Wilting Black Lace Elderberry? A Perennial Problem?

Last year, I did a post called “Why Is My Black Lace Wilting?”  At the time, I didn’t know.  I surmised that aphids had transmitted a virus to is causing a wilt.

One of my readers wrote to say that her Black Lace (the plant I’m referring to is a plant known as sambucus nigra Black Lace, or Black Lace Elderberry, by the way.  It’s so well known by now that most of us just call it “Black Lace”) was wilting as well.  She had taken pieces of it to her garden center and they had found worms.  She had destroyed her plants.

I was out of town when I read that comment but when I returned home, I went right down to my garden, started cutting up the wilting portions of my Black Lace, and–sure enough–I could see evidence of the fact that borers had gotten into the stems and caused the wilt.  Ah hah!  Mystery solved!

So I wrote to the lovely folks at Proven Winners and asked them about this.  I asked them if they were aware that borers were an issue with this plant and if so, how to treat it.

The response was very quick, very polite and very helpful.  They said that in general, borers can be an issues with all elderberries, although Black Lace is less susceptible than most.  To solve for this problem, it is best to prune out all affected stems, and especially after an incident with borers, to give the plant a good hard pruning.

So I was ruthless in my pruning with the plants, as was suggested in my email correspondence.  I took out my oldest stalk on both the plants, and gave them both a hard cutback.  We shall see how this works. This plant has great wildlife value for me (as well as being particularly attractive) and I’m not willing to lose it to some pesky borers!

11 thoughts on “Wilting Black Lace Elderberry? A Perennial Problem?

  1. david June 2, 2011 / 9:02 pm

    We have the same problem. Not wanting to lose a years enjoyment, I tried shining lights on the affected bush all night. Thinking that they attack at night out of the heat and light. This has reduced but not eliminated the borer. One light was not enough, I now have 3- trouble lights shining on the crown of the shrub, on a dusk to dawn timer. The neighbours think I’ve installed garden lighting.

    Last year I was able to remove the lighting once the new growth hardens off. Failing that idea I plan to install several Klieg lamps to light up the neighbourhood and to heck with being neighbourly , I want to fix this problem without using pesticides. 😉

    • gardendaze June 2, 2011 / 9:46 pm

      Interesting solution to the problem–and I love your telling of it and your neighbors reactions! I think if you take out the older canes next year you will find it solves the problem–it certainly seems to have for me. This year I have no sign of the borer at all. The shrubs are growing a bit more horizontally bit I’m still getting flowers and so therefore I presume I’ll get the fruit as well.

      Thanks so much for reading and sharing–we’ve got to share the organic options when we can!


  2. Emile Patti June 2, 2012 / 12:38 am

    Really good post. I just came on your blog and wanted to say that have seriously really liked reading your website posts. In any case I am going to be subscribing to your posts and I really hope you post again soon enough.

  3. igardendaily July 24, 2013 / 9:29 am

    Thanks for this post, I’m trying to find out what is wrong with my blacklace. I’ll go check for borers. Did the top level foliage of the stalks that were infected also look deformed, not just wilted?

    • gardendaze July 25, 2013 / 1:10 pm

      I’m not sure where you’re writing from, but at this point in the season, you might not find the live borers. You should still be able to see evidence that you’d had some though–hollowed stems or holes in the stem at the entry or exit point.

      As for deformed foliage, I would say that the tips of the shoots where the borers had gotten in where definitely stunted and twisted–if that’s what you mean by deformed. I think we’re probably describing the same thing.

      It’s easy to fix this but you need to get out in the early spring–when it’s still quite cold where you are–and cut the plant back hard! Cut it back to the point where you see new branching, but so that you’re cutting almost all the prior year’s growth off. For me, in Connecticut, depending on how warm the spring has been, that’s usually in mid-March.

      Good luck–and thanks for reading!


  4. Mike August 3, 2014 / 2:46 pm

    Will these plants take a complete cut back to ground level? Have read that some elderberries will take this and that it is not unusual to do this in some varieties.


    • gardendaze August 3, 2014 / 3:03 pm

      Oh yes, but it’s rarely needed. I did it this past spring because I thought mine were dead. They’re smaller this season but they definitely survived that–and our “polar vortex” winter that killed off quite a lot of other things.

      Hope that helps. Good luck.


  5. CarolSouth July 27, 2017 / 7:37 pm

    I also experienced the wilting leaves problem and simply cut the dying branches from the plant. The main stem was dying after having had the bush for several years. I coppiced (cut it to the ground) the bush in late winder of 2017. It’s growing, but the branches aren’t growing upright. They are growing almost horizontally. Any suggestions to correct this?

    • gardendaze July 27, 2017 / 7:58 pm

      Hi Carol,
      With what you are doing, your stems aren’t going to get woody enough to support the plant–that’s why they’re growing almost horizontally as you describe.

      You have a couple of options. You can stake up those stems or you can try cutting back slightly less drastically to allow the plant to develop the woody framework it needs to support itself. Good luck!


  6. CarolSouth July 27, 2017 / 8:10 pm

    Thanks Karla! I got confused on the difference between pollarding and coppicing. I chose the wrong one. I’ll trim the stalks in future.

  7. gardendaze July 28, 2017 / 5:53 am

    No worries. Just try trimming it back a little less drastically and you should be fine. If you do see any more of that “wilting” that’s indicating that borders are getting in, try trimming back just below the wilting to see if that controls them. If not, as more drastic pruning may be in order–but by then you should have developed some nice woodiness on your shrub.

    Good luck!


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