Russian olives, also called Oleaster, look great year-round, but are appreciated most in summer when the blossoms fill the air with a sweet, intense fragrance. Bright red fruit follows the flowers, attracting birds in droves. Russian olive (Elaeagnus angustifolia) is a tough shrub that tolerates adverse conditions such as sandy, dry, alkaline or salty soil and salt spray. It grows naturally as a 12 to 15 foot (4-5 m.) shrub, but you can also grow it as a tree. If you want to grow the tree form of Elaeagnus, pruning should begin while the shrub is still young. Remove all but one strong stem arising from the ground and the lower side branches.
Russian Olive Information
The common name Russian olive comes from E. angustifolia's resemblance to true olives, which are unrelated species. Use this shrub as an informal hedge or in shrub borders. It is especially useful in tough sites where little else will grow. Russian olive is a Chinese native that is considered a non-native invasive species in all but the southeastern corner of the U.S. In the southeast, it struggles in the summer heat and humidity and often succumbs to verticillium wilt. Contact your cooperative extension agent for information about the invasive potential and advisability of planting Russian olive in your area. The plant is banned in some states. The closely related species E. pungens, commonly known as silverthorn, is a good alternative.
How to Grow an Elaeagnus Shrub
Russian olives grow well in any soil as long as it is well-drained, but seems to like light, sandy soil best. Choose a site with full sun to help the plant resist disease. Russian olive is particularly fond of western conditions. It withstands winter conditions in USDA plant hardiness zones 2 through 7. The shrub is rarely bothered by pests other than scale insects. Spray with horticultural oil to control scales. When using horticultural oil, pay particular attention to the label instructions about timing. Spraying at the wrong time can damage the plant.
Elaeagnus Shrub Care
Except for the seemingly endless pruning tasks, you won't find an easier shrub to grow than Elaeagnus Russian olive. These shrubs can fix nitrogen from the air, so they need no nitrogen fertilizer. Russian olive shrubs are very drought tolerant, and you'll probably never have to irrigate. Russian olives need regular pruning to keep them looking neat. They tolerate shearing and hard pruning, but look their best when pruned to a natural shape. Remove selective branches instead of shortening the branches to shape the shrub. The shrubs may send up sprouts that arise from the ground several times a year. Remove them as soon as possible to keep them from draining the plant's energy. Spring branch clippings make good material for indoor forcing.
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Jackie Carroll has written over 500 articles for Gardening Know How on a wide range of topics.
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