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How to Prune a Russian Olive Tree

olive verdi image by Marco from

A small tree, the Russian olive (Elaeagnus angustifolia) tops out at a height and spread of 20 feet. Not native to North America, the tree is nonetheless widely dispersed throughout the region today, adapted to hardiness zones 3 to 8. Prune Russian olive trees each year in the late winter to early spring, whenever frost danger passes for your region. Pruning promotes a strong tree structure and keeps the tree free from disease.

Inspect the branches of your Russian olive tree for signs of dead, diseased or damaged limbs, which need to be removed for the health of your tree. Remove them whenever you first notice them or as part of annual pruning.

Combine one part bleach with 10 parts water in a bucket to work as a disinfectant. Place your pruning tools in the bucket. Clip off dead and unhealthy limbs using anvil pruners for cuts smaller than 3/4 inch and use lopping shears for larger cuts. Use the hand saw for large limbs. In between every cut, disinfect your pruning tools by dipping them in the bucket; this prevents disease from spreading.

Prune suckers growing along the trunk of your tree or out of crotch intersections. Also clip off low growing limbs that impede movement under the tree.

Trim long limbs back to a lateral branch. Work one at a time and shorten each limb to the desired length.

Cut off vigorous upward-growing shoots from limbs, since these cast shade and will develop poorly anyway. Also remove limbs that compress or crisscross other branches. Cut the limbs off at their base.

Thin the canopy on your Russian olive tree by removing up to 1/3 of the old wood. This increases both air circulation and light, which keeps the tree disease free.

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