Whether you’re establishing the skeleton of your garden or filling in some gaps, Elaeagnus may be just what you’re looking for! Pronounced “el-ee-AG-nus,” this big, beautiful shrub appears to be one color, but then along comes a gust of wind to reveal different shades. And with more than 50 varieties to choose from, it’s easy to pick a winner from this group of plants!

Elaeagnus row

Though the plant’s young, I don’t worry about my Elaeagnus during the dog days of summer thanks to its tough, drought-resistant nature.

Photo Credit: Lynn Means

Elaegnus Foliage close up

Gorgeous and distinct in the shade, these multicolored leaves shimmer in the sunlight.

Photo Credit: Lynn Means

Elaeagnus bloom

What they lack in size, the inconspicuous blooms make up for with an abundance of fragrance.

Photo Credit: Lynn Means

Elaeagnus habitat

When the forest beyond is dormant, the lively green branches of Elaeagnus pungens ‘Glen St. Mary’ make a cheerful contrast.

Photo Credit: Lynn Means

The shrub’s unique olive green leaves with silver or brown scales, fall fragrance and edible fruit work together to make the beauty a year-round favorite. But part of this plant’s popularity also comes from its ability to grow quickly and adapt to adverse climate conditions.

In fact, this hardy shrub even stands up to very dry conditions! During one summer of extraordinary drought conditions here in the Southeast, my Elaeagnus held their own, requiring little or no watering. They’re actually happiest in problem areas created by nature, like hot sun and poor soil conditions, as well as in tough areas created by me – like growing far beyond the reach of our longest hose!

Do you live along a coastline? Try this terrific shrub! It tolerates high winds and other maritime forces, including salt-laden moisture. Even in a container, the hardy evergreen species are happy! And go ahead and try them by the pool: Chlorine exposure won’t stunt the resilient plant’s growth!

Few shrubs grow as fast as Elaeagnus, too, making this an excellent choice for hedges and green screens where you want to obscure a less-than-desirable view. With a range of varieties and sizes to choose from, you can expect your shrubs to grow to heights of 6-15 feet with widths in proportion to their mounded shape. Of course, climate and growing conditions will govern how quickly your Elaeagnus reaches maturity, but it won’t be long before your screening needs are a thing of the past.

And talk about adaptable – the plant’s flexible sun and shade requirements are a real plus. You can use Elaeagnus to create continuity in areas of semi-shade, filtered sunlight and all-day, direct sun. What’s more? Most varieties tough out cold weather, too, making the plant a great choice for even the northern regions of the country. And heat doesn’t get to these shrubs either. In fact, I had tremendous success planting one of these beauties in a hot, southern exposure near a brick exterior wall – an area that roasted other plants!

Wherever you choose to plant your Elaeagnus, just make sure it’s a place where you can enjoy the free aromatherapy the blooms offer. Whether you pick a spring-blooming deciduous variety or a fall-blooming evergreen, the inconspicuous flowers give off a fragrance that’s a bit like gardenias, with a hint of orange blossom mixed in. (So don’t think you’re hallucinating when you smell something like honeysuckle in late fall!)

I’ve used Elaeagnus a couple of different ways in our own garden. I purchased 15 Elaeagnus pungens ‘Glen St. Mary’ over a year ago when we planted a green screen to define the back yard from the forest beyond. The shrubs’ lively evergreen branches have created a soft transition between the wild and the domestic – and they’ve stimulated a few ideas for creating “layers” of other plants as well. (I chose ‘Glen St. Mary’ because its habit is more dense than the wildly, informal shape of the species. It needs little to no pruning to maintain its shape and is smaller, maturing to about 6 feet tall and wide – making it ideal for tight spots, too!)

Another way I’ve used the shrub in our yard (and also my favorite way) was to plant it randomly throughout adjacent shrub beds. I find mixing Elaeagnus throughout beds visually unites each area of my garden. The eye follows the shrub’s repeated green, but then pauses naturally at specific garden features or vivid colors in other plantings. The Elaeagnus works quietly, building the impact around my landscape’s highlights that need to stand out.

If you’re now interested in the wonderful adaptability of Elaeagnus, here’s a list of species worth checking into, organized from most to least cold-tolerant:

When you’re ready to expand your social circle of plants with an irresistible combination of good looks, durability and drought tolerance, Elaeagnus is a real winner. From recent and personal experience, I can assure you it’s just the beginning of a beautiful garden friendship!