Oleander is a legendary plant and was already widely cultivated when it appears in the writings of the ancient Greeks and Romans.
This hardy shrub with sweet-smelling flowers is also one of the most toxic garden plants , and should be handled with care.
What Is The Oleander Plant’s Origin?
Oleander originated in North Africa, but spread throughout Europe and Asia in ancient times.
How Is The Name Pronounced?
The name is pronounced “oh-LEE-ann-der”.
Where Did The Name Oleander Come From?
The name oleander shares common Latin and Greek roots with both the rhododendron and the laurel plant, and may derive from a resemblance to the olive tree.
What Is Oleander Related To?
Nerium oleander is the only plant in its genus.
How Many Species Of Oleander Are There?
There are more than 400 named cultivars of oleander.
What Is The Botanical Name?
The botanical name is Nerium oleander.
What Are The Common Names?
The common name is oleander, but in France it is called the laurier rose, and in Spanish the name is adelfa.
Oleander is highly toxic in all its parts. Ingesting any part of the plant can potentially be fatal, and skin contact with the plant can also irritate skin and cause allergic reaction. Smoke from burning the plants is also toxic.
Oleander should never be grown in a garden where children or pets have access to the plant, and you should always wear gloves and long sleeves when working with or near oleander. It is also toxic to browsing or grazing livestock, and should be kept away from horses, sheep, cows, and the like.
For this reason, it is deer-resistant, and still prized in gardens for producing beautiful, long-lasting flowers with little effort.
Size and Growth
Oleander grows from 8’-12’ feet tall , as a shrub that tends to spread out from the top. It can be pruned and trimmed into a more tree-like shape, if you prefer.
Flowering and Fragrance
The small flowers of oleander form large, attractive clusters and have a pleasant, sweet scent.
Light and Temperature
Oleander is hardy in zones 8-11, but can be damaged by frost, and will not survive temperatures below 20 degrees. However, it can be grown in a container and overwintered indoors in colder climates. They grow and bloom best in full sun.
Watering and Feeding
Oleander is native to northern Africa, and grows along stream beds, where it can withstand both long droughts and heavy seasonal rains. Regular watering will promote healthy blooms, but is not necessary for the plant to survive. It does not require feeding.
Soil and Transplanting
Oleander is resilient and easy to grow, highly tolerant of heat, drought, poor soil, high pH, and even salt spray. It thrives in the wild, along rivers and streams, and is frequently planted on highways, roadsides, and median strips in warm climates.
Maintenance and Grooming
Pruning the oleander in late fall will help it maintain a pleasing shape and prevent it from getting leggy. You can also simply pinch the growing tips to encourage branching.
How To Propagate Oleander
Oleander propagates readily from cuttings. Cuttings can be taken from new, green wood at any time, or take semi-woody cuttings from seasonal growth and propagate them in the fall. In order to propagate oleander:
- Wear protective clothing at all times
- Take cuttings that are 6-8 inches long, cut just below a leaf node
- Remove all the lower leaves from the cutting, leaving the ones at the tip
- You can place them in a mixture of water and rooting stimulant, or dip the cutting in rooting hormone powder and place directly into a pot with potting soil
- Keep the cutting well-watered until it is ready to plant outdoors
Caring For Oleander
Oleander requires very little care, which is one of the reasons that it is so enjoyed in the garden.
Even if it is damaged by drought or freezing, it is likely to survive and come back from the roots the following spring.
Oleander should be watered regularly in spring and summer to produce the best blooms, but it is better to underwater oleander than it is to overwater it, and allow the soil to dry between watering.
It can be pruned in the fall to prevent it from becoming too sprawling or leggy, and it can even be pruned into a tree, with care and consistency.
Pests, Diseases, Or Problems That Oleander Encounters
Depending on the climate, your oleander may be susceptible to some garden pests.
This caterpillar is the larvae of the wasp moth, and the caterpillars feed in groups, stripping the shrub of leaves and stems.
A mature oleander will usually survive infestation by the oleander caterpillar, but it can also weaken the plant and make it more prone to other pests and diseases.
The oleander caterpillar is a vivid orange color, large and easy to see against the leaves of the shrub, so they should be physically removed and dropped into a container of soapy water to protect the plant. If this method fails to control the infestation, you may want to use a commercial insecticide.
Aphids are a common garden pest, and frequently infest oleander. Aphids are best prevented or treated with regular applications of neem oil.
Oleander Leaf Scorch
Oleander is also susceptible to a disease called oleander leaf scorch. It is caused by a bacteria, and slowly kills the plant over 3-5 years.
There is no known treatment for oleander leaf scorch. By the time you notice the leaves yellowing and drooping, the bacteria is already throughout the plant’s system, and 90% of infected oleanders will die.
Tips, Tricks, And Suggestions About Oleander
Pruning an oleander into a tree is a great way to enjoy the beauty of its flowers, while saving space in the landscape.
To prune an oleander into a standard (a shape like a tree rose), begin by topping it at the desired height, and prune away weaker lower branches to the tree shape in the fall.
The resilient oleander will develop a crown and take the shape well. However, it is best to not allow the plant to flower the following year, but instead to prune off terminal flower heads.
The clusters are too heavy for the weight of the branches supporting the crown. Prevent it from blooming for a year in order to build branch strength and reinforce the desired shape, and then allow it to bloom the following year.
Best Ways To Use Oleander In Design
The density of the adult shrub and easy propagation makes oleander a popular windbreak, requiring little maintenance and looking attractive year after year.
They also make lovely container plants, placed on a porch or near a door where you can enjoy the fragrance of the flowers.
Before bringing home a new oleander, inspect it carefully. Look for vibrant, deep color in the foliage, with no spots or discoloration, and, depending on the season, check for abundant flower buds in terminal clusters.
WhatAre The Most Popular Oleander Species And Varieties?
There are so many varieties of oleander, most focusing on bloom color.
Solid whites, reds, and pinks are the most common flower colors, but oleanders have been bred to produce bloom colors not typical for the species, including yellows and peach colors.
Cultivars are also available with double blooms.
The most popular oleander cultivars are those with vivid flower colors, like the vivid pink of “Turner’s Flirt” or oleander “Variegata” with brightly striped leaves.
There are also many dozens of dwarf cultivars for those who want a more compact oleander, which reach about 8′ feet in height and are more suited to container gardening.
Although it is highly toxic, the oleander remains an incredibly popular domesticated plant, enjoyed for its lovely, fragrant flowers and low maintenance needs.
Handle it with care and enjoy it for years to come.