Well, I was going to do a simple post about pruning Elder trees (Sambucus nigra). But I’m unable to keep it simple; because to prune an Elder it’s not enough to know technique, you must know legend as well.
I’m quite sure, if you follow me, that you know I talk to my plants, or at least have a fair idea that I’m a little hmm, quirky 😜. But even if you don’t feel like the plants are engaging in a conversation with you (some can be quite chatty!) it’s still an important thing to do (in my opinion). Tell them what you would like them to do (grow big and beautiful). Tell them they are big and beautiful. Tell them what you are about to do to them. The latter being the most important when it comes to Elder…
There is a wealth of folklore, legend and history that portrays the Elder tree as a powerful female energy of great wisdom. Known as the ‘Queen of the Trees’ and ‘the Witches’ tree’, the Elder has the calm wise energy of a Grandmother, Crone, elder or wise woman. She was feared as well as respected, for it was believed that she could wreck havoc if angered or offended. If an Elder needs to be cut back, let the tree know first and work with respect for its life force. If it is to be cut down completely, well, you had better have a good reason!Glennie Kindred, from the book Earth Wisdom
Country folk back in the day would never dream of sleeping under her branches for fear of being whisked away to fairyland. Furniture would not be made from her wood (unless proper etiquette had been performed) for fear of the dryad Hyld-Moer (Elder tree Mother, Danish) following what she sees as her property and haunting the owners. But also, the Elder was planted near houses for its perceived protection from evil forces.
The take home message here is; give this tree a lot of respect and ask for permission before taking anything off her, whether its her leaves/flowers/berries or whole branches for pruning’s’ sake.
Lady Ellhorn, give me some of thy wood, and I will give thee some of mine when it grows in the forest.
One final note is do not burn Elder wood. There is a superstition, that to do so will bring a death within the family… And a practicality of the fact that the wood is crap to burn!
I present Queen Elder…
Keeping with practicalities let’s move onto the actual pruning… If you live in an area where Elder grows wild (as it is wont to do) you will know that it does absaloutly fine without human intervention. But if you have a tree on your property you may want to think about giving it a prune every two or three years. To ensure that it stays healthy and in check, and so that you can keep flowers and berries within relatively easy reach.
Late winter is the time to do this job, whilst the leaves are off and you can see what you’re doing but the leaf buds are only just emerging, so you can also see what branches are viable and where to cut. She does like to throw out some useless shoots!
This tree here, whom prefers the term ‘Queen’ than ‘Grandmother’ is of indeterminate age and has never been pruned. You can see why she called me over (I was pruning another); there’s a whole lot of useless water shoots, un-productive stems, crossing over branches and others reaching for the sky.
Like fruit tree pruning my main aim was to give her more air and therefore more light (and me bigger flowers/berry bunches). I went very slowly and carefully, asking before every cut whether she wanted me to cut here and there. If I was shortening branches I would cut just above a pair of leaf buds.
Well, I guess, unless we’re on the same page, that if you didn’t think I was weird before, I’ve really cemented it now. Ach well, at the end of the day, your belief is your reality, this is my reality and it certainly doesn’t have to be yours!
For more information about growing Black Elder and her uses go to my plant listing here Elder plants for sale, NZ.
All research here was done the old fashioned way, using mainly these three books…