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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Wednesday - September 28, 2011

From: Darien, IL
Region: Midwest
Topic: Non-Natives, Pruning, Poisonous Plants
Title: Pruning non-native oleanders
Answered by: Nan Hampton

QUESTION:

I have an oleander that has become to "leggy". I read the pruning instructions, but where I want to prune, there are not any leaf nodes. Can I trim below at the base, or will I hurt the plant? I live in Chicago and have had the plant for many years and have not pruned. I bring the plant indoors from Oct - May.

ANSWER:

If you will go to our Ask Mr. Smarty Plants page and enter "oleander" in the Search by Keywords slot, you will see that there are more than 20 questions that appear that are associated with Nerium oleander (oleander).  You will also see, if you read ones (e.g., #268, #522, #6495) that are about oleander alone, that it is a native of northern Africa, the eastern Mediterranean and southeast Asia. It was introduced into the U. S. in the 1800s and now can be found in cultivation and naturalized over the southeastern states, Texas, California, and Utah.  Our focus and expertise here at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center is with plants native to North America so we are not really who you should be asking about care of your non-native oleander.  However, we can guide you to some information that should help you.

The International Oleander Society has an article, Oleander Culture, with a section on pruning them.  Buzzle.com has an article, Oleander: Pruning Oleander; here is another, Nerium Oleander Care & Pruning, from Botanical-Journeys-Plant-Guide.com.;  and another, The Oleander Plant for Spectacular Blooms, from Plants and Bulbs@Suite 101.  Pruning above the nodes will make the the plant branch there, but the articles all indicate that oleaders can be heavily pruned and continue to do well.

When you do prune your plant we would like to remind you of the toxic nature of oleander and suggest that you wear rubber gloves and dispose of the prunings carefully.   The following is a quote from a previous question:

"Nerium oleander is one of the most poisonous plants known, with all parts of the plant being toxic. Ingestion of just one leaf can cause heart attack and death. Some of the poisons it contains are cardiotonic glycoside (oldendrine), prussic acid and rutin. Skin contact with the plant can cause severe dermatitis...We would recommend that it be carefully removed, wearing gloves and protective clothing, bagged and disposed of properly, NOT burned nor consigned to the compost pile, where the toxins would continue to be dangerous."

 

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