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Sea buckthorn, lots of spikes, but lots of berries, too!

Sea buckthorn

Sea buckthorn is a thorny shrub worth checking out for its numerous vibrant-colored fruits. They’ll brighten up your garden in winter.

Sea buckthorn key facts:

Latin name: Hippophae rhamnoides
Family: Elaeagnaceae
Type: shrubby tree

Foliage: deciduous
Height: 10 to 16 feet (3 to 5 m)
Exposure: sunny

Soil: light, well-drained, neutral to alkaline pH

Hardiness: hardy  –  Blooming: spring  –  Fruiting: fall, winter

Meet Sea Buckthorn

Edible berriesHippophae rhamnoides is a dioecious species, meaning there are male and female plants. To get fruits, it’s a good idea to plant one male for every 5 or 6 females.

Sea buckthorn foliage is very narrow with a grey-green color.

Fruit shows up in early fall and its red-orange color pops even more when leaves fall. These berries are edible, with a sweet and lovely  tangy flavor.

It’s often confused with firethorn due to similar phonetics and appearance, but they are indeed different shrubs.

Caution: Italian buckthorn, an unrelated shrub that unfortunately goes by a similar name, has toxic berries.

Planting sea buckthorn

Sea buckthorn, or argousier as we say in French, thrives in all soil types, as long as it’s lightweight and draining. If possible, place it in full sunlight year-round, but it’ll tolerate some shade.

For a fruitful harvest, plant one male for every 5 or 6 females. You’ll thank us later.

When to plant?

Drought-resistant and vigorous, sea buckthorn doesn’t mind whether you plant it in spring or autumn.

How to plant?

  • How to plant sea buckthornDig a wide and deep planting hole. No need to measure, just make it spacious.
  • If your tree comes in a container, just remove it, free up some roots, and let it loose in its new home.
  • If you’ve got a bare root tree, give it a root dip before planting.
  • Plant a stake close to the trunk, minding those delicate roots.
  • Fill in the hole, pack the soil firmly. Put your back into it!
  • Connect the trunk to the stake with a figure “8” tie, knot between stake and tree to avoid any frictions.

Caring for your sea buckthorn

Pruning sea buckthornNo need for extra pampering here. Only prune your sea buckthorn when you feel like it:

  • Formative pruning during initial growth years.
  • Getting rid of dead or dangerous branches. Safety first!
  • Raising the crown, or removing low branches that get in the way.


Create new sea buckthorn plants by layering, cutting (softwood in August or hardwood in winter) or sowing.

Diseases and pests:

Impressively hardy, Hippophae rhamnoides gives pests the cold shoulder and shows no sign of disease.

Using sea buckthorn for landscaping

With its ground-covering root system, sea buckthorn makes it its duty to hold together soil on unstable slopes. Salt and sea spray? No problem, which makes it a superstar for jazzing up a coastal garden.

Want to fully enjoy those bright red-orange fruits in winter? Pair your sea buckthorn with trees or shrubs boasting bright decorative wood, like a colorful bark dogwood (example: Cornus sericea), or yellow wood white willow (Salix alba).

Fruit harvest and preparation

Sea buckthorn berry harvestTypically, you’d harvest sea buckthorn berries around October, preferably after the first frost. Picking them isn’t exactly a walk in the park due to the tree’s thorns. But shaking the branches over a ground cloth, will let you collect these tough-to-reach fruits with ease.

After the harvest, feel free to enjoy the berries raw, or try them with yogurt or cereal. They also keep well in juice, syrup, jam, or even frozen.

Images: Pixabay: Artoxana, Florian Pircher, D. Knimo, minka2507, Victoria

Written by Christophe Dutertre | With a formal degree in landscaping and an informal love of gardens, Christophe will introduce you to this passion we all share. Novelty, down-to-earth tips and environment-friendly techniques are marked on the map, so let's get going!
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