Are the cuttings of elderberry suitable for cutting?

The annual clearing cut aims to remove the shoots removed from the previous year as well as the aged, old branches. No more floral top performances can be expected from these branches. For propagation with cuttings, this year's and annual shoot tips that have not yet borne flowers or fruits are particularly suitable.

Is Elderberry Poisonous?

All elderberry species contain the poisonous glycoside sambunigrin and other toxins in the leaves, shoots and berries. Consumption in large quantities can cause symptoms of intoxication such as cramps, nausea and vomiting in children and sensitive adults. For the family garden with small children, elderberry is not recommended. The black elderberry berries are only suitable for consumption if they have been heated to more than 80 degrees during preparation. In various sambucus species with red fruits, the toxin content in the seeds remains even after the berries have been cooked. Only when the pulp has been passed through is it safe to eat.

Keep elderberry in the bucket - is that possible?

With a height of up to 5 meters, the pure wild species Sambucus nigra is not recommended for keeping in pots. The desire for an elder for the balcony and terrace is fulfilled by smaller varieties, such as the columnar elder 'Black Tower', which is limited to a maximum height of 250 centimeters and boasts black-red leaves. The fern-leaved golden elder 'Sutherland Gold' also remains in the bucket-suitable area with 200 centimeters and inspires with deep yellow pinnate leaves and bright red berries. For a young plant, the pot should have a volume of at least 10 liters so that the elderberry beauties can develop magnificently.

The 3 most common mistakes when cutting elderberry

errorepisodeCorrection / prevention
never exposedShrub or crown grow old, bloom and produce less and less fruitCut out worn, biennial long shoots and dead wood once a year
cut after the flowering periodlittle or no berry hangingsCut elderberry in late winter
Hedge not cut in a trapezoidal shapesteady aging and balding from belowElder hedge forms with a broad base and a narrower crown


Black elder is the progenitor of magnificent varieties that inspire with larger flowers and berries. The premium variety is 'Haschberg', with berry umbels weighing up to 1,000 grams. 'Black Beauty' scores with pink flowers and dark red leaflets. In the small garden, 'Black Lace' trumps with white flowers and deep red foliage. Among the conspecifics of the black elder, the grape elder, Sambucus racemosa 'Plumosa Aurea', causes a sensation with its golden yellow leaves.