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Some flowering shrubs are so labor-intensive that you may spend more time caring for them than enjoying their flowers. Oh sure, if you're a full-time horticulturist, micromanaging the needs of certain finicky plants is all in a day's work. But if you're like the rest of us, you'd much rather have a beautiful landscape that's filled with low-maintenance plants. If that describes you, Red Oleander (Nerium oleander) fits the bill. It's colorful, fast-growing, and drought-tolerant ?… just to name a few of its outstanding attributes. It Blooms Continuously Once your Red Oleander begins to bloom in summer, it provides a nonstop show through autumn. Unlike other flowering shrubs that bloom once and then they're done for the season, Red Oleander is a continuous bloomer. And if you live in a frost-free climate across this plant's perennial range in USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 8 through 11, you may be treated to a year-round flowering display from your plant. The funnel-shaped flowers are produced at the ends of Red Oleander's branches, in showy clusters that electrify your landscape with their vivid red color. Talk about curb appeal ?… Red Oleander delivers! Tough as Nails Red Oleander is not just a pretty face. It's so resilient that it stands up to heat, drought, pollution, and even salt. All these harsh environmental conditions are terrific challenges for most plants, but Red Oleander handles them with ease. In fact, the University of California notes Red Oleander's seaside suitability because of its strength against coastal breezes and salt spray. It even tolerates many types of soils, including poor soil that can't sustain other shrubs, while continuing to bloom profusely. Evergreen Hardiness Although Red Oleander is an evergreen shrub throughout its perennial range, its top growth may be damaged by frost while its root system stays intact. When temperatures dip into the teens, the plant may even lose all of its leaves, but it typically re-grows quickly from the roots in springtime. And because Red Oleander is a multi-stemmed shrub, you'll see lots of lush new growth emerge from its base after it rebounds from extremely cold winters. This is another of its tough-as-nails qualities that have endeared this shrub to a host of gardeners! So Many Landscape Design Options You'll love the "welcome home" greeting that Red Oleander gives you every time you pull into your driveway and see its cheerful red flowers! And if you plant it where you can also see it as you look out of a window, you'll have double the enjoyment. It's a definite specimen plant, which you can grow as a focal point in your yard, but it also "plays well with others" in a mixed-grouping with other plants. You can use it to anchor a flower bed that features smaller annual and perennial flowers, and it's a stellar performer in a sunny border garden. But if you really want to maximize the impact of its abundant flowers, grow Red Oleander on both sides of your yard as an informal flowering hedge. To enhance your favorite sitting area, plant Red Oleander around your sunny patio as a living wall that surrounds you with its fabulous red flowers. Patio Pots and Deck Containers If you'd like to spruce up your patio or deck with a large, fast-growing potted plant that has bold, tropical flowers, look no further than Red Oleander. This shrub is perfectly suited to container culture. When planted in the ground, mature Red Oleander shrubs reach 6 to 10 feet, but if you grow it as a potted plant, its growth is more restrained and height-proportionate to the container you choose. It'll be more sensitive to cold weather when its root system is elevated in a pot above ground, but you can easily overwinter it in a lighted basement or garage by simply keeping your plant lightly watered so its roots don't dry completely. Hint: Leave your potted Red Oleander outside until fall, and move it to the garage or basement when temperatures drop below 20 degrees F. Our Insider Pruning Secrets When you receive your Red Oleander, you don't have to prune it at all '– you're welcome; we've already done that work for you! And in subsequent years, your Red Oleander will continue to bloom whether you choose to prune it or let it grow naturally. • By making a few judicious pruning cuts, you can prompt it to flower even more profusely. Each time you make a pruning cut that's just above a node (where the branches grow from the main stems), the new growth forms two or three branches. And since oleander flowers grow on the ends of the branches, you'll have more blooms because of more branches that have formed. • You can prune your shrub in early spring without worrying about cutting off the current season's flower buds because Red Oleander blooms on the new growth that forms each year. • If your Red Oleander becomes leggy, prune one-third of its stems to the ground over a three-year period and your shrub will become stronger and thicker with lots of blooms. • And as an extra little bonus, by removing the flowers after they've bloomed, your shrub will push out new growth that may bloom again for you that same growing season! An Important Heads-Up about Toxicity You may have heard that oleander is on the list of toxic plants '– yes, that's true. So, you'll want to exercise caution when handling oleander, and you'll want to keep a watchful eye on curious children and pets while they're around this plant. Every part of this plant is toxic, and even inhaling the fumes from burning the plant can be harmful. The plant sap can cause contact skin dermatitis for sensitive people, and all plant parts can be poisonous if ingested. Wear gloves when pruning Red Oleander, and discard the pruned branches '– do not burn them. Enjoy the blooms in the landscape ?… and not as cut flowers in vases. Bottom line: Oleander can be fatal if eaten or inhaled. Unconventional Pollination Because of the flashy flowers produced by Red Oleander, you may imagine that this plant attracts a host of hummingbirds and butterflies. But these pollinators don't visit Red Oleander. And it's not because of this plant's toxicity; it's because the flowers don't produce nectar! The flowers are called "unrewarding flowers" because pollinators seeking nectar come up empty-handed after visiting the blossoms, receiving no reward for their visit. The flowers are typically pollinated by unsuspecting scout bees that go ahead of other hive bees in their search for a nectar source. Even though they fail to find nectar in oleander flowers, their visits from flower to flower facilitate pollination! Almost Completely Pest-Resistant As you'd guess, Red Oleander has another desirable attribute '– it's resistant to most pests because of its toxicity. And if you live in a rural area where you have a terrible problem with hungry deer that feed on your plants and leave them in tatters, plant Red Oleander and the deer will definitely leave it alone! Curiously, however, there is one pest of oleander that is immune to the toxic effects of its sap '– the oleander caterpillar. This bright-orange caterpillar with tufts of black hair can defoliate an oleander shrub very quickly. Rarely do these caterpillars kill plants, but the loss of all its leaves makes a naturally full oleander shrub look quite unsightly. If you notice tattered leaves, look on the undersides where the caterpillars commonly feed. Their ominous-looking black hairs will not sting you, so you can safely handpick them from your plants or simply cut off the affected leaves that host numerous caterpillars and discard them. Overall Care Guidelines The healthier your Red Oleander shrub is, the easier it's able to maximize its flowering potential. But the good news is that this easy-care plant requires minimal maintenance from you to perform its best. Find a sunny spot to plant your Red Oleander. It will tolerate some shade, but it performs best in full sun. If your plant receives too much shade, it may grow leggy and produce fewer flowers. Although it's not fussy about the type of soil it's planted on, Red Oleander must have soil that drains well '– this is a must. These plants can easily succumb to root rot as a result of soggy soil. After keeping your newly transplanted Red Oleander well-watered to help it develop a strong root system, it will be quite drought-tolerant with an ability to rely on natural rainfall to keep it hydrated. But if your region experiences an especially hot or dry summer, give your Red Oleander some supplemental watering to keep the roots healthy. And when you water your plant, it's best to direct the water at the roots without wetting the foliage. Buried History Reveals Oleander Paintings The historic eruption of Mount Vesuvius in 79 AD covered Pompeii with a 2-foot layer of volcanic ash. Excavation of the town and restoration of the paintings on courtyard garden walls reveal that oleander is the most commonly featured plant in these paintings.
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