Column: The Garden Girl – The Oleander

August 17, 2014 20:00 pm · 16 comments


Trees, plants and shrubs will go in and out of style in the landscape just like fashion and food trends.

There was once a time when certain plants ruled the nursery, and then suddenly they fell out of favor disappearing from garden center shelves.

One plant family that was huge 20-30 years ago is steadily making a comeback in the nursery world. Much to my surprise, the Oleander started showing up on plant availability lists last year, and now is being spotted on almost every foundation growers availability this year. Landscapes have a demand for drought tolerant, sun loving, deer and gopher resistant, evergreen shrubs that have long periods of bloom. The Oleander shrubs fits the bill perfectly.

Let’s start by saying that every part of an Oleander is poisonous to humans and animals. Ingestion can be fatal. Don’t put branches, leaves or flowers in your mouth. Don’t burn Oleander debris. Don’t use Oleander debris in your compost.

Now that we have that out of the way, let’s talk about all the positive features of this family.

Oleander is found in the nursery under its botanical name, Nerium. Growers have begun labeling the Oleander with its botanical name rather than its common name for marketing reasons, considering the stigma that Oleander has had.

Oleander can be a standard or dwarf shrub. Sometimes they are trained as trees. You can expect 8-10 feet of height and width from a mature standard Oleander, making it a desirable installation for a privacy screen, or fence cover. Dwarf shrubs are nice when used as an informal hedge, or focal installation. As a dwarf Oleander matures it can reach 4-6 feet tall and wide.

In the late days of April, Oleander begins to flower and will continuously bloom until November. Cherry Ripe is a standard selection of Oleander with a desirable cherry-pink blossom. Since it’s a standard, Cherry Ripe can grow to 8 feet tall. Petite Pink is a dwarf selection that has a dark pink flower. Petite Pink will row anywhere from 4-6 feet tall. Petite is a yellowish-cream selection. Once you start looking, you’ll find whites, salmons, and light pink Oleander as well.

Mature Oleander needs no summer water. It can however tolerate irrigation when incorporated with in a traditional landscape. Extended periods of frost can nip the branches of dwarf selections. Don’t worry if this happens to yours, recovery is slow, but as spring warms, you’ll see signs of growth.

Happy Gardening.

Nicole Hackett is the Garden Girl at R&M Pool, Patio and Gardens, located at 6780 Marsh Creek Road in Clayton, 925-672-0207.

Nicole writes for the Clayton Pioneer Newspaper, and She is also the Clayton Valley Garden Club 2012 President.

1 Original G August 17, 2014 at 9:41 PM

Have about 6 plants on a South facing strip about 14′ x 10′ screening a bedroom, have been there over 40 years. Over ten feet tall an only water they get is when it rains. Between shade they create and leaf litter weeds are not a problem.

2 AnotherAnon------Nicole, why not to be used in compost? August 17, 2014 at 10:40 PM

I seldom eat any compost, and I’m sure I can forego eating it in the future. Seriously though, what would it harm if shredded and used in compost?

3 Jesse August 17, 2014 at 11:03 PM

I thought there was some sort of disease working its way up from the south, killing off oleander?

I know they’re out of fashion, but I think oleander are terrific. I have a few in my yard. They’re very hardy. They’re evergreen, hardly need any water, thrive in direct sun, have lovely pink flowers most of the year, and live forever. What more can you ask for?

4 Just Say No August 17, 2014 at 11:50 PM

Oleanders (aka Freeway Flowers) are a poor and irresponsible choice for any area inhabited by people snd their domesticated animals. These flowering bushes do not belong in any garden. Leave them in the the median landscaping on freeways where we always see them and that’s about it. They are seriously harmful to animals and humans. Need we say more??? We have neighbors on both sides with those poisonous flowering bushes dropping their flowers snd leaves into our yard. We have both dogs and small children- so we are constantly cleaning up their leaves, flowers and branches as they litter over into our yard nonstop. One of our dogs kept getting sick with diarrhea and we couldn’t pinpoint the cause until we realized one if the dog water bowls outside would regularly have small oleander leaves in it- even thought that bowl was changed frequently daily, the short times those leaves were in it made him sick- if you care about animals and/or children- Get Rid of those trees!

5 Garden Girl August 18, 2014 at 7:13 AM

Hi Another Anon,
Compost is often used in vegetable gardening, under fruit trees and berry bushes. Therefore, its not worth the risk. I don’t eat compost either, but I do use compost around edibles.

Dear Just Say No,
I grew up in Concord. We had to be told only once about the oleanders, especially when my Nana followed the warning with a dramatic story about a boys out troupe using the oleander branches as marshmellow roasting sticks. We respected the shrubs ever since.
I knew this column would spark this kind of response. The oleander however has many attractive attributes for today’s landscape. There are many toxic and poisoness plants growing throughout Claycord landscapes. More than most know about. UC Davis has a wonderful pamphlet online that interested folks could download to see what other plants they need to avoid.
Thanks for reading.

6 Silva August 18, 2014 at 7:37 AM

Ah, yes. Euphorbia. Don’t eat it!

7 Silva August 18, 2014 at 7:39 AM

I had a euphorbia once that looked lika a cactus… with tiny little leaves.

8 Marianne August 18, 2014 at 7:42 AM

Oleanders are a wonderful flower but not easy to grow.

9 RD August 18, 2014 at 7:45 AM

To Just Say No

I’m sure your keeping an eye on your small children so they don’t eat anything their not supposed to. Wait unitl they become teenagers. You can’t imagine the junk they will eat.

As for your dogs, there must be a place outside where you can put their water bowls, so the small oleander leaves don’t get in the water.

10 OleoOleo August 18, 2014 at 9:13 AM

Thanks for this wonderful column. I knew these plants are poisonous, but I didn’t know they were so poisonous. Whenever I hear the word oleander, I think the the Myrtles plantation in the south and how the poor house maid “accidentally” killed the mother and the children.

I see alot of these plants around. They are very pretty, but glad I don’t have any near me for my dogs’ sakes.

11 Red Bluff August 18, 2014 at 9:24 AM

Oleanders are going to be a popular plant once I start landscaping up north!! It’s hot, hot, hot!!

But I need to buy in bulk, 20-30 plants, where can I get wholesale?

Also, where can I find citrus at wholesale or discounted prices (20-30)

12 Antler August 18, 2014 at 9:46 AM

Hi, Red Bluff!
Try the Redding COSTCO nursery…. great for mass plantings.

13 Thanks, Antler August 18, 2014 at 10:46 AM

You always come through for me!!

14 Tara Firma August 18, 2014 at 12:01 PM

I hate oleander. I cannot seem to kill it in my yard. Not looking forward to digging up all the roots.

15 anon August 19, 2014 at 5:37 AM

Red bluff,
check out ccwd website for drought tolerant plant ideas. This website is great.check out the ceonothus (sp.?). very drought tolerant, blue flowers and i think i does not want water once established.

16 Red Bluff August 19, 2014 at 11:19 AM

Thanks, Anon (15). Just picked up some ceanothus at (that other nursery place, not to be named) last weekend. Will be speeding up I-5 to go get it planted, with the dogs. The dogs will dig the holes, because that soil is hard as cement, and I ain’t breaking my nails!!

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