By Jackie Carroll
Oleander plants (Nerium oleander) are among the most versatile of shrubs, with dozens of uses in southern and coastal landscapes. They tolerate a wide range of conditions, including difficult soil, salt spray, high pH, severe pruning, reflected heat from pavements and walls, and drought. But the one thing they can’t withstand is winter temperatures below 20 degrees Fahrenheit. However, in cooler climates, you can grow an oleander plant in a container and bring it indoors when temperatures drop.
Growing Oleanders in the Garden
The first thing you should know if you want to grow an oleander plant in the garden is that you need to avoid growing oleanders in home landscapes where children and pets play. All parts of oleander shrubs are poisonous, and the smoke from burning oleander debris is toxic. Ingesting even a small amount of foliage, flowers or shoots from an oleander plant can be fatal. Contact with the foliage and flowers can cause severe skin irritations and allergic reactions as well. Always wear long sleeves and gloves when working with the shrub.
Oleanders bloom from spring until the end of summer, producing large clusters of flowers in shades of yellow, white, pink or red at the tips of the stems. They grow and bloom best in full sun, but they will tolerate light shade.
Oleanders are considered hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture zones 8 through 10, but they are sometimes damaged by frost in zone 8. The shrub usually recovers, even if killed nearly to the ground. Prune and reshape the damaged parts of the shrub to encourage new growth.
How to Care for Oleander
Oleander care is easy, and this makes the shrub popular with highway departments. You’ll often see masses of oleander shrubs planted in highway beautification projects where they provide an outstanding display of long-lasting flowers with very little maintenance.
Even in the garden, oleander shrubs require minimal care. Although the shrubs are drought-tolerant, they look their best when they are watered during dry spells. However, take care not to over water them. Yellowing leaves indicate that the plant is getting too much water.
If the soil is poor, feed the plant lightly with a balanced fertilizer during its first spring. Once established, oleander shrubs don’t require routine fertilization.
Pinching out the tips of young stems reduces legginess and encourages the shrub to branch out. Pruning oleanders can also be performed. Prune to remove damaged or diseased limbs any time and prune to shape the shrub in late fall.