How to Prune Russian Olive Trees

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The Russian olive tree or Elaeagnus angustifolia is a very hardy tree prized for its feathery silver foliage. The tree is fast growing, especially when young and requires an aggressive program of heavy pruning in order to achieve an ideal shape and size.

Whether you have the opportunity to begin maintaining your Russian olive tree from the start or must, instead, deal with the results of overgrowth in an older tree, a program of careful and deliberate thinning will help you produce a healthy and productive specimen.

Things You'll Need

  • Offset pruning shears
  • Pruning saw
  • Lopping trimmer

When to Prune

Prune dead wood from your Russian olive tree any time of year. Prune living wood annually before the tree has leafed out.

Identify and remove dead wood first. Next, if your tree is young, identify a strong leader branch from which lateral branches can develop.

If there are two possible leaders of roughly equal diameter, remove one of them to discourage the formation of a double crown.

Look for and remove branches that appear to have a poor attachment to the trunk. This growth is an important cause of failure in Russian olive trees.

Prune lateral growth with a goal of selecting a sturdy and well-spaced set of branches to serve as the scaffold of the tree. A well-chosen scaffold should grow from the main trunk in a gradual upward spiral. Russian olive trees will keep their naturally gnarly appearance even when properly pruned.

Look for and remove any branches that seem to be growing in a wrong direction and that detract from the appearance of the tree. Wherever there are two lateral branches growing very close to one another, remove one of them. Also remove one of any pair of crossed branches that are rubbing against one another.

Thin your Russian olive tree from the top down. Walk around the tree frequently and stand near the trunk to examine the light patterns coming through the crown before making pruning decisions.

Tips & Warnings

  • In certain parts of the country, Russian olives are considered invasive because of their tendency to send off vigorous shoots. When you are pruning your tree, look for unwanted saplings in the area of the root system and remove them before they become well-established.
  • Keep your pruning tools clean and sanitized in order to prevent disease.
  • Do not remove more than one quarter of the living crown in any one year.

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