Russian olive is a beautiful shrub. Its name comes from its native region – Southern Russia – and the resemblance to the olive tree around the Mediterranean.
Russian olive facts
Name – Elaeagnus angustifolia
Family – Elaeagnaceae
Type – shrub
Height – 6 to 13 feet (2 to 4 meters)
Exposure – full sun, part sun
Soil – ordinary
Foliage – deciduous
Flowering – May to June
Fruit formation – August to October
Invasive in – United States, Canada
Ideal for hedges and very nice as standalones, these shrubs are easy to care for and very ornamental. Note, however, that Russian olive is an invasive species to control in some areas. Growing it is sometimes illegal according to some state and country regulations.
- Where is Russian Olive native and invasive?
- Impact of Russian olive on the environment where it’s invasive
Planting Russian olive trees
Although best planted in fall, Russian olive trees cope perfectly with being planted all year round if they were purchased potted.
If you plant your Russian olive trees during winter or during summer, avoid frost and freezing and heat waves, respectively.
To make a hedge, space trunks around 3 feet (1 meter) apart.
- Choose well-drained soil and follow our guidance for planting shrubs.
Pruning a Russian olive tree
To increase the number of branches and make your shrubs or hedges more opaque, you can prune the shrubs lightly over the first few years, cutting back about ⅓ of the previous year’s growth.
Russian olive can be pruned at the beginning of spring or in fall.
These shrubs grow back after all sorts of pruning, even if these were drastic.
They can thus be given different shapes, such as a big ball or other, without hindering their development.
- Russian olive trees grow sharp thorns or spikes, so wear gloves and thick clothing.
- Follow our advice on pruning shrubs.
Hard pruning Russian olive and cutting it back
Cutting Russian olive back severely (hard pruning it) sometimes triggers an unexpected response.
- Instead of healing the pruned shrub, the vigorous root system will end up sending new growth up from the ground.
- This means that instead of having a well-formed tree, you continuously start from scratch with new, young saplings.
- If repeated, new growth starts appearing further and further off from the original stump.
Why does this happen? After cutting back most branches (sometimes called hat-racking), sap circulation is interrupted. The strong root system sends new shoots up in various places along the main roots, thus spreading the reach of the tree. This is typical of a root-suckering species, which Eleagnus angustifolia definitely is.
Are Russian olive fruits edible?
Foragers are keen on finding sources of food in the wild. Fruits of the Russian olive tree look like olives, hence the name. However, they aren’t very common as a source of food.
Nonetheless, they’re perfectly edible as long as a few conditions are met:
- Fruits must be very ripe, or else you’re in for a mouth-puckering experience!
- The large pit inside (a hard, fibrous husk, unlike regular olive) can be cracked open and its content, a kernel, can also be eaten.
- Not much oil can be extracted from either the flesh or the kernel.
They’re edible raw, cooked, boiled or steamed and roasted.
Learn more about Russian olive
- Russian olive trees are also excellent shade trees and are perfect to set up wild hedges.
In spring, the discrete and delicate blooming will spread a fragrant bee-pleasing odor, and in fall yellow and silver-colored fruits attract birds with their fruits which are edible even for us. They stay attached to the tree even as leaves drop in Fall. A great winter snack for our fowl friends!
A cousin of Russian olive is American silverberry, Elaeagnus commutata. It’s native to North America, unlike Russian olive.
- Russian olive in the Americas is an invasive species that must be controlled.
- See whether you’re in the native or invasive range for Russian olive.
Read also on shrubs:
Smart tip about Russian olive trees
Elaeagnus don’t do well in very wet ground.
Avoid constantly waterlogged soil and stagnant water or your plant will dwindle away.
Credits for images shared to Nature & Garden (all edits by Gaspard Lorthiois):
Russian olive leaves and blooming by Evgeny Pervakov under © CC BY-NC 4.0
Russian olive flower by Kit Kestrel under Pixabay license