Silver berry is the common name of a couple of elaeagnus species. Elaeagnus commutata is the only silver berry shrub native to North America. Elaeagnus pungens, also called thorny silver berry, is the shrub most often found in gardens. Both silver berry shrubs have pale green leaves covered in fuzzy silver scales. E. commutata has true silver or whitish berries while e. pungens has red berries covered with silver spots (or silver berries covered with red spots) and 2-to-3-inch-long thorns. Silver berry shrubs form thickets, which make them ideal for erosion control and hedges or wildlife plantings. Silver berry shrubs planted as ornamentals will need pruning at least every other year to keep their exuberant growth in check.
Prune silver berry shrubs to maintain shape and size while they are dormant. You can do this in late winter/early spring or in mid to late fall after the leaves fall. Wear long-sleeved shirts and gloves when pruning as some silver berry shrubs have long thorns.
Use pruning shears to remove broken branches just above a strong bud (the place where leaves emerge)
Remove branches growing into the interior of the shrub or that are rubbing against other branches. In the case of two branches rubbing against one another, remove the smaller (or weaker) branch. Use pruning shears for branches less than 1/4 inch in diameter and pruning saws for larger diameter branches.
Shape the silver berry shrub by cutting back uneven growth (growth that is longer on one side or in one area). Make cuts just above strong buds or branches. You can remove 1/2 of the silver berry shrubs branches without affecting growth, although you might have fewer flowers and berries produced that year.
Remove suckers (shoots that sprout from the roots of the parent plant) using a sharp spade. Drive the spade 3 to 4 inches into the ground between the sucker and the parent shrub. This severs the stem that connects the two. Place the shovel as close to the base of the sucker as possible. Insert the shovel at a 45-degree angle under the base of the sucker and apply upward pressure. It should pop out of the ground. If the sucker is stubborn, you may have to undercut the roots on the opposite side.
Remove dead branches at any time of the year. Make cuts 2 to 3 inches into healthy wood and 1/2 inch above a strong bud or branch.
Things You Will Need
- Heavy gloves
- Long-sleeved shirt or jacket
- Pruning shears
- Pruning saw
- If you have an unruly silver berry thicket, you can mow it to the ground and allow it to regenerate. Silver berry shrubs will regrow from their roots.
- If you want to grow silver berry shrubs but don't want to deal with the suckers, plant the shrubs where they only receive six hours of direct sun a day in unimproved sandy or clay soil. This will limit the shrubs growth while still allowing you to enjoy its fragrant flowers and unusual berries and foliage.
- Plant silver berry shrubs on embankments, and allow them to act as erosion control. Their thicket-forming abilities will have banks and hillsides covered in two to three years.
- Silver berry shrubs can be invasive if left to their own devices.
- Silver berry shrubs do not require pruning to stimulate flowering or fruiting. In fact, they only need just enough pruning to keep their growth in check.
- Silver berry shrubs are attractive to deer and other large herbivores. You can use these shrubs as decoy plants to keep deer away from the rest of your garden, however, silver berry shrubs will continue to attract deer who will eventually move on to plunder the rest of your garden.
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