I've recently started reading about Elder trees, especially about their medicinal properties. As I don't own the place where I grow my stuff, and that it has a good size but it's not huge, I need more information on the tree.
I plan to plant it in two places. The first one, the ground seem to get really wet in winter, it's mostly clay. It get some sun, mostly late afternoon (except when other trees around have lost their leaves, if so it gets more). I'm thinking about making some kid of mini hugelkultur there, so that the soil is not too compact, and handle water better. It might get drier in summer, but I've noticed that most of the ground around where I'm planning to put these elders has very few things growing, except for climbing plants (which cover the ground, not really having root there). Interestingly enough, about two years ago, I had buried woods at some places there, and it seems like it's those place that had the most vegetation growing. Those elder tree would be the tallest plants, having smaller ones in front of them; they will be part of some "permaculture" part of the garden, where I'll also plant almost exclusively perennials.
The second one is mostly to have them as windbreak. There already are a few trees there though.
Since I will probably move in a few years, and since I also want for those trees to be a force for good in the garden, I have three question.
1) Is planting some in some kind hugelkultur a good idea ? I'm not talking about the 5 feet tall hugel, more like 1 feet tall or perhaps smaller.
2) How large do elder tree get ? I've had the recommendation of planting them 3 or 4 meter apart, but since I still need a path to walk around, I'd need to have an idea of the diameter of the trunk, so that they don't end up being in the path.
3) How hard/easy is it to unroot, cut an elder tree ? If I end up moving, I might need to cut those tree down.
elder are at best a small tree, and frequently grow as a shrub. trunk size won’t be a concern for getting past it, but the spread of lower branches could be - though that’s easy pruning. the cut branches root easily, so you could easy take the germplasm without digging anything up. i wouldn’t expect them to act as much of a windbreak - they do kinda tend toward the spindly. they also are frequently fine with wetter soils. i’m not sure i can answer the hugel question, other than to mention that woody stuff is generally best planted at the lower edges of hugel mounds, since the mounds settling can lead to trees and shrubs leaning over after time.
I do not think hugelculture is a good idea for trees, when the wood rots it will leave holes around the roots of the tree and potentially destabilise it. also hugelcultures sink over time which will cause issues for tree roots that have grown down through it.
Elders rarely grow as a single trunk so trunk size is immaterial. they are happy to be pruned but when left entirely alone in decent light they grow about 4-5m tall and in a bush shape around 4-5m round much like a ball really.
They can be grown as a windbreak but tend to get pretty stunted, the ones I have growing in the windbreak do ok, they get about half the size of the ones elsewhere, and while they produce as much fruit and flowers as the others overall they do so in a higher number of smaller blossoms.
Elder trees like damp ground and I have had them growing where they were waterlogged all winter so that shouldn't be an issue at all.
Two pictures below to give an idea of how large they get, these are all self sown self grown unpruned trees/bushes, the cluster is how they normally grow, a couple of stems each elder wood is not long lived so they repeatedly drop trunks and grow new ones. and the single trunked one is one that grew up in dense shade, it is the only example I have ever seen that has a single clean trunk, both types fruit well.
I find elder (Sambucus nigra) does very well here even when quite exposed to the wind. It probably won’t fruit so well in a windbreak. I think my lack of fruiting is more due to lack of pollinating partner than the wind since my main tree flowers very well, but only sets a few berries. They grow better in rich damp soil (what doesn’t?) probably especially in a warmer climate. They are notoriously difficult to remove once established, growing back from a stump and taking easily from stem cuttings as has been said previously. You can prune back hard to keep bushes small and will be rewarded with more and more accessible flowers, since these appear on the current year’s growth.
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