Black Lace Elderberry

mnwildrose(4b)August 22, 2009

Our landscape advisor is trying to talk me out of putting an Elderberry Black Lace at a most-prominent corner of our house, to be an anchor plant. She says they haven't had good luck with them, and suggests a Ninebark instead. The Ninebark are nice - but the Black Lace looks amazing! I'd much rather use it, if I had good hope that it would do well. I'm ~60 miles south of Minneapolis-St. Paul - Zone 4.

So, I'd appreciate any thoughts. In Zone 4, will a Black Lace Elderberry achieve its mentioned full height of ~5-6 feet? If it dies back in winter, will it re-achieve that full height the next year? (I will likely buy a 1-gallon plant.) Is there a best time of year to plant it?

Thanks in advance for any feedback!


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I'm having trouble with Black Lace elderberry in my Zone 5. Its rather pathetic looking after 2-3 years. Its in a good spot - moist and sunny, but winter knocks it back a lot. I previously tried to grow S. Black Beauty but it outright died first winter. Black Lace is trying to survive, but survive is the right word - not thrive.

Definitely go with the Ninebark for such an important spot. Summer Wine and Diablo are nice. Diablo is larger. There's many new ninebark cultivars too. Their colors change throughout the year.

Maybe you could try a Black Lace in a less prominent area as I have done. Mine's in a perennial bed, trying to be an accent.

    Bookmark   August 22, 2009 at 2:02PM
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ostrich(3a AB)

I have both Ninebark Summer Wine and Sambucus Black Lace in my zone 5b/6a yard. Both are thriving here! After just 2 years, my Sambucus Black Lace is already over 6 feet tall! The Ninebark Summer Wine is a year younger, and it is at around 4-5 feet tall (but I also trim it too to make it look tidier).

Both are great shrubs, but they are quite different. The Ninebark tends to blend in more with the background as it does not have a very interesting shape and you have to go near it to appreciate the foliage. On the other hand, the Sambucus Black Lace is really showy! It has a wonderful architectural shape and the foliage is just amazing.

That said, you should go with what works in your zone and location. Mind you, if it does not work, you can always yank it out later... :-)

    Bookmark   August 23, 2009 at 10:14AM
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ostrich(3a AB)

BTW, I started off with a 3 gallon plant for both shrubs. With a 1 gallon plant, it may take longer to get to its full size.

    Bookmark   August 23, 2009 at 10:16AM
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perennialfan273(zone 5)

Maybe Black Lace isn't as hardy as people originally thought. I'm just glad I saw this thread before it was too late. I was considering planting some myself. If you're looking for something with dark foliage, I would go with the ninebark.

    Bookmark   August 24, 2009 at 1:56PM
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I bought a Black Lace shrub, in a tiny pot, and it has stayed tiny for me. It survived the winter in the ground, but looked so pathetic, I put it in a nice little pot on the deck.

However, it was planted in less than ideal conditions, ie poor soil, lack of moisture, in the shade of a Norway maple tree no less. ostrich has her's in full sun, amended clay soil, and it is much larger. I think it would depend entirely on your site's conditions and your preference, rather or not it performed as well for you.

Having said all that, I highly recommend Summer Wine ninebark as a beautiful, stunning, hardy shrub. It does go through an awkward "teenage" phase where it starts to shoot out in all directions, but that is followed by a stately fountain of flowering branches. Diablo (I don't have this one) is larger, and has contrasting red seeds that show up well amongst the dark purple foliage. Coppertina has leaves the color of a penny, and Centerglow has golden leaves that change to copper. Happy gardening! :)

    Bookmark   August 24, 2009 at 8:00PM
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ostrich(3a AB)

Prairiegirl, I actually noticed very little growth too during the first year. I was about to give it up too... then the second year, it just came back with a vengence, and started to grow like CRAZY!!!!!!!!!!!! So, please do not give up. You may be pleasantly surprised next year...

Also, I transplanted it to a different location last fall. When I pulled it out, the roots were so extensive and thick it was SCARY! I had to yank and yank to get it out, and I am sure that I did a lot of damage in the process! I thought that I had killed it, but then this year, it just came back in the new location as if nothing had happened! There was not even any die back even with our severe winter last year! I was truly amazed by how tough this guy was.

That said, it is in a drier location this year, and the growth has not been as vigorous... or perhaps it's still recovering from my extreme transplanting last year? Mind you, I am not complaining as the rapid growth last year simply scared me to death! LOL

P.S. This is a male ostrich... LOLOL

    Bookmark   August 24, 2009 at 10:19PM
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It is more or less a dieback shrub in Zone 4. If it does survive the winters up here, it will likely take several years of establishment before it has the vigor to achieve the 5-6' in height.

While there are plenty of hardy purple-leaved shrubs, I cannot think of anything that is comparable to Black Lace. My biggest problem with Ninebarks are their somewhat unruly growth habit.

    Bookmark   August 25, 2009 at 7:51AM
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Just got a Black Lace and a Black Beauty from raintree in little pots. Anyone have experience of them getting full size in outdoor pots? I'm in 8b so no worries about cold hardiness.
Also anyone know of a pollenizer for sambucus mexicanas? Will sambucus negris work?

    Bookmark   February 9, 2013 at 4:57PM
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Sara Malone Zone 9b

Yawiney I don't have any Sambucus in pots but the mature ones in the ground are 10-12' tall. I cut them down from time to time but they are extremely vigorous and absolutely massive. I have one pruned as a small tree. My gut is that they would break the pots. They are extremely easy to root (you can just stick the cuttings in a glass of water) so you can toss them when they get too big and start over, but they don't strike me as good container candidates. Maybe someone with more experience will chime in.

    Bookmark   February 10, 2013 at 10:45AM
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I put a black lace elderberry in a large 18 inch pot this past spring bc I wasn't sure where I was going to plant it. This September I finally got around to planting it in the ground and was stunned that the roots had completely filled the large pot. Full after only a few months! If it had stayed in the pot much longer the pot would have broke. This from a 1, maybe 2, gallon plant.
Hope this helps.

    Bookmark   February 22, 2013 at 11:11PM
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Huh. I've had one in a big pot for about 2 years now. It's blooming beautifully right now, but only about 3 ft tall. After reading this thread I'm going to find a place for it in the ground this season, but then... the one I planted in the ground at the same time is about a foot high and barely there, barely hanging on. The one in the pot is doing sooo much better. Think I might transplant the little one as well as planting out the potted one. Lovely plants though.

    Bookmark   June 30, 2013 at 5:39PM
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tulipsmiles(6 South of Boston)

I bought a black lace Elderberry 2 years ago. I finally planted it in the ground last fall. This spring it has shown incredible growth! My question is, should I cut back those top shoots about 6" so that the shrub becomes bushier?? Or just let it do its' thing?

p.s. please ignore the weeds...

    Bookmark   June 15, 2014 at 8:05AM
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IanW Zone 5 Ont. Can.

Black lace elderberry are notorious for growing lanky, like your plant is doing.....I would cut it back by half to encourage side branching and do the same with the bottom growth that are sprawling near the ground......because they are fast growing, care must be taken so that it doesn't interfere with your window view....It should fill out nicely in a month or so....

    Bookmark   June 16, 2014 at 6:09AM
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I think they are supposed to be for the more cold tolerant gardens, taking the place of J maples. usually people cut them almost to the ground and then they bush out and look much better. I like them better than the ninebark...but can do the same with that one.

    Bookmark   June 17, 2014 at 12:31PM
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Well, I did end up putting in the Black Lace Elderberry (I started this thread) and absolutely loved it. But it hasn't come back after our really cold winter. I'm tempted to replace it with another but wondering if I'm asking for trouble. Has this been a hardy plant for other folks in cold climates?

    Bookmark   June 17, 2014 at 10:07PM
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mnwildrose I am in zone 5b MI and I have had one for several years. This year it seemed to be dead after our awful winter except for a few branches growing at the bottom. With nothing to lose, I pruned it almost to the ground and it is beginning to put on quite a bit of growth. This may be a way to control its size. It has always been a very vigorous plant.

    Bookmark   June 19, 2014 at 7:54PM
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I have had one survive 3 winters now on the 4b 5a border, but we usually have good snow cover during the coldest temperatures. Some years my elderberries/Sambucus (I have black lace, Southerland gold and the native S. nigra) die back to the snow line, but they have all survived.

Are you sure that the roots are dead? If so and you don't mind having it occasionally need to regrow from the roots, I'd replant. Just make sure that the roots are well mulched each fall to modify the coldest temperatures. It seems if this plant survived for 4 or 5 years for you, it is worth living with periodic die back or replacement to have a plant you like so much.

    Bookmark   June 20, 2014 at 9:06AM
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For what it's worth - I'm in Madison and have had a black lace in the ground for about 6 years. It had hit about 4' tall last summer, but I have it in a very sunny (and hot) spot and rarely give it extra water. It never had any trouble making it thru the winter, but this last winter killed everything above about 8" from the ground. I think it was the wind, combined with below zero temps before we had significant snow cover.

It's not dead, but more of a mounding ground cover plant right now - not sure I'll ever get that height back, but we'll see.

    Bookmark   June 29, 2014 at 8:50AM
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My beautiful 6 ft Black Lace which I've had for 5+ winters did not come back this year. I don't have a clue why it died. Although we had a brutal winter, snow cover was execellent and all the plants around it survived just fine. In contrast, I planted a gallon size Blacklace late last fall and then the deer ate half of it. It survived. Go figure!

    Bookmark   June 30, 2014 at 7:05PM
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