How To Grow Autumn Olive

Written by: Lars Nyman

Growing Autumn Olive

Growing Autumn Olive

Autumn Olive (Elaeagnus umbellata) is a deciduous, nitrogen-fixing shrub native to Asia that has become widely naturalised throughout temperate regions of the world. It grows quickly in sunny and disturbed habitats, with its edible fruits popular with birds, making it a valued component of the garden ecosystem. It was introduced to the US in the early 1800s for soil stabilization and wildlife food, but it has since spread widely and out-competed some native plants.

Cheatsheet: Growing Autumn Olive

1. Planting

🌱 Autumn Olive is a hardy shrub that thrives in diverse climates.

🌍 Choose a sunny location with well-draining soil.

💦 Ensure regular watering during the first year to establish strong roots.

2. Propagation

🌱 Collect seeds in autumn and stratify for 30-90 days in the refrigerator.

🌱 Soak seeds in water for 24 hours before planting.

3. Growth & Maintenance

💪 Autumn Olive grows quickly, reaching heights of 15-20 feet.

🍃 Prune regularly to maintain shape and promote fruit production.

🌳 Consider planting a mix of male and female plants for better pollination.

4. Harvesting & Usage

🍒 Harvest berries in late summer or early fall when they turn red.

🍇 Autumn Olive fruits are rich in antioxidants like lycopene.

🥗 Use the berries for jams, jellies, sauces, or drying.

5. Benefits & Considerations

🌿 Autumn Olive fixes nitrogen, enriching the soil and benefiting nearby plants.

🌎 It helps prevent soil erosion and creates wildlife habitat.

💚 Incorporating Autumn Olive into your landscape promotes self-sufficiency.

Autumn Olive, known scientifically as Elaeagnus umbellata, is a versatile and resilient shrub that can be a fantastic addition to any garden. I've had the pleasure of growing Autumn Olive for many years, and I'm excited to share with you the ins and outs of this incredible plant.

1. Choosing the Right Location

When it comes to growing Autumn Olive, selecting the perfect spot is crucial. This shrub thrives in full sun but can tolerate some shade, making it suitable for a variety of garden types. The soil should be well-drained and preferably sandy or loamy, with a pH ranging from slightly acidic to slightly alkaline. It's worth noting that Autumn Olive can withstand a wide range of soil conditions, including poor and compacted soils.

2. Planting Autumn Olive

The best time to plant Autumn Olive is in late fall or early spring when the ground is workable. Before planting, dig a hole that is twice as wide and just as deep as the root ball. Gently remove the shrub from its container, ensuring the roots remain intact. Place the plant in the hole, backfill with soil, and water thoroughly. Adding a layer of mulch around the base will help retain moisture and suppress weed growth.

3. Watering and Fertilizing

Autumn Olive is a drought-tolerant plant that requires minimal watering once established. However, it's important to water the shrub regularly during its first year to help it establish a strong root system. Fertilization is generally unnecessary, as Autumn Olive is a nitrogen-fixing plant that can draw nutrients from the air. However, if you notice slow growth or yellowing leaves, applying a balanced organic fertilizer in early spring can give it a little boost.

4. Pruning and Maintenance

Pruning Autumn Olive is a breeze, and it can be done to enhance its shape or restrict size. It's best to prune in late winter or early spring before new growth emerges. Remove any dead or damaged branches, thin out crowded areas, and trim back branches that are crossing or rubbing against each other. Regular maintenance includes monitoring for pests or diseases, which are rare in Autumn Olive but can occur. Keeping the area around the shrub weed-free will help minimize competition for nutrients and water.

If you're looking for a plant that offers more than just beauty, Autumn Olive is your answer. Not only does it provide an abundance of vibrant red berries that are rich in antioxidants and vitamin C, but it also serves as an excellent wildlife habitat and a nitrogen fixer, improving soil fertility for surrounding plants.

5. Propagation

Autumn Olive can be propagated through seeds or cuttings. Collect ripe berries, squeeze out the seeds, and rinse them thoroughly to remove any pulp. Cold-stratify the seeds by placing them in a damp paper towel inside a plastic bag in the refrigerator for 2-3 months. When ready, sow the seeds in pots or directly in the ground. Cuttings can be taken in late spring or early summer by selecting young, healthy stems and removing the lower leaves. Dip the cut end in rooting hormone and plant them in a well-draining medium.

6. Enjoying the Harvest

Once your Autumn Olive shrub reaches maturity, you can look forward to a bountiful harvest of delicious berries. The berries ripen in late summer or early fall and have a sweet-tart flavor that can be enjoyed fresh or used in jams, jellies, sauces, and baked goods. Remember to share the joy with local birds and wildlife by leaving some berries on the shrub.

Growing Autumn Olive can be a rewarding experience, both for your garden and your plate. With little maintenance required and the added benefit of attracting wildlife, it's definitely a plant worth considering. So why not give it a try and see how Autumn Olive can enhance your gardening journey?


1. What are the ideal growing conditions for Autumn Olive?

The ideal growing conditions for Growing Autumn Olive include full sun and well-drained soil.

2. When should I plant Autumn Olive?

You should plant Autumn Olive in the early spring or late fall.

3. How often should I water Autumn Olive?

Autumn Olive requires regular watering, especially during dry periods. Water deeply once a week.

4. Do I need to fertilize Autumn Olive plants?

Fertilize Autumn Olive plants once a year in the spring using an all-purpose fertilizer.

5. How do I prune Autumn Olive?

Prune Autumn Olive in late winter to early spring to maintain its shape and remove any damaged or crossing branches.

6. Are Autumn Olive trees prone to any diseases or pests?

Autumn Olive trees are generally resistant to diseases and pests, making them easy to maintain.

7. When can I harvest Autumn Olive berries?

You can harvest Autumn Olive berries when they turn red and are soft to touch, usually in late summer or early fall.

8. How do I propagate Autumn Olive?

Propagate Autumn Olive by taking hardwood cuttings in late winter or early spring or by using seeds stratification method.

9. Can Autumn Olive be grown in containers?

Autumn Olive can be grown in large containers, preferably at least 20 gallons in size, with well-draining soil.

10. How fast does Autumn Olive grow?

Autumn Olive is a fast-growing plant, typically growing about 2 to 3 feet per year under optimal conditions.

Growing Autumn Olive is a great way to attract wildlife and create an environment that is sustainable and eco-friendly. It produces an abundance of fruit, which can be used for jams, jellies, and syrups, and its efficient roots help to repair damaged soils. Additionally, its nitrogen-fixing properties make it a great choice for natural fertilization, as well as for soil and habitat restoration. Overall, Autumn Olive is an excellent choice for a backyard garden as it is low-maintenance, produces delicious fruit, and improves soil quality.

Want to know more about Growing Autumn Olive? Check out these posts:

You might also like:

Your perfect garden awaits!

Launch your garden