Russian Olive

Posted by shane - January 11, 2017 - A-Z Plant Maintenance, Trees - No Comments

Eleagnus angustifolia

Russian olive alongside a streambank.

Russian olive is not a common shade tree in my area.  It prefers poor soils and does well in waste places and less-than-ideal growing sites.  It has nice silvery-gray-green foliage, which makes an interesting accent in a mixed ornamental planting, or as a specimen in areas where other things won’t grow.  There is a planting a long Deerfoot Trail north in Calgary, on an inhospitable windy slope, that seems to be doing well.

The Russian olive tree tends to develop self-destructive branch structure if left to its own devices, so proper structural pruning is necessary for the first few years after planting.

I generally avoid planting this tree for four reasons:

1) In 2015, a reasearcher in Lacombe suggested that Russian olive be considered and invasive species that is likely to choke out streambank habitats.  I don’t want to contribute to that problem;

2) the trees are thorny and a nuisance to maintain;

3) they are prone to a fungal die-back disease that can result in disfigured, unattractive trees;

4) I prefer using silver-leaf willow, as the foliage is very similar, and the plant is less susceptible to disease.

The nicest Russian olive I ever saw was on a corner lot, on a busy road in Red Deer.  The owners removed the tree because a neighbour said it was too close to the foundation, which was nonsense.  The following year they planted a new Russian olive in the same spot!  Sometimes its best to call an arborist for advice.


Full sun.

Pruning Time

Anytime of year for up to 10% pruning of canopy, or deadwood removal.  For heavy pruning, dormancy is best (late October until early April).


If you have a chance to train this tree from planting, train as a central-leader standard, with well-spaced scaffold limbs.  I normally get called in to look after very mature and neglected specimens, where my options to improve branch structure are limited.  In that case, I remove dead, diseased, and damaged braches, reduce width and provide branch clearance over walkways and away from buildings, as required.

Crown Reduction

Generally, not suitable for crown reduction, and if planted in a suitable location, unnecessary.  I had one specimen in Leduc that we sheared by hand each year, at the request of the client.  It was a big, silvery ball, but not overly attractive.  She since removed the tree.  A well-structured, natural form is best for Russian olive.


(c) 2017 Shane LePage, Wild Rose Garden & Tree Service Inc., Red Deer.