Elaeagnus is a shrub many folks love to hate. A few of the species can be pretty weedy, especially E. angustifolia and E. umbellata, and even the non-weedy species can be a bit unruly if allowed to grow unchecked, sending long branches with spines out searching for tree branches to climb. But there’s no reason to throw the baby out with the bath water, many plants in this group make outstanding garden specimens. The most widely grown types are very tough broadleaved evergreens with sweetly scented spring flowers. I’ll never forget being stuck in traffic on a hot April day heading to Atlanta-Hartsfield Airport when my air conditioner died. On opening my window instead of being choked on exhaust fumes, I was greeted with the intoxicating fragrance drifting over from a hedge of Elaeagnus pungens.
Elaeagnus are often known as oleaster or silver berry for the iridescent silver or coppery scales which cover most of the younger parts of the plant – leaves, stems, and fruits. There are both evergreen and deciduous species and some species are grown for their edible fruit. Some of the species have lovely blue-green or silver foliage and can be quite lovely but during winter I always return to the evergreen, variegated selections.
Elaeagnus can easily be maintained by pruning out long shoots after flowering or occasional hard, rejuvenation pruning. Elaeagnus, especially E. pungens, sends out long mostly leafless shoots with vicious spines. When the spiny shoots find their way into a tree or other structure, they become like hooks or anchors making the shoots difficult to remove. Propagation for the evergreen species is typically by semi-hardwood leafy cuttings or hardwood cuttings rooted with fairly high rates of KIBA (7500ppm – 10,000ppm) and bottom heat.