The oleander plant (nerium oleander) is a very versatile, beautiful shrub. This is why it’s so popular in coastal and southern landscapes. It can easily tolerate a large range of conditions like severe pruning, high pH levels, salt spray, difficult soil, drought, and heat reflected from the environment. However, it can’t withstand temperatures that drop below 20°F but you can bring the oleander indoors.
It originates from warmer areas in the world like the Mediterranean, and we recommend you put the oleander in a pot. This way, you can protect the oleander from the cold and keep growing oleander all year round. There are several different varieties of oleander available to buy, and it adds a bright and sunny feel to any home or terrace.
Oleander Species to Consider
If this is your first time growing and keeping oleander alive, it’s best to start with a more hardy species that is more forgiving than the more delicate ones. This way, you have a greater chance of growing it to adulthood and having beautiful blooms. Excellent choices include:
- Hardy Pink – The Hardy Pink Oleander can grow to be an impressive 10 feet wide and 15 feet tall. During the summer months, it grows soft and bright pink flowers that look gorgeous set back against the dark leaves.
- Mrs. Lucille Hutchings – This is another larger oleander that will grow to be 10 feet wide and 20 feet tall. As a bonus, it has double blossoms in a stunning soft peach coloring.
- Mathilde Ferrier – A medium oleander shrub, this will grow to be just shy of 8 feet tall. You’ll get yellow flowers, and it is more resistant to cooler conditions and frost than other varieties.
- White Sands – If you want a gorgeous dwarf oleander, this is it. It has pure white flowers, and it only grows between 4 to 6 feet wide and tall. It’s excellent for container planting.
Oleander Optimal Growing Conditions
This flowering, fragrant evergreen oleander shrub starts blooming in the spring and blooms through the fall. They have large flowers that grow in clusters, and they come in varying shades of red, pink, yellow, and white. Every oleander flower’s petals spread out like fan blades, and you get five petals per flower. The leaves have a lance shape with a leather-like feel.
This oleander shrub is surprisingly low maintenance, and it doesn’t need much aside from nutrients and water once you establish it.
The clusters of oleander flowers make it look very full and healthy when it blooms.
Oleander Location Requirements
The oleander loves sun, and you can make it blossom all year-round in the southern climates if you place it in a location that is warm enough and gets enough sunlight. Ideally, you’ll have it in a southwest or south aligned wall. You also want to protect it against the rain and wind. The wall will heat up during the day and help to keep it warm when the sun goes down at night.
If you have the oleander on the eastern wall of your home or business, it will bloom. However, the blossoms will develop at a much slower pace. You should avoid planting the oleander bush on northern sides of your home or business. You can try to put your oleander in free-standing locations as long as it gets bright sunlight. But, any rain or wind can severely damage your plant’s blossoms and leaves. They may drop off and not open.
Oleander Soil Requirements
The soil is one area where the oleander plant is more picky. If you’ve ever seen plants growing outdoors, you’ll notice that they grow best in at the river edge or course. The soil in these areas is either submerged or stony, and they’re usually very tightly compressed and chalky. This means that typical soil you’ll have in your yard isn’t suitable for this plant to dig in and thrive.
The soil the oleander prefers has a higher clay content with a slightly chalky and nutrient-rich makeup. There is special planting soil for oleander, and it contains a unique mix of clay, compost, and garden soil. If it doesn’t have it already, you have to mix in a small amount of garden chalk. You can get this potting mix at many nurseries or planting stores.
Although this plant isn’t hugely picky with anything, you do want to get the correct soil mix to ensure it takes root and thrives.
Oleander Watering Requirements
Your watering requirements will depend on your normal temperatures and the amount of sun exposure. If you grow this shrub in slightly cooler winter conditions, you can back off on the watering. However, you should make a point to check it once a week. It will be okay if you have a slightly higher moisture at this time, but you should keep it slightly drier to prevent rot, bacteria, or fungal growth.
When the spring comes around, the temperatures will go up. This will push the plant’s water requirements up too. If you don’t have a traditional yard but you put your oleander on your balcony or terrace, put a saucer underneath the pot. This saucer will catch the nutrients that run through when you water it, and the plant will absorb them again If it gets very hot and humid, you should water once or twice a week, and make sure to water it in the saucer. This way, your oleander is never without a steady supply of water.
Your plant’s size will also play a role in how often you water it. For example, big plants could require you to water them up to three times a day. You have to keep the soil alkaline at all times, so you can’t use rainwater because this will throw the alkalinity levels off. Instead, this is one of the few plants that prefers stale, chalky water from your tap. It won’t tolerate ice cold water, so make sure you warm it up before you pour it on your plant.
Oleander Fertilizer Requirements
This is a class that needs more fertilizer. The oleander is a heavy feeder that needs a higher amount of fertilizer on a constant basis during the growing period each year. After you do your annual spring clean and trim of this, you want to get in a fertilizing routine. By the time the end of August rolls around, you want to stop fertilizing because you want to give you plant’s shoots time to mature before the winter months come in.
In the spring, get a long-term fertilizer and mix it lightly into the soil. This fertilizer will give your plants nutrients for up to six months from the first application. This is why you want a saucer for container-potted plants. It’ll recycle the nutrients. Your fertilizer should be specially for oleander plants, and it should be NPK 15-8-12 with a host of trace elements. You only fertilize once a year. Add fertilizing chalk to reduce the soil’s pH values.
A good thing about this plant is that it’ll forgive you if you fertilize the oleander too much. One sign that you gave too much fertilizer is that the leaves can start to turn brown at the tips and spread inward. If you notice this happening, you’ll want to give the plant’s root ball a thorough rinse. This will help remove the excessive nutrients and the oleander foliage should green back up.
Fertilizer will play a huge role in ensuring your oleander does well all year round, but you only apply it to the oleander once a year. This is why a slow-release formula is best.
Planting Your Oleander
For those that live in a warm climate like in the southern United States, the best time to plant oleander is in the springtime. This plant doesn’t react well to colder temperatures, and it will die if it gets too cold. If you live somewhere else in the United States where the temperatures fall below 23 degrees, you’ll have to plant it in containers and bring it inside during the colder months to save it. Also, it’s a good idea to choose oleander plants that are resistant to frost.
There are two ways you can plant oleander, including pot and patch planting. Patch planting is the method you’ll use if you want to plant your oleander outside. So, you have to get the soil ready before you put your plant in the ground unless you live in a flooded area that has a riparian zone.
Once you get the hole dug for your oleander, you want to get a mix of clay and compost to enrich the soil. Mix it in, and add a heavy dose of garden chalk. Mix this in as well. When you have everything combined, condense the soil. Your pH value should range between 6 and 8.3. You can get a test kit and test the soil before you add your plant.
For pot planting, you’ll get your oleander from a store. You can buy oleander in pots at your local nursery, but most pots have up to 10 cuttings. This looks nice when they’re younger, but it can present a real problem as it grows. You need to trim the cuttings down if you buy one of these. The better option is to find an oleander that is a single cutting. Be warned, this will look smaller, cost you more, and be more difficult to find. However, oleander has a woody basis that makes it more rugged, resistant to weather, and easier to grow.
Taking care when you first plant your oleander will give it a solid foundation to take root and survive the first two years.
Repotting Your Oleander
If you grow your oleander in a pot, you’ll periodically repot it as it grows. As with fertilizing it, the best time to upgrade to a bigger pot is in the springtime. This is the time each year you’ll clean out the plant and get it ready to bloom again. You want to repot younger plants once a year for the first two or three years. After this, you only need to repot it as it outgrows the current planter, every 5 or 10 years. Your new pot should be around two inches larger than your current one.
If you get to the maximum pot size you can find, you can cautiously trim the plant’s roots to help it stay in the current container. To trim the root ball, carefully remove your oleander from the pot and rinse out the roots. Trim the roots under the blub, on the side. Clean the pot out thoroughly, add a small amount of fresh soil, and put your plant back in. If you have a lot of shoots, you can trim them now.
Trimming Your Oleander
The key to successfully cultivating your oleander year after year is trimming it. Again, the time to trim this plant is in the spring, and you want to be very cautious when you do it. The plant roots stay active all year round. If you trim it in the autumn, this could encourage the plant to bud again.
Oleander plant juice is toxic and poisonous, so it’s a good idea to slip a pair of gloves on and thoroughly clean your trimmers when you finish to remove the toxic and poisonous juice. Don’t trim the blossoms away because another blossom can develop at the tip of the current one. Remove any seed capsules you see, and trim any cuttings you have down to 15 centimeters in the spring.
Trimming your oleander will ensure that you get an even look, and it’ll also free up nutrients to cycle back to the plant.
If you have a lot of long shoots or branches, you can trim these more often to keep the plant uniform. Always trim away right above the bud or leaf pair to encourage healing. If you have bare or older oleander plants, you can trim them down to the plant’s base frame. Cut away any shoots that are thinner than the width of your finger.
When you trim, remember that any place you cut into the wood of the plant, long shoots will start growing here. If you cut into the areas of the part of the plants where the blossoms are, you’ll end up with much shorter shoots that bloom faster. The key is to find a good ratio of short and long shoots because this will give your plant a balanced look.
Wintering Your Oleander
For regions that experience four seasons with winter months, you’ll have to move your plant inside to a bright but cool spot. The brighter the area is when you winter your plant, the more blooms it can grow come spring. However, you want to do a close check for pests and get rid of them before you bring it inside for the winter months so they don’t spread to your other plants. You want to keep your plant outside as long as possible, and they should only come indoors when the temperature drops below 23 degrees Fahrenheit. Until it gets this cold, your plant should be fine outside against an exterior wall.
If you get permanent frost, put your oleander in a cold house, and keep the temperature between 40 to 50 degrees Fahrenheit. The location should be as bright as it possibly can be. A good choice is by a south or southeast facing window. The colder the area is, the less you’ll have to water it until you bring it back outside and it starts warming up.
It’s not a good idea to winter your oleander in a warm room. If you do, even if it has great light levels, the plant will end up with very thin and long shoots. The shoots will steal far too many nutrients from your plant, and they’ll die when you put the plant back outside because they’re too thin. If you have a greenhouse or conservatory, you can start warming up your plant around March. When you do, start watering it generously everyday or every other day.
You want as much light as possible without increasing the heat when you winter your oleander.
How to Propagate Oleander
There are two ways you can propagate your oleander , including seeds and cuttings. Fortunately, both ways are relatively straightforward, and you should have high success rates with a little patience.
Generally speaking, oleander plants will take root very fast when you use cuttings. You’ll want to take a few fresh cuttings in the spring or early summer. The shoots should be at least 15 centimeters long, and they should have at least three pairs of leaves on them. You want to carefully remove the lower leaf pair and scrape off the bark.
Prepare your pot with the oleander-specific potting mix with clay. Lightly moisten the soil, and gently stick your cuttings into it. Pat the soil down to hold the cuttings in place. Keep them in a warm area that is partially shaded, and always keep the soil moist.
You’ll start to see new leaves and shoots appear around week four, and this is an excellent indicator that the oleander cutting rooted. You can carefully transplant the oleander cuttings into the same chalky soil as the adult oleander plants. Let your oleander cutting grow to 20 centimeters long. When it does, you can shorten the oleander to two or three nodes. Doing this will encourage the oleander plant to start branching out.
Nerium oleander cuttings are a much quicker way to propagate oleander than from seeds, and it’s relatively easy to do.
Using seeds to grow your oleander plant is possible, but it’s a slightly slower process that can take a few years to bloom. It’s very rewarding, but you have to have a lot of patience to pull it off. You can start your seeds in the spring, and you want to get cacti soil that is very nutrient-rich to give them the best chance of growing.
Oleander is a light germinator, and this means that you don’t cover the seeds back up with soil once you spread them over the top of your soil. Cover the entire thing with a freezer bag or aluminum foil, making sure you keep the soil moist.
Leave the seeds in a partially shaded area that is just over 73 degrees Fahrenheit. The seeds will germinate in around two weeks. Let these shoots grow for an additional two weeks because this allows them to grow into germ buds. Slowly move the seeds outside and get them used to the different environment.
Oleander Plant Diseases and Pests
Even if you work hard to keep your oleander in excellent health all year round, pests and diseases can wreak havoc on it. Care mistakes are the biggest causes of oleander pests and disease problems, but you can get rid of them and get your plant back to health with a little care and attention.
Brown Leaf Margins
Normally, the leaves on the nerium oleander plant are dark green and have a leathery feel. If you notice the dark green leaf margins are slowly starting to turn brown, this is an indication that you’ve either fertilized your nerium oleander too much, or the oleander getting too much light. There’s nothing you can do to fix this damage, but it won’t really negatively impact your oleander plant as a whole. You can flush out your plant with water if you think fertilizer is the cause, and keep sun protection in mind for the rest of the year. Eventually, your oleander leaves will be green again once the brown ones fall away.
While brown leaf margins look unattractive, they don’t actually harm your nerium oleander.
Sudden hot and humid days can bring about leaf fall. You’ll notice a lot of leaves suddenly falling from your plant, and this is normal. The leaves on this plant will usually only live to be around two years old, and it doesn’t lose them in the winter like trees. Water deficiencies can be another cause of leaf fall, and you want to double-check the root ball to make sure it’s not dry. If it is, this is your problem.
Nerium oleander shrubs has deep green leaves when the plant is healthy. They can turn a very pale and washed-out green with their leaf veins showing if the plant has an iron deficiency. This can indicate that the pH values are off in the soil. You can remedy this by problem by adding fresh soil with a mix of plant chalk. The leaves should green back up.
This problem is very common in California. A bacteria called Xylella fastidiosa is the cause of leaf scorch, and it comes from the glassy-winged sharpshooter. This insect is a large problem in the Sunshine State, and they’re very difficult to remove once they attack the plant. Signs you have leaf scorch include the leaves drying out and turning yellow. There is no cure for this problem.
Yes, this plant loves moisture. However, there is too much of a good thing. If you use the wrong soil and it holds too much moisture, have mulch around the shrub that traps water, or if you overwater it, root rot can happen. Root rot is when parts of your root ball turn black and slimy. You have to cut away the rotted parts and be more careful about watering in general. Your plant can eventually heal.
Nerium Oleander is one plant that is very prone to developing spider mites, especially if you keep it in an area with poor ventilation that is too warm. Spider mites can damage your plant if you don’t take care of them, so you want to routinely check your plant to make sure it’s not too warm. When you use your insecticidal soap to get rid of them, don’t forget to spray the underside of the oleander leaves.
Mealybugs and Aphids
Another two very common pests are mealybugs and aphids. These pests can eat the plant’s leaves and damage the blooms and the stems. Eventually, this will lead to the plant’s death if you don’t treat them. Applying diluted neem oil or an insecticidal soap a few times to the plant will usually take care of these pests and save your plant.
Nerium oleander makes an excellent addition to any garden or home where you want to get a tropical touch with bright oleander flowers.
Nerium oleander plants are a gorgeous evergreen shrub that will add a pleasing look to your yard all year round. With a little care and dedication on your part, you can keep this oleander plant blooming and looking fabulous.
Jen is a master gardener, interior designer and home improvement expert. She has completed many home improvement, decor and remodeling projects with her family over the past 10 years on their 4,500 sf Victorian house. She is also a passionate farmer who keeps goats, chickens, turkeys cows and pigs on her farm, and an instructor for her community’s Organic and Sustainable Farming project.