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Blue elderberry is a small to medium size deciduous tree native to the coastal sage scrub, southern oak woodland and chaparral plant communities across California. It has light green foliage and produces large umbels of creamy-white flowers in spring; dark blue berries mature in summer and are favored by birds. It tolerates many soil types, including calcareous, and survives extended periods of drought by shedding leaves under stress. Plants that become established in deeper soils and receive greater moisture will grow to larger sizes and produce a greater abundance of flowers and berries.

The blue elderberry is most often planted for wildlife value in native gardens and restoration projects throughout Southern California. Occasionally it is planted in residential gardens as a shade tree and in perimeter areas to provide screening.

Water Needs

The blue elderberry grow in sunny locations on many soils and with low amounts of supplemental water during summer. The chart shown below provides a recommended baseline guide to the monthly irrigation schedule and volume of supplemental water needed to maintain healthy growth throughout the average year. It should be noted there are several months indicated by an asterisk (*) when winter rains can provide sufficient moisture and irrigation is not needed. The high and low range of moisture indicates it can grow with varying amounts of water; deep watering in summer helps this tree maintain good foliage character.

Irrigation Schedule and Graph

Low Water Use Plants

Irrigation Schedule 2

  Jan* Feb* Mar* Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov* Dec*
Runs per Month 0x to 2x 0x to 2x 0x to 2x 1x to 2x 1x to 2x 1x to 2x 1x to 2x 1x to 2x 1x to 2x 1x to 2x 0x to 2x 0x to 2x
Inches per Run 1" 1" 1" 1" 1" 1" 1" 1" 1" 1" 1" 1"
Inches per Month 0" to 2" 0" to 2" 0" to 2" 1" to 2" 1" to 2" 1" to 2" 1" to 2" 1" to 2" 1" to 2" 1" to 2" 0" to 2" 0" to 2"

Range of supplemental summer water: 7"-14"
Range of supplemental winter water: 0"-10"

  Jan* Feb* Mar* Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov* Dec*
For more information on how to use this Irrigation Schedule and Graph, follow this link.

For information how to calculate your irrigation system’s schedule and precipitation rate, please follow this link.

Plant Properties

Plant Type: Shrub, Native
Foliage Character: Drought deciduous
Habit: Mounding
Growth Rate: Fast
Height: 10 ft. - 25 ft.
Width: 10 ft. - 25 ft.
Water Needs: Low 2
Foliage Color: Medium green
Flower Color: Cream
Flower Season: Spring
Soil Adaptations: Well-draining soil, Silt, Moist soil, Loam, Clay, Calcareous soil
Exposure Adaptations: Heat, Frost, Drought, Aridity, All day sun
Function: Wildlife value, Slopes, Restoration, Parks and open space, Flowering accent plant, Banks, Background plant


Prune when dormant in winter as needed. An elderberry that has outgrown its space in the garden can be "coppiced" by cutting all the way to the ground in the early spring. It will usually (but no guarantees) send up vigorous new shoots which can be retrained to better fit the space (2). Branches tend to have weak wood, so if it is trained as a small tree, it is not necessarily one to spend a lot of time directly underneath. If you want it to be closer to a tree than a shrub, remove shoots that emerge from the base as soon as possible (3).



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