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Lemony Lace Elderberry Adds Texture and Color with Its Leaves

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Virtues: Lemony Lace elderberry, a selection of Sambucus racemosa, brings beautiful soft texture and bright color to the garden through its foliage. Its lime-green leaves shine in the sun and they can bring brightness to shady gardens. A cultivar of a shrub native to much of North America, Lemony Lace elderberry also feeds beneficial insects with its white spring flowers and supports wild birds with its red fall berries.

Common name: Lemony Lace elderberry

Botanical name: Sambucus racemosa 'SMNSRD4'

Exposure: Full sun to part shade

Flowers: Clusters of small white flowers appear in late spring. Clusters of red berries ripen in the fall and feed the birds. 

Foliage: The deciduous leaves are bright lemon- to lime-green in color for much of the growing season, with a reddish cast in the spring and taking on deeper yellow tones in the fall. They offer intriguing texture thanks to their deeply cut edges. The leaves densely cover the shrub's branches, creating layers of fringe. The brightest foliage color occurs in full sun.

Habit: This elderberry is a deciduous shrub with a mounded shape. It has upright stems as well as horizontal branching. It can reach between three to six feet tall and wide.

Origin: Lemony Lace is a Proven Winners introduction. It is a cultivar of the species Sambucus racemosa, or red elderberry, which is a large shrub native to woodlands and damp meadows or fields across Canada and much of the United States, save for Florida and the southern portion of the central US.

How to grow it: Plant Lemony Lace elderberry in full sun to part shade. This plant is most tolerant of full sun in cooler climates; more shade or filtered light is beneficial in southern regions with hot, harsh sun. It is somewhat tolerant of dry spells once it is established, but it appreciates more regular watering. Young plants should be pruned to encourage a compact habit. It can be cut back to the ground in late winter to rejuvenate it or prompt compact growth, although that will eliminate flowers and berries for that year because this plant blooms on old wood. Alternatively, a third of the stems can be shortened or removed in late spring. A light pruning of older plants can be done after they flower. If suckers appear, remove them at the soil, unless spread is desired. USDA Zones 3–8.

For more plant recommendations based on interesting foliage plus advice on using them, I recommend the book Gardening with Foliage First by Karen Chapman and Christina Salwitz.

Image credit: Spring Meadow Nursery, Inc.