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Culture and Care of Black Lace Elderberry, an Ideal Shrub for Wet Locations

Updated on January 2, 2015

Sambucus "Black Beauty" available in a local garden center

Black lace elderberry (Sambucus nigra 'Black Lace,') developed by Proven Winners, is a unique landscape plant that can grow in areas other shrubs won't grow. It can also serve as an inexpensive alternative to Japanese maple in the landscape. This article will look at the culture and care of black lace elderberry.

The bush matures to about six to eight feet high and wide, so it will need room to spread. However, it is very tolerant of pruning, and it is possible to keep it smaller through frequent pruning. It will grow shoots from almost any wood as well as send up shoots from the ground. Shoots that arise from the ground can be pruned, hit with the lawnmower, or allowed to remain. If the shoots remain, the bush can grow indefinitely wider. Because the plant is patented, it cannot be propagated legally unless permission has been granted by the patent holder, so the only viable source of this plant is from a garden center.

Black lace elderberry provides a similar lace-cut leaf and foliage color as Japanese maple, so it can be used as an inexpensive alternative plant. It differs in that its leaves are a darker, more purple color as opposed to the red color of Japanese maples. It also has a spectacular showing of contrasting, white to pink flowers in early summer. The flowers fade fairly quickly, and are replaced by dark, somewhat inconspicuous fruit.

For site selection, black lace elderberry prefers full sun but can take a little shade. It likes well-drained, moist soils but tolerates wet soils rather than dry ones. It will grow in swampy locations and drainage basins, but will not grow if sitting in permanent water. It is a great shrub for low lying areas that are moist and for planting around streams or ponds. It tolerates a wide range of soil conditions but does not like drying out or growing in arid soils.

Prune in spring before the new growth starts. Any dead, weak, leggy, or excessively old wood should be pruned out. Because the bush sends up shoots freely, it is possible to keep it continually rejuvenated by removing old stems as new shoots replace them. Harder pruning can also be done; cut tall, young shoots back to keep the bush down, or even cut it back to the ground and let the bush break over again. Black lace elderberry is a vigorous grower, so even with a heavy pruning, it can regrow to close to its mature size in a single season. The wood is susceptible to storm and winter damage, but the fast growth overcomes this drawback.

Black lace elderberry is a unique and reliable plant for the landscape. It provides an option for wet areas where other plants won't grow. Its resemblance to Japanese maple allows it to be used as a replacement that provides a similar color and texture to the landscape. Due to its different preferences and growth habits compared to other shrubs, it can be a valuable addition to the landscape and work best in areas unfit for other shrubs.


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