How to Grow and Care for Black Lace® Elderberry

Black lace elderberry plant with small white and light pink flower flat-topped clusters closeup

The Spruce / Adrienne Legault

Black Lace® elderberry is a trademarked commercial form of a single black elderberry cultivar, Sambucus nigra 'Eva'. It is a popular ornamental shrub for landscaping but is not the best choice if the goal is edible berries. The beauty of this cultivar begins with the namesake leaves, which are, indeed, lacy (deeply lobed) and almost black (a very dark purple). The plant also produces pretty, light-pink, fragrant (lemon-scented) flowers, which appear in flat-topped clusters. These flowers produce richly black, glossy berries by autumn. Although the berries are edible and high in Vitamin C, this European type is more often grown as a foliage plant— American elderberry is the better choice if you want to harvest elderberries for the production of food and drink.

Elderberry shrubs are generally planted as container-grown nursery plants or balled-and-burlapped plants in fall or early spring. Elderberries are fast-growing shrubs, often reaching full size and producing berries in their first year. While not regarded as invasive, elderberry is an aggressive spreader that will require regular removal of suckers if you want to keep it from spreading.

This plant is moderately toxic to people and pets. Leaves, stems, and roots contain glycosides that can induce severe digestive symptoms if ingested.

 Common Name  Black lace elderberry
 Botanical Name  Sambucus nigra 'Eva' BLACK LACE®
Family Viburnaceae
 Plant Type  Deciduous shrub
 Mature Size  6–8 feet tall, 6–8 feet wide
 Sun Exposure  Full to partial
 Soil Type  Humusy, moist but well drained
 Soil pH  Slightly acidic to neutral
 Bloom Time  June to July
 Flower Color  Light pink
 Hardiness Zones  4–7 (USDA)
 Native Area Cultivar; no native range (parent species is a European native)
 Toxicity Toxic to humans, pets

Black Lace Elderberry Care

Black Lace® elderberry grows best in a full sun location, in moist but well-drained soil that is slightly acidic. It will tolerate partial shade, but flower and berry production may be somewhat reduced. When planting, set the shrub about 2 inches deeper than it was growing in its nursery pot.

At the southern end of its range, it can be planted in spring or fall. But, at the northern end of its range, plant in spring to give it time to get established before the next winter arrives. Mulching is also important in the South, to retain moisture in the soil, and, in the North, to offer winter protection.

Technically, Black Lace® elderberry is self-pollinating. But if you wish to have as many berries as possible, plant another cultivar elderberry for increased pollination.

Black lace elderberry plant with small white flat-topped flower clusters surrounded by lacy dark green elaves

The Spruce / Adrienne Legault

Black lace elderberry plant with dark lacy leaves below light pink flat-topped flower clusters

The Spruce / Adrienne Legault

Black lace elderberry plant with small light pink flat-topped flower clusters on dark stem and leaves

The Spruce / Adrienne Legault

Black lace elderberry light pink flat-topped flower clusters closeup

The Spruce / Adrienne Legault

Light

In the North, while Black Lace® elderberry will tolerate partial shade, it will produce more flowers and more attractive foliage color if grown in full sun. At the southern end of its range, it will benefit from some afternoon shade.

Soil

The Black Lace® elderberry bush tolerates clay soil types better than many shrubs but performs better over time if planted in soil that drains well. It prefers slightly acidic soil but usually grows adequately in neutral soil.

Water

Keep the soil evenly moist. In the wild, elderberry shrubs often grow near wetlands, so it comes as no surprise that cultivars tolerate wet soil better than many other species of plants. Make sure your elderberry gets at least 1 inch of water per week, through a combination of rainfall and irrigation.

Fertilizer

Feed Black Lace® elderberry with a balanced fertilizer once in spring and once in summer.

Types of Black Elderberry

In addition to the trademarked Black Lace® form of this plant described here, there are several other cultivars of black elderberry (Sambucus nigra), including:

  • 'Laced Up®: This copyright-protected form has feathery purple-black foliage and grows with a columnar growth habit to a height of 6 to 10 feet.
  • 'Marginata': This variety has green leaves with creamy white margins. It has white flowers and grows 6 to 12 feet tall.
  • 'Aureomarginiata': This variegated form has medium green leaves with golden yellow margins; it grows 6 to 12 feet tall.
  • Instant Karma®: This is a copyright-protected variety with blue-green leaves variegated with creamy white margins. It grows 6 to 8 feet tall.
  • Black Beauty®: This copyright-protected variety has deep purple foliage on plants that grow 8 to 15 feet tall.

Pruning Black Lace® Elderberry

Most authorities recommend that elderberries not be pruned at all for the first two years, as the plant develops a full growth habit. After this, it's best to prune the shrub years in late winter or early spring, before new growth begins. Keep in mind that the plant blooms and produces fruits on new growth, so you should avoid pruning after this growth has begun. Pruning this shrub will keep it vigorous, attractive, and reduce its spread.

As the woody stems of the plant get older, they become weaker and less attractive. Removing these older stems will direct more energy into the newer, more attractive stems.

Like other varieties, Black Lace® elderberry can spread via suckers. Prune out the suckers when you find them if you want to keep the plant from spreading. If you do not mind having the plant spread, you have the option of allowing the suckers to grow to create an informal hedge, screen, or thicket.

Propagating Black Lace® Elderberry

As a plant carrying a registered trademark, propagating this plant in any way—either vegetatively or through collecting and planting its seeds—is a violation of copyright law and could earn you a stiff legal penalty.

Other forms of black elderberry that are not copyright protected are quite easy to propagate, simply by digging up and transplanting rooted suckers, or by transplanting the volunteer seedlings that sprout up when seeds take root nearby. But be sure that the plant you are propagating is not trademarked—many varieties are.

Overwintering

Elderberry shrubs can be subject to damage from rabbits and other gnawing animals, so protecting them with wire cages for winter is often a good idea. Rake up debris from under the shrubs, which can harbor fungal spores that can reinfect a shrub the following year. These shrubs are quite cold-hardy, but it is still a good idea to protect the root zone with a layer of dry, sterile mulch for the winter, especially in the first year or two. Remove this mulch when new growth begins in the spring.

Common Pests & Plant Diseases

Elderberries are subject to a wide range of insect pests, including aphids, borers, and spider mites. Neem oil is a good choice for addressing infestations of these insects.

The diseases to which elderberries are susceptible include fungal diseases such as canker, leaf spot, and powdery mildew. They are best addressed through prevention: Ensure there is proper spacing to promote good air circulation, irrigate at soil level rather than with overhead spraying, and keep mulch at least 6 inches away from the main stems of the bush. Affected plant parts should be removed and destroyed, especially as part of winter preparation.

How to Get Black Lace® Elderberry to Bloom

This shrub will normally flower robustly with creamy pink flowers in early spring if it is getting sufficient sun and is fed appropriately. Flowering in the first season can be minimal, but by the second year, as a regular fertilizing schedule is begun, your shrub should not lack flowers and the resulting berries. If your Black Lace® elderberry does not bloom to your satisfaction, look to one of these causes:

  • The shrub has been pruned too late, removing the new wood that produces the current season's flowers. This shrub should be pruned in late winter or early spring before new growth starts.
  • The shrub needs different cultivars to improve pollination. While Black Lace® is regarded as a self-pollinating shrub, the presence of one or two different elderberry cultivars nearby often helps the plant flower better.
  • These shrubs need feeding, but too much fertilizer, especially high nitrogen mixes, can cause dense foliage at the expense of flowers. However, many people prefer to grow these shrubs for the foliage, not the flowers and fruit—in which case a nitrogen-heavy fertilizer is appropriate.
  • Too little water or sun can be an issue. These plants like to be kept moist and will flower best if this is paired with plenty of sun.

Common Problems With Black Lace® Elderberry

Other than the frequent pest and disease problems that can affect elderberries, the most common complaint is the surprisingly aggressive spread of these plants. Before planting elderberries, be prepared for the fact that you'll need to prune away suckers regularly unless you want the plant to spread and form dense thickets. This can be fine in some situations, but it's not uncommon for gardeners to remove elderberry shrubs if they grow weary of the maintenance required.

Elderberries have relatively weak wood, and heavy snow can sometimes badly damage them. Shaking off snow can prevent this damage.

Finally, some people are not fond of the rather pungent lemony odor produced by the flowers.

FAQ
  • How should I use this plant in the landscape?

    The plant is suitable for use in woodland gardens, in rain gardens, and to attract birds and butterflies to the yard. Another great use for Black Lace® elderberry is to plant it next to a shrub with brightly-colored leaves to create contrast and interest.

  • How do I eliminate an elderberry thicket?

    If you grow tired of the yearly pruning that elderberry requires—and the aggressive spread that results if you don't prune away suckers—it's not terribly difficult to remove a shrub or thicket permanently. Start by cutting the plant down to within a few inches of ground level. As new growth sprouts from the stems, spray it with a concentrated mixture of broad-spectrum herbicide, such as glyphosate (RoundUp). When the foliage dies back fully, dig up the roots completely. If small bits of remaining root sprout up again, repeat the procedure.

  • How long does an elderberry shrub live?

    It's not uncommon for an elderberry shrub growing in ideal conditions to live more than 50 years, often gradually spreading through suckering and self-seeding to form a thicket.

  • What is the wildlife value of this shrub?

    Black Lace® elderberry is very attractive to pollinating insects draw to the flowers, and to birds who feast on the berries. But it can also be attractive to rabbits, deer, and other browsing animals who can damage the stems.

Article Sources
The Spruce uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Sambucus nigra. North Carolina State Extension.

  2. Planting Elderberry Plants. Stark Bros.