Because of its affinity to green, yellow, in all its shades, is the most useful color in the garden for foliage. It always blends in, without clashes, but it is vibrant and colorful at the same time. It shows clearly across the garden, and it lightens and lifts our shrub beds like no other color can. From lime, through chartreuse, to true golds and lemon yellows, we are fortunate to have a range of plants offering this color. Much rarer though are yellow plants with especially attractive foliage, which would be a feature on its own, even if simply green. One of the very best of the few plants with this combination is the Lemony Lace® Elderberry, which produces a wonderful display of tones through the seasons and combines them with gorgeous ferny foliage to make a stand-out shrub. Cold-hardy too, one look at its beauty and you know why this is a ‘must have’ shrub.
The Lemony Lace Elderberry is a compact deciduous shrub growing 3 to 5 feet tall and spreading about the same distance across. It thick stems rise vertically or at a sharp angle, keeping it upright and never sprawling or untidy. The stems are unusually thick, with silvery-green bark decorated with pronounced ‘bumps’ called lenticels. Older bark becomes browner and deeply furrowed. Young stems are green, and they are densely covered in large leaves, which are in turn deeply divided, so the plant looks very ferny and feathery. Each leaf has 5 or 7 lobes, 3 to 4 inches long, but deeply divided into many segments, creating a lacy and charming look that we would love even in plain green. But no, in this plant when the leaves first emerge, they are dusky pink to red, becoming bright yellow from the center out, and then turning into a wonderful chartreuse green, just about the most fashionable and desirable color for any garden. A plant draws our eye to it immediately, and a group planted in a bed is a wonder to see. Depending on how it is grown this plant may produce 2 to 3-inch diameter clusters of many white flowers at the ends of the stems, before the leaves appear.
Grow the Lemony Lace Elderberry in your beds as a single plant for an accent. Group it in 3’s or 5’s to fill larger areas, around your home, out in the garden, or along the edges of wooded areas. For group planting space the plants 3 feet apart in each direction. It can also be grown for several years in a planter box or large pot, in zones 6 and 7. Because you can control the height, this plant can be close to the front of a bed, or further back. It also looks great clothing a slope or thrusting up between boulders in rocky areas. Unlike most other yellow-leaved elderberry bushes, this one has good sun tolerance, and doesn’t scorch or brown. A great plant combination is to plant it with the Black Lace Elderberry. The dark-purple and yellow really set each other off, and Black Lace has edible berries too.
The Lemony Lace Elderberry should be grown in full sun or light shade. Some shade may be preferable in zones 6 and 7, but too much shade will turn the leaves greener, reducing their impact – although their limey-green color in shade is still very attractive. It grows in almost all garden soils, and a combination of moisture and good-drainage gives the best results. Winter injury in colder zones may be more severe if grown in wet soil, with poor drainage. This plant is moderately drought resistant when established, but regular watering during summer will give the best growth. The loss of some branches in winter is normal, and strong new shoots will rise from the base to quickly replace them. We recommend pruning hard in the first two springs after planting, to encourage strong branches that will build a sturdy framework for later life. It is also possible to cut this plant close to the ground every spring, when you see buds emerging, to create a more compact shrub just 2 or 3 feet tall, but with slightly larger and showier leaves. Plants grown this way will not produce flowers, because these form on stems that developed in the previous year. Pests and diseases are normally not a problem, if grown with good-drainage, and deer almost always leave this plant alone.
The red elderberry, Sambucus racemosa, is related to the European elderberry, Sambucus nigra. The main difference is in the berry color – red in the first and black in the second. Berries are rarely or never produced by the Lemony Lace Elderberry, which is a selected and carefully-bred form of Sambucus racemosa. It was created by Timothy Wood, of the Spring Meadow Nursery Inc., in Grand Haven, Michigan. He took pollen from a yellow-leaf variety of this plant called ‘Sutherland Gold’, and used it to pollinate a plant with green, finely divided leaves called `Dropmore Fernleaf’. He did this in 2006, and he grew the resulting seedlings in a sunny field at the nursery, to test them for vigor, hardiness, color and sun-resistance. By 2009 just one plant was left that met his exacting demands, with beautiful deeply-divided yellow foliage that didn’t scorch in the sun. In 2016 he was granted a patent, with the name `SMNSRD4`. The plant is sold as part of the nursery’s Proven Winners® range, with the trademark name of Lemony Lace®. The demand for this plant is huge, and completely outstrips the supply. Order right away, before our limited stock is gone. Don’t forget to add the Black Lace Elderberry to your order – it’s the perfect companion.