Oleander (Nerium oleander) is a fast-growing evergreen shrub that's hardy and fairly low-maintenance. It produces fragrant, showy clusters of flowers from around May to October, coming in several color varieties.
Oleander is typically grown as a perennial landscape ornamental in warm climates, but it also can work as a container plant for sunny patios and decks. Growing about 1 to 2 feet per year, it reaches 4 to 8 feet tall on average, with some cultivars reaching 20 feet high. It is adaptable to many unfavorable conditions, including drought, urban heat, salty air, and poor soil, and it can be planted in spring or fall.
While oleander is a beautiful shrub, all parts of it are toxic to people and animals. It's important to wear gloves and protective clothing when working with oleander. Never burn any part of this plant, as the smoke from burning it is toxic.
Oleander has an upright, rounded growth habit with a slightly smaller spread than height. During the warmer months, the shrub is full of showy, five-petaled flowers that grow in clusters on each stem. It sports narrow, dark green, lance-shaped leaves that are roughly 4 to 7 inches long. On young plants, the leaves are more of a glossy, light green color.
In fact, because of its hardiness, the plant is considered invasive in certain parts of the Southwest and around the Gulf Coast.
|Botanical Name||Nerium oleander|
|Common Name||Oleander, Jamaica south sea oleander, laurier rose|
|Plant Type||Broadleaf evergreen|
|Mature Size||4–8 ft. tall, 4–5 ft. wide|
|Sun Exposure||Full, partial|
|Soil Type||Average fertility, medium moisture|
|Bloom Time||Spring through fall|
|Flower Color||Pink, purple, red, yellow, white|
|Hardiness Zones||8–10 (USDA)|
|Native Area||Asia, Europe|
|Toxicity||Toxic to humans and animals|
In the garden, some people use oleander shrubs as hedges, screens, and borders. While they provide excellent ornamental value, they also can crowd out less hardy garden plants. Considering the high toxicity of the oleander shrub, it's wise to restrict it to secure, private areas of your landscape, such as in an enclosed backyard.
Oleander is native to dry and rocky Mediterranean soil, so it's able to tolerate poor soil and some drought. Its roots are also known to readily spread and become invasive. So if you ever want to remove your shrub, it can be a difficult task to rid your soil of its extensive root system.
Oleander is native to the Mediterranean region, and it’s been naturalized in many parts of Europe and Asia. In the United States, it’s hardy in growing zones 8 to 10, though some gardeners in cooler climates are able to overwinter it as a container plant indoors.
The shrub is typically found growing around stream beds that occasionally experience drought. It can tolerate some frost but struggles once the temperature falls below 20 degrees Fahrenheit. Oleander prefers average soil with a neutral pH, medium moisture, and good drainage. Its growing site should get partial to full sunlight.
Oleander shrubs prefer full sun but tolerate some shade. More sun means more flowers.
The ideal soil pH is neutral, between 6.5 and 7.5, but oleander will grow outside of that range. It also tolerates a variety of soil types, including clay and sand. Poor soil should be amended with compost before planting. Plants grown in containers should have well-drained soil.
Water your oleander regularly, but let the soil dry out between waterings. Keeping the soil damp can cause the leaves to turn yellow. Be particularly careful not to overwater in the winter, which promotes root rot.
Temperature and Humidity
Oleander grows outdoors in zones 8 to 10. It is not frost-tolerant but can endure limited, light frost. If you live in a climate that freezes, you can grow the plant in a container and bring it indoors for the winter. However, it's best to minimize the amount of time it spends indoors, so try to leave it out in the cold until the temperature goes below 20 degrees Fahrenheit, and bring it back out as soon as it warms up in spring.
Oleander typically does not need to be fed, but some varieties may benefit from a small amount of nitrogen fertilizer; check the care instructions that come with your plant for recommendations.
- 'Hardy Pink': has pink flowers and is relatively cold-hardy
- 'Mathilde Ferrier': displays double pale yellow flowers
- 'Mrs. Lucille Hutchings': features double peach-colored flowers and is large: 20-feet tall and 10-feet wide
- 'White Sands': shows white flowers, and is a dwarf variety
- 'Petite Salmon': boasts salmon-pink flowers, and is a dwarf variety
- 'Hawaii': has big pink flowers with yellow throats and is large, 10-to 18- feet tall and up to 12-feet wide
Oleander shrubs are commonly used as hedges and make a great screening, whether for privacy or to hide eye-sores like air conditioning units. Pruning an oleander is optional, but it will help to keep the shrub more bushy and less leggy. Prune after the flowers are done blooming. You can also do some grooming in late fall to shape the shrub and/or limit its size. During the growing season, deadheading the spent flowers throughout the bloom period will encourage more flowers.
A few pests can cause problems with oleander plants, including aphids, mealybugs, and scale; treat any of these with neem oil or insecticidal soap. If the foliage seems to be disappearing, it could be due to the oleander caterpillar, which can be fought with Bt. Oleanders in specific regions, particularly California, are susceptible to a bacterial disease spread by the glassy-winged sharpshooter, which is very difficult to control.