The Q&A Archives: Elderberry Leaf Drop

Question: I have a three year old elderberry, 9-10 feet tall, that has finally set some fruit this year. Within the last month it has dropped leaves on different canes, first time was the top of one cane only. Now half of the leaves have dropped. There does not appear to be any insect infestation and we have had no frosts. I would appreciate any insight and suggestions for correcting this problem in the future.

Answer: Sambucus, or elderberry, are deciduous shrubs or trees and it isn't unusual for them to begin dropping leaves in late summer and early autumn, even before the weather cools off. Elderberry are rampant growers and benefit from annual pruning. Even when cut all the way to the ground new shoots will emerge from the crown of the plant the following spring. To keep your plant fruiting each year, cut it back hard each winter. If your plant is Sambucus canadensis (American Elderberry) it will be even more fruitful if you plant a second variety.

The elderberry plants in my yard began losing leaves in mid-August and will be completely bare by the end of September. I leave the berries alone and the birds are very appreciative. I prune everything back in the middle of winter and am rewarded with vigorous new shoots each spring and plenty of berry clusters.

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