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Given that I delayed a lot of garden work in fall, it’s no surprise that the first real job I did in the garden this spring was a task I should have taken care of several months ago. And it was that much more painful for having waited.

Last September I shared the sad news that one of my favorite plants had been hit with a nasty disease: verticillium wilt. I watched as my Lemony Lace elderberry (Sambucus racemes) wilted one chunk at a time, and just when it was finally getting to a good size after three years in the ground.

Verticillium wilt is a nasty soilborne disease that affects many plants (here’s a list), including elderberries. Last year I cut off the affected branches, making sure to disinfect my pruners) but I knew when I did it that wouldn’t solve the problem. The only real remedy for dealing with it is to dig out the plant and a large area of soil around it.

With those beautiful fat buds, it was even more difficult to dig my Lemony Lace elderberry out last weekend. 

Taking that step last weekend was even more difficult because there were lovely fat buds on the branches that I knew would turn into gorgeous feathery leaves. And they would look good for a little bit but it’s likely that they too could succumb to the disease. Or maybe not. According to the Missouri Botanical Garden, the symptoms might not show up this year: “The initial symptoms may occur on only one branch or may involve the entire plant. Oddly, following the initial symptoms, there may be no sign of the disease for several years even though the infection continues to reduce plant vigor.”

There aren’t a lot of good ways to get rid of verticillium wilt once you have it. You can attempt to solarize the soil by covering it with plastic and “cooking it” it several months—six or more, which isn’t a very practical solution in a packed garden. I decided to dig out the entire plant and as large and deep of an area of soil that I could. All of that went immediately to the burn pile.

I don’t see solarizing that area as practical for me, but I’m considering giving it a good burn with the weed torch. I don’t know that that will work, but I don’t think it can hurt.

The elderberry looking gorgeous last year with freshly leafed-out foliage.

I have another Lemony Lace elderberry in another part of the garden that was much more immature but by the time I went looking for it last spring it looked like there was a chance it too had the disease. I haven’t yet dug that one out. By the way, I asked the folks at Proven Winners who developed that plant if it was particularly susceptible to verticillium wilt and they said no more than any other elderberry. So I wouldn’t hesitate to plant it if you don’t have problems with other elderberries.

One of the plants that is susceptible to the disease is Viburnum and my garden is full of them. In fact there is a group of three large Viburnums not far from the elderberry I dug out and one was looking not quite right last year. I’m keeping a close eye on it but already I can see it doesn’t have the same flower buds that the others have. I’m crossing my fingers it’s not verticillium wilt that’s causing the problem.

The optimistic gardener would look at this as an opportunity to plant something new in that spot that is resistant to verticillium wilt. I’ll get there eventually, but I’m still sad this beauty had to go. 

26 Responses

  1. Erin, VW happened to one of my newly planted shrubs after I started deep watered it with that hose extension that you put deep in the soil close to the roots. I have seen you using this deep watering tool … I am wondering if this could have been the cause of the VW for your elderberry…

  2. Came upon this older post looking for information about lemony lace elderberry problems. Last summer I planted 3 in a grouping in an empty bed between 2 large trees. They came up strong this year and have really put on size this season. I am now noticing each plant has just a few of the lowest branches yellowing and dying. The majority of each plant looks good: green, growing, perky. It has been extremely dry here in New Jersey, so I’ve been trying water them once a week. I was thinking perhaps that’s not enough, but wouldn’t the entire plant droop if they were really too dry? I was thinking the tree roots take a lot of the moisture in the ground. Hoping it’s not this wilt issue!!

    PS- I came across your videos in 2020, Erin, and I have occasionally wondered why you have no lemony lace elderberry in your gardens. Now I know why.😔

    1. I live in Delaware & my ll elderberry is definitely not doing well had 2 entire branches suddenly wilt & turn brown. So I cut them off & now I see more leaves are just falling. Is it the VW issue & should I remove the whole bush.?

  3. Hi I live in Canada and was, up until a week ago, very fond of my much admired golden LL elderberry. Now it is drooping terribly. After reading your blog I realize that it is VW. I will remove it but am leery about planting any other plant/shrub in its place. I live in a villa community so removing dirt is not an easy thing to do. Can I sterilize the soil and just leave it dormant for a while?

  4. I had VW last year with all three of my lemon lace, but it didn’t seem to infect them until late in the season. They all came back this year looking healthy until just last week when I saw signs again! I’m so sad that I will need to remove them! 🙁

  5. I have 2 lemony lace by proven winner, both destroyed by vw second year. It’s definitely that particular plant which has this disease issue.

  6. 2nd year of our lemon lace and it is only pluming at the base, no buds on stems. Any thoughts or advice? We are in Minneapolis, so everything is late to the party this year.

  7. Mine too! Both my Lemony Lace have wilted. So sad. I will cut them down and dig out the roots. I do hope it doesn’t spread to my Blacklace which is 5 years old and glorious. I also have Vibernum’s surrounding it. yikes!

  8. The VW on Proven Winner Lemony Lace continues- couple days ago it was fine, now all wilted. Black Lace right next to it looks fine.
    NW Indiana

  9. Hi Erin,
    Love your utube channel and just found this. I too have lemony lace elderberry planted last year and is doing wonderful. It is my favorite plant and was going to plant 3 more near by it. I also have a newly planted Japanese maple near by. Is this disease something I should worry about? Is there preventative measures I can take. We have been redoing our landscape and have put a ton of money into it so I don’t want to add plants that could be disease prone. I live not far from you in Wisconsin if that helps.

  10. Ihave had my blacklace for 10 yrs now been Beauiful up until a few months back .
    Now all the branchs are covered in a yellow fugus …is there anything i can spray it with to save it .

  11. I’m loosing my 4 year old Black Lace Sambuca — so sad — its such a beautiful tree. The more I read about VW the more alarmed I get — rudbeckia, fuschia, maples — I have them planted all over! I’m hoping it will stay isolated to the one bed . . . the choice of resistant or immune plants seems pretty limited.

  12. Sigh! All 3 of our black elderberry are dying of wilt. I presume verticillium. Happen to the bushes that are 5 or 6 years old, maybe 7 and are over 7 feet tall. They have been so beautiful until this summer and now seem to wilt more each week that goes by. Am also at war with a fungus that is affecting the arbor verde in spots. Have been cutting out the brown limbs and spraying a fungicide, actually 2 different ones. Like I said, it is a war to save them. Have had some patches of what we believe is a fungus (know not what) in spots in our grass near the elderberries. Any connection? Our virbinium on the other side of the house, the red bud and lantana boxes, the black eyed susans all look fine. But after reading the commentary on the verticillium wilt I am now worried about all of those plants. Did lose a smoke tree, planted as a specimen tree late in summer last year. Seemed to wilt -maybe the verticillium. Live in NW AR so lot of hot weather in summer and fairly dry in July and August, and this year even into September. Any connection to the fungus liking the stress it put on the shrubs? Is the verticillium an opportunistic fungus that lives ubiquitously in the soil? Thanks for any advise.

  13. I know this thread is a year old, but I found it because I was trying to find out what is wrong with my Lemony Lace elderberry. Guess what I found! And your blog is not the only place I’ve read about VW on Lemony Lace. I think that the folks at Proven Winners may be wrong: I’m beginning to wonder whether LL isn’t MORE susceptible to VW than some others. Now that I know, I’m going to plant something in that spot that is resistant to VW. I’ve experienced the problem on my tomatoes as well, so clearly my ground is full of it. 🙁

    1. Zone 5b IL – my lemony lace elderberries have been hit with VW as well! And now my blacklace elderberry planted in the backyard is also showing signs of VW. so so sad. My garden is in pretty much full sun all day long (I’ve planted trees but they take time to grow to provide shade). I wanted the look of a japanese maple but something that would tolerate the full sun. I thought I had it with the elderberries but no such luck. Darn.

  14. I just noticed my Lemony Lace Elderberry tree that I have had in the ground has started to shed its leaves. It is now the middle of August. Isn’t it too early for it to do that?

    1. It does seem early, but my guess is that it’s stress. The signs of verticillium wilt are pretty dramatic: just completely wilted one day and then dropping leaves. I’d just make sure it goes into winter well watered and hope it rebounds next year. It’s a gorgeous plant and I’m bummed I can’t grow it anymore.

  15. I hate it for you to have to dig out your well loved plant. Darn the luck. I would be sad too. It is ok to be sad about it. You will get an inspiration for that area. Good luck.

  16. That's too bad; elderberries are lovely and it's sad to lose something you've invested years in. I wondered if the Proven Winner ornamental elderberries produce useable flowers and berries? Elderberries are extremely popular in Europe for making delicious syrup from both the flowers and berries, and I plan to plant a few in my yard (and cross my fingers that they don't get wilt). Both the Lemony Lace and the Black Lace varieties are beautiful but I want to be sure they will produce a good crop of berries.

  17. I killed three Japanese maples in the same spot before I realized it was wilt and not me. Have planted other things in the same spot with no problems. But I have not had good luck in general with Jp. maples. I was trying to figure out if I had a place for that Elderberry and this does make me think twice. Though I think I am kidding myself that there is any room for it!

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