Elderberry (Sambucus spp.) are large shrubs with showy white flowers and small berries, both edible. Gardeners love elderberries because they attract pollinators, like butterflies and bees, and provide food for wildlife. These shrubs can be planted alone but look best with elderberry plant companions. What to plant with elderberries? Read on for some tips about elderberry companion planting.
Planting with Elderberries
Some gardeners make fritters from elderberry flowers and eat the fruit, raw or cooked. Others leave the berries for the birds and just use the hardy shrubs in a hedgerow. Whether or not you eat the blossoms or fruit of these shrubs, you can still make your garden more attractive by selecting appropriate elderberry plant companions. The shrubs thrive in USDA plant hardiness zones 3 through 10, so you’ll have many options. The many varieties of elderberry provide flexibility as well. Elderberries can grow to 12 feet tall (4 m.) and are often vase shaped. The shrubs prefer rich, rocky soil, and, in the wild, grow in valleys, woods, and clearings. Whatever you choose for companions with them will need to have similar growing requirements.
What to Plant with Elderberry
The shrubs thrive in full sun, full shade, or anything in between. This makes them great companion shrubs for shorter, shade-loving plants and also for taller trees. If you already have tall trees in your yard, you can plant shade-loving elderberry under them. If you are starting from scratch, you’ll have to decide what to plant with elderberry. White pine trees or quaking aspen are good elderberry companion plants, if you want something taller than the shrubs. For a plant about the same size, consider winterberry. Remember that elderberries do not like their roots disturbed once they are established. Therefore, it’s a good idea to install elderberry companion plants at the same time you plant the shrubs. Other good ideas for elderberry companion planting include edging your vegetable garden with the shrubs or mixing them with other berry shrubs, like currants and gooseberries. Just planting ornamental varieties as a border for the perennial flower garden can be very attractive. If you plant varieties with black foliage, choose flowering plants with bright blossoms as elderberry companion plants. Phlox and bee balm work well when you are planting with elderberries in this way.
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Teo Spengler has been gardening for 30 years. She is a docent at the San Francisco Botanical Garden. Her passion is trees, 250 of which she has planted on her land in France.
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