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Elaeagnus: Local evergreen offers low maintenence, attractive way to create garden privacy

As gardeners, we are always on the lookout for attractive, hardy and easy to care for plants and shrubbery. We are particularly interested in evergreen plants because they are useful as permanent hedges and privacy makers for our gardens.
A recent inquiry led to the hedge growing happily between a railroad track and a parking lot.
The hedge, which has been growing for several years with no ill effects from passing traffic, trains, drought and pedestrians, is situated between the railroad track and a brick wall.
This attractive, though in need of careful pruning, hedge serves a useful purpose in a most attractive way. These plants, Elaeagnus, variety E. pungens, (Thorny Elaeagnus) are attractive and durable. Elaeagnus is described in “A-Z Encyclopedia of Garden Plants,” published by the American Horticultural Society, as having shiny leaves, slightly spiny branches, and clusters of tiny blooms beginning in the fall. New growth has attractive fuzzy brown stems.
The blooms, while not spectacular, are fragrant, silvery white and produce small brown fruit that ripens to red. Although rated for zones 7-9, Tri-Cities being in zone 5, these plants have survived cold and freezing winters.
To stroll along the brick walkway, enjoying the shiny leaves and pleasant odor of the flowers is a pleasure worth the walk of about two blocks alongside the hedge. Interestingly punctuated with young trees now and then, it is one of those short walks that bring pleasure to us all.
In the case of Jonesborough, the hedges screen the view of the railroad track from the Parson’s Table Restaurant. The plant is performing admirably in this setting.
The group of plants classified as Elaeagnus comprises about 45 species of durable and large growing shrubs. Some states use these plants as screens in highway medians and borders to separate an ugly view from attractive scenery.
As a specimen plant, growing inside a mulched bed with other permanent shrubs, this plant is mostly carefree, tolerates dry soil, and is generally bug free. Pruning can be limited to once every two or three years, keeping the natural shape of the hedge plants. No severe boxy shapes for this lovely, soft hedge.
Grown inside its space with very little trimming, it matures to about 8 feet tall and 10 feet wide if seldom trimmed. Although preferring full sun, a little shade is fine. Elaeagnus likes deep, well drained, neutral to slightly acid soil with mulch.
When preparing the hole, incorporate well-rotted compost and a small amount of fertilizer into the soil. Add water to get the plants established, then it needs less water over the years and is mostly drought tolerant.
Use this plant for a wind break, and a place to locate a garden bench or picnic table. In a garden which is open to view from the neighborhood, a wonderful private sitting area can be created for family enjoyment. Visualize an outdoor room, sort of a hideaway, where children play and parents relax. Happy Gardening, everyone!
Jeanne Cope is a Garden Writer and UT Life Master Gardener. Email her at
[email protected]