How to Trim Elaeagnus Trees

Written by cat mccabe
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How to Trim Elaeagnus Trees
Every arborist needs a pair of pruning shears. (sécateur de jardin image by YvesBonnet from

Elaeagnus angustifolia goes by the common name, Russian olive. This tree is tough and can survive into USDA Hardiness Zone 2. Elaeagnus is adaptable to most types of soil, even salty and alkaline, and can reach a height and spread of 25 feet, though often it is much smaller. Thorny and shrublike, with scaly, grey-green leaves, eleaegnus should be pruned while wearing gloves and eye protection. Prune when the tree is 3 to 5 years old for a strong central leader and 5 to 8 horizontally growing scaffold branches to give the tree a strong structure.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Canvas gloves
  • Safety glasses
  • Long-handled pruning shears
  • Short-handled pruning shears
  • Pruning saw
  • Yard waste bags

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  1. 1

    Prune elaeagnus to a single, central leader. It will often have several trunks. Choose the strongest one and saw the others away with a pruning saw. Set the saw's teeth at a 45-degree angle, down and away to leave an angled stub that lets moisture drip off instead of collecting and causing rot.

  2. 2

    Work upward from the base of the central leader with long-handled pruning shears. Select 5 to 8 horizontally growing scaffold branches spaced evenly up the main trunk, and cut all the others away. Set the blades at the same 45-degree angle, down and away. Do not cut limbs flush with the trunk.

  3. 3

    Snip vertically growing branches and any branches that cross or rub together with short-handled shears. Crossing and rubbing branches will eventually cause bark injury, and vertically growing, smaller branches will not produce flowers or fruit.

  4. 4

    Clip off shoots, called suckers, from the base of the tree and the canopy whenever you see them. These flexible, green shoots sap vigour from the tree and will not be productive.

  5. 5

    Cut limbs and branches into manageable lengths and discard in yard waste bags. Chip into compost or mulch if you can.

Tips and warnings

  • If you want a more shrublike appearance for your elaeagnus, cut it back to two feet from the ground in early spring. It will sprout multiple trunks from the base and form a dense, shrublike growth habit within a year.
  • Rake up leaf litter and fallen fruit to avoid attracting rodents and disease from decaying material.

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