Posted by Brent Wilson on 10/5/2016 to Fertilizing & Watering Tips
When planted right and in the right spot Elaeagnus shrubs are exceptionally easy to grow and care for.
Fast growing and long-lived, Elaeagnus are most often used in the landscape to form quick natural or formal evergreen hedges and screens. Their attractive silvery foliage also makes them useful as a large specimen shrub.
Here's a breakdown of what you need to know regarding planting and caring for Elaeagnus...
Elaeagnus are easy to grow in a wide range of soils. They grow best in a well-drained but moist soil, however tolerate dry conditions when established. As with many other shrubs, constantly soggy or wet soil can cause problems with the roots.
How To Test Soil Drainage
If you are uncertain about soil drainage in the area you intend to plant, it's well worth taking the time to test the drainage before planting. To test soil drainage, dig a hole 12" wide by 12" deep in the planting area. Fill the hole with water and let it drain. Then, after it drains, fill it with water again, but this time clock how long it takes to drain. In well-drained soil the water level will go down at a rate of about 1 inch an hour. A faster rate, such as in loose, sandy soil, may signal potentially dry site conditions. A slower rate indicates poor draining soil and is a caution you need to improve drainage, plant in a raised mound or bed, or look for plants that are more tolerant of wet or boggy conditions.
Elaeagnus grow best in an acid to slightly alkaline soil ranging between 6.0 to 7.5 on the pH scale. Most average garden soils fall between a pH range of 6.0 to 7.0.
How To Test Soil pH
Soil pH is a measurement of the alkalinity or acidity of soil and is measured on a scale of 1-14, with 7 as the neutral mark. Any measurement below 7 indicates acid soil conditions, and anything above 7 indicates alkaline. If you're unsure about the pH of your soil, and whether or not it's suitable for growing Elaeagnus, it's a good idea to test the soil pH in the planting area. You can quickly test soil pH with an inexpensive soil pH tester probe. To raise the pH (make more alkaline) you can add pelletized limestone to the soil. To lower the pH (make more acid) you can apply Soil Sulfur, Aluminum Sulfate, or Chelated Iron. Adding organic compost to the soil or using compost as mulch can also help to increase acidity and maintain acid soil conditions.
Learn More: What is Soil pH and How To Adjust It?
Elaeagnus are highly adaptable shrubs that will grow in full sun or shade. Plants grow more rapidly and dense with more sun.
Planting Elaeagnus In The Ground
Scroll down for container planting instructions and care tips
Start by digging your planting hole at least two to three times as wide and as deep as the height of the root ball of your Elaeagnus plant. The wider the hole the better. Place native soil removed from planting hole around the perimeter of the hole, in a wheel barrow, or on a tarp.
Depending on the type, fertility and porosity of the soil in the planting area it might be beneficial to mix in a soil amendment to the native soil removed from the planting hole. When planting Elaeagnus in dense clay or poor quality soils thoroughly mix in some good organic matter such as bagged top soil and/or a good planting mix at a 25 to 50% ratio with the soil removed from the planting hole. When planting in very sandy or quick-draining soil mixing in some top soil, peat moss and/or compost will help to retain moisture in the soil. When planting in average, well-drained moist soil there is no need for adding a soil amendment.
To remove your Elaeagnus from the nursery container grasp the base of the plant and try to gently remove it from the nursery container. If the root ball is stuck in the container, you can either lay the plant on its side and tap on the side of the container to loosen or you can use tin snips to cut the container away. After having removed the plant from the container, gently loosen some feeder roots around the surface of the root ball.
Set your Elaeagnus in the planting hole so that the top edge of the root ball is at or just slightly above ground level to allow for settling. If your soil is moderately drained, meaning it drains slowly after rain, the top of the root ball can be 2 inches or more above ground level, as shown in illustration below. If necessary, add some backfill soil mixture to the bottom of the hole to achieve proper planting height.
Note: If the soil is very poorly drained (stays constantly soggy or wet) take measures to improve drainage or select a different plant species tolerant of wet soils.
After setting your Elaeagnus in the planting hole, use one hand to hold the plant straight and your other hand to begin back-filling your soil mixture around the root ball, tamping as you go to remove air pockets. When you have filled the hole to the halfway point you can soak the soil. Then continue back-filling to the top edge of the root ball. If you are planting the root ball higher than ground level, as shown in the illustration above, taper your soil mixture gradually from the top edge of the root ball to the ground level. To avoid suffocating your plant, avoid placing soil on top of the root ball.
Step 6 (Optional)
When planting your Elaeagnus in a site far away from a water source you can use remaining soil mixture to build a water retaining berm (catch basin / doughnut) that is 2 to 3 inches high or so around the outside perimeter of the planting hole. This basin will help to collect water from rainfall and irrigation, which can help reduce the need for hand-watering. The berm can be removed after a growing season or two.
Next, deeply water the planting area, including the root ball, to a depth equal to the height of the root ball. For an extra boost, you can water your newly planted Elaeagnus with a solution of Root Stimulator, which stimulates early root formation and stronger root development, reduces plant shock, and promotes greener, more vigorous plants.
To conserve moisture and to suppress weed growth, apply a 1 to 2" layer of cured, shredded or chipped wood mulch or pine straw around the planting area. Avoid using freshly chipped wood for mulch until it has cured in a pile for at least 6 months, a year is better. Avoid placing or piling mulch directly against the base of your plant as this could cause the bark to rot.
Planting Elaeagnus In A Container
Elaeagnus growing in pots appreciate a moist, but well-drained soil. Constantly soggy soil can and often will cause root rot or other harmful or deadly plant diseases. Therefore, we recommend a container with a drainage hole(s), and a quality potting soil or potting mix, or a 50/50 combination thereof, for planting. Optionally, you can also add some pumice or perlite (maybe 20%) to the soil mixture to help with drainage.
Choose a container with a drainage hole(s) at the bottom and one that is large enough to allow for 2 to 3 years of growth before shifting up to a larger size container. This might mean your planting pot would be 8 inches or more in diameter (width) than the root ball of your plant.
Container color will matter as well. Not only will you want to pick a color of container that goes well with the foliage color of your Elaeagnus, you'll also want to pick a container that matches the style of your home or other structures and other plants in the surrounding environment.
Many nursery & garden centers offer a wide variety of containers to choose from. Before heading out to buy a container take pictures of your home and the surrounding environment. Doing so will help you to choose just the right color and style.
Container Planting Instructions
Before filling your container with the soil mix, I recommend lining the bottom with shade cloth or a porous landscape fabric. This will keep the drain holes from becoming clogged with roots and soil. if you use gravel, stone or other materials in the bottom of the container lay the fabric over it.
To remove your Elaeagnus from the container it was growing in grasp the base of the plant and try to gently remove it from the nursery container. If the root ball is stuck in the container, you can either lay the plant on its side and tap on the side of the container to loosen or you can use tin snips to cut the container away. After having removed the plant from the container, gently loosen some feeder roots around the surface of the root ball.
Pour a small amount of your soil mixture in the bottom of the container. Set your plant in the container and make necessary adjustments by adding or removing some soil so that the top edge of the root ball will sit approximately 1" below the rim of the container.
Backfill with your soil mixture around the root ball, tamping as you go, until the level of potting soil is even with the top edge of root ball.
Water thoroughly until water starts to drain from the holes in the bottom of the container. Add more soil mixture if settling occurs during watering.
Step 6 (Optional)
Apply a 1/2" layer of wood chips or sphagnum moss to soil surface to help conserve moisture. Stone mulch can also be used.
Caring For Elaeagnus Shrubs
How To Fertilize Elaeagnus
Elaeagnus benefit from fertilization, especially when young. I recommend feeding them in late winter or early spring with a slow-release shrub & tree type fertilizer or a natural, organic plant food. Before applying fertilizer, always carefully read and follow instructions on the product label.
How To Water Elaeagnus
At Planting Time
Immediately after planting deep soak the soil in the planting area to a depth equal to the height of the plants root ball. For an extra boost, to stimulate early root formation and stronger root development you can also water you newly planted Elaeagnus with a solution of Root Stimulator, which reduces transplant shock and promotes greener, more vigorous plants. When planted during the winter dormant season plants will require less water. So, be extra careful not to overwater during winter!
During the First Growing Season
In average garden soil you should not have to water your newly planted Elaeagnus plants every day. More often than not, this causes soggy soil conditions that can lead to root rot and other harmful plant diseases. In the absence of sufficient rainfall, water only as needed to keep the root ball and surrounding soil damp to moist. Keep in mind that deep soaking less frequently, and allowing the soil to dry out somewhat before watering again, is much better than splashing just a little water on the plants every day. Shrubs planted during the winter dormant season, when not actively growing and evaporation is much slower, will require much less water. So, be extra careful not to overwater during winter!
When established Elaeagnus are very drought tolerant plants. Only during prolonged periods of summer drought will plants require supplemental irrigation. If you see leaves wilting or falling from the plant during a drought this is a sign your plants could use a deep soaking.
Note: When watering with an automated irrigation system it's best to set your timer to water during the early morning hours and not in the late evening or at night, which can lead to the onset of fungus and other foliage diseases. During the first few weeks after planting, check soil moisture often and adjust irrigation time if necessary to keep the soil moist, not wet.
How To Prune Elaeagnus
Elaeagnus do not require pruning, however respond well to it for shaping, hedges, or to control the size of the plant.
When to Prune
A stray or broken branch can and should be pruned any time of year. Heavier pruning to reduce size should be performed in late winter, before new growth begins to emerge. Light pruning or shearing for shaping can be performed during spring and summer. Cease pruning 2 months prior to the average first-frost date in your area.
How to Prune
Stray Branch Pruning
Any time of year, hand pruners can be used to cut back stray branches to a point just beyond the main form of the plant.
Annual Late Winter Pruning
In late winter or early spring you can use sharp bypass hand pruners or hedge shears to perform an all-over shaping. Simply cut back stray branches that have outgrown the main shape of the plant. Make cuts on branches at a point just above the main shape of the plant.
Formal Hedges & Shapes
If a formal shape or hedge is desired, you can use hedge trimmers to shear plants a couple times or so during the growing season. Cease pruning two months prior to the average first-frost date in your area.
If you have an older Elaeagnus that is thin and weak looking, or has way overgrown the space it was intended to fill, hard or rejuvenation pruning may be in order. This type of pruning is performed in late winter, when the plant is dormant. The most extensive rejuvenation pruning is the practice of cutting the whole shrub to a height of 6 to 12 inches above the ground in late winter. After cutting the shrub back it will start growing new shoots in spring. If cutting the plant back this far is a little scary for you then cut the plant half back to half its height.
Important Note: Diseased, dying, or otherwise very weak plants can be killed by rejuvenation pruning. But, if this is the case, what do you have to lose? Even sickly plants sometimes are rejuvenated by this drastic type of pruning.
Plant Long & Prosper!™
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