How and where can you grow sea buckthorn plants in the garden? What do you have to consider when cutting sea buckthorn? We give tips on care and reveal how the fruit can be used as sea buckthorn juice, oil, and liqueur.
Sea buckthorn ( Hippophae rhamnoides ) in your own garden? A few years ago the plant was still considered a real exotic, but now the orange-shimmering shrubs have become a real trend among hobby gardeners. Rightly so – because sea buckthorn is not only a real eye-catcher in every garden, its healthy fruits are also a real superfood and can be used in a variety of ways. Here we will tell you how you can achieve high yields over many years, what care measures are necessary, and what the fruits of the sea buckthorn can be used for.
Sea buckthorn: origin and characteristics
The sea buckthorn originally comes mainly from Nepal. From here it spread over the entire Caucasus to China, Canada, and Scandinavia. During the first Ice Age, the plant came to Central Europe from Central Asia, so that it is also considered to be native to Germany today. Today the sea buckthorn is the most important representative of the olive family ( Elaeagnaceae ).
By the way: Its Latin name can be translated as “shiny horse” – because for centuries the sea buckthorn was mainly used as a medicinal plant for animals and was used in particular to groom horses.
Against the background of the diverse uses of sea buckthorn as food, it was only cultivated in the USA in the GDR in the late 1960s, and it was specifically cultivated on a large scale. Today, China is an international pioneer in sea buckthorn cultivation, while France has taken the lead in Europe. In the French Alps, in particular, a confrontation with this extraordinary plant is not uncommon, not least because it finds its way into all shops for French specialties via regional processing there.
In addition to the bright orange-red and oval-shaped fruits, which adorn the branches of the up to six-meter high bushes, you can also recognize the sea buckthorn by its narrow, gray-green, and white-silvery hairy leaves, which are arranged alternately. On the other hand, the small green-brown flowers that bloom in spring between March and May on the shoots from the previous year are relatively inconspicuous. The sea buckthorn is also dioecious, which means that either only male or female flowers sit on a plant. For this reason, the female plants can only bear fruit if they have previously been pollinated by a male partner in the immediate vicinity.
The best species and varieties of sea buckthorn
In addition to the wild sea buckthorn, there is now a selection of cultivated forms that are particularly suitable for growing in the garden. In the garden trade, a distinction is often made between male and female cultivated forms, with only the female later developing the distinctive orange-red fruits. Here is an overview of the best sea buckthorn varieties to grow in the garden.
Female sea buckthorn varieties
The most common in the garden are female sea buckthorn plants, as they are the only ones to develop the orange fruits, which can be harvested from August to the end of September. The female sea buckthorn plants also show inconspicuous greenish-brown flowers from March to April. The most popular fruiting sea buckthorn varieties in the garden include:
- The vigorous variety can reach heights of up to 5 m without pruning
- Good regeneration after pruning, but the risk of wind breakage
- Very dense fruit set with deep orange, sweet and sour fruits
- Moderate thorns
- Strong, upright growth up to 4 m in height
- Strong regeneration after pruning, but the risk of wind breakage
- Early variety with fruit ripening from the beginning of August
- Lots of shiny orange fruits; Juice mild in taste
- Little branching and thorns
- Medium, upright, and well-branched growth; Slightly overhanging with heavy curtains
- Very good regeneration after pruning; particularly weatherproof
- Particularly productive; light orange, color unstable fruits
- A quick harvest is necessary, otherwise, the fruit will go rancid
- Strong, compact, and broadly upright habit
- Good regeneration after pruning
- Late variety with fruit ripening from the beginning of September to the end of October
- Dark orange, droplet-shaped fruits
- Vitamin C degradation is particularly slow after harvest
Male sea buckthorn varieties
If you are not only planting sea buckthorn for aesthetic reasons but also want to enjoy the fruit, it is essential to also establish male sea buckthorn in your garden. Only in this way can the female sea buckthorn plants be pollinated and develop their fruits. In the garden trade, the male cultivated form of the sea buckthorn is mostly marketed under the name ‘Pollmix’. These are other varieties that were bred for high pollen production. They are differentiated depending on the time of flowering:
- Male sea buckthorn cultivated form, therefore, does not produce any fruit
- Brown-orange flowers
- Valuable pollen donor
- Very hardy
- A total of four different types, which differ in terms of the start of flowering
- ‘Pollmix 1’: Early flowering, almost thornless
- ‘Pollmix 2’: Mid-early flowering, heavily thorny
- ‘Pollmix 3’: Mid-early to late flowering, weakly thorny
- ‘Pollmix 4’: Mid-early flowering, little thorny
Growing the sea buckthorn tree in the garden
Sea buckthorn is becoming increasingly popular. No wonder that more and more gardeners want their own sea buckthorn bush. Fortunately, growing sea buckthorn in the garden is relatively straightforward if you know what to look for.
Planting sea buckthorn in the garden
The best time to plant sea buckthorn in the garden is between October and November or the end of February. Sea buckthorn prefers airy, sandy soils that have slightly acidic to the basic environment and are not too rich in nutrients. Heavy soils should be mixed with at least a third of sand. The lighter the soil, the less is needed here. If, on the other hand, the soil is sandy, mixing in potting soil can promote higher yields.
The best way to do this is to use compost that contains a lot of phosphorus but not too much nitrogen. Our organic potting soil, whose natural release of phosphorus promotes good root growth and supports the formation of flowers and fruits, would therefore be ideal. Very sandy soils are best mixed in a ratio of 1: 1 with such a suitable potting soil. The sea buckthorn also needs a lot of light. A very sunny location without shade from other trees is therefore perfect.
Sea buckthorn is known for its broad, bulky growth. Ideally, it should therefore be planted so that it has at least three meters of space on both sides to expand. In addition, gardeners who dream of sea buckthorn should know that the plant forms runners and can thus spread across the garden. To keep the spread in check, the use of a root barrier and the regular removal of cuttings can be useful measures.
Tip: As already mentioned, the sea buckthorn is dioecious, which is why you should always plant female varieties together with a male variety. A male plant can usually pollinate at least four to five female plants – depending on the variety, more. Ideally, the male plant should be oriented in the wind direction to the other female sea buckthorn plants. Alternatively, sea buckthorn is now also available as a self-pollinator, such as the ‘Friesdorfer Orange’ variety, but the yields are usually lower.
Plant sea buckthorn in the bucket
Sea buckthorn can also survive in the bucket for a few years but needs enough space here too. The bucket for the sea buckthorn should be at least 60 centimeters wide. Ideally, buckthorn plants in the tub should be repotted regularly into larger containers. It is also recommended to use citrus plant soil, which is mixed with about a third of sand and unbroken expanded clay.
Special attention must be paid to the sea buckthorn in the bucket: Since the pot volume and thus the capacity of nutrients is limited, it is advisable to provide the sea buckthorn with a little fertilizer from time to time. It is also worth repotting the sea buckthorn in the pot regularly every few years and then treating it to new soil and a solid organic flower fertilizer with a high phosphorus content. In general, however, the plant thrives better and is less complicated in the soil.
Maintain sea buckthorn
As a rule, sea buckthorn is considered extremely robust and easy to care for in the garden. For the plant to thrive, however, it should be given a little attention now and then and a little care.
Water and fertilize sea buckthorn
Sea buckthorn in the garden is extremely drought-resistant, which is why the watering can and a garden hose can safely be put aside – the only exception: Sea buckthorn in the bucket may have to be watered in addition, for example in very hot summers, as there is less substrate available and the soil in the pot dries out faster. Waterlogging, on the other hand, should be avoided as the sea buckthorn is sensitive to it.
The plant is just as undemanding as watering when it comes to the supply of nutrients because the sea buckthorn fertilizes itself to a large extent. It covers its nitrogen requirements through the symbiosis with nodule bacteria in the root space. Only in the first few years does this process not work smoothly, which is why fertilization is recommended. The use of good potting soil is sufficient for this, or you can use an organic slow-release fertilizer or a small amount of compost.
Sea buckthorn in the bucket, on the other hand, should be fertilized a little more often, as it has a limited soil volume with nutrients available. If you can’t work the organic fertilizer well into the surface, then simply soak it in water for a few hours, stir, and then pour the fertilizer into the pot. Finally, the whole thing should be covered with a thin layer of bark mulch.
Cut sea buckthorn
Regular pruning of sea buckthorn in the garden is essential to be able to harvest productively every year. With a harvest including the shoots, an additional cut is of course unnecessary. Newly grown shoots should generally not be shortened, because the shoots from the previous year always bear the fruit.
If the fruits are not harvested together with the shoots, a cut should be made every two years from the second year in late winter. The harvested shoots are cut back to short beginnings. In the case of particularly vigorous varieties, the sea buckthorn can also be thinned out a little. Male strains can even be grown for three to four years without pruning.
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Even after that, only a maximum of half of the shoots should be cut so that sufficient pollen is available for the fertilization of the female varieties in the next season. Bushes that are too dense can also be thinned out and dead branches removed all year round. This ensures that the innermost bushes are always supplied with sufficient light. During the harvest, you should protect yourself from injury by wearing gloves when cutting.
Tip: If you have two or more female plants, cut them alternately every year – this will maximize your yield!
Summary – How to cut sea buckthorn:
- wear gloves
- Prune in late winter before flowering begins
- Cut female varieties every 2 years, male varieties every 3 – 4 years
- Cut old shoots back to the roots, young shoots are not cut
- Cut cautiously on male plants, also leave old wood standing
- Clear out all year round as required
Hibernate sea buckthorn
Sea buckthorn is prepared for all climatic conditions and is usually hardy down to – 43 ° C. However, young plants should still spend their first winter in the greenhouse before they are planted outside.
Propagate sea buckthorn
Propagating sea buckthorn is child’s play – in fact, it is usually more of a problem to limit the reproduction of sea buckthorn in the garden. Thanks to its foothills, it will spread very quickly on its own and form dense hedges if you don’t take countermeasures.
However, if you want to specifically raise the next generation, there are various options for doing this. The simplest option is to use the foothills. This can either simply continue to grow at its location if this corresponds to the desired location. However, if you prefer to settle the plants in a different part of the garden, you can cut off the rooted offshoots together with as long as possible a piece of root and replant them in the desired location in the garden.
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Another method of sea buckthorn propagation is subsidence. A shoot that grows near the ground and on the outer edge of the sea buckthorn can be used as a sinker. Now a narrow furrow is dug, in which the selected shoot is placed and covered with earth. Only the tip of the shoot should look out of the earth at the end. In the case of shoots that are under tension, it can also be helpful to weigh the whole thing down with stones from above – however, the shoot should not break off under any circumstances. In the sunken section, roots gradually form, so that an independent plant emerges. As with the runners, this can either remain at its location or be cut off in the following year and planted at its new destination.
You can also use cuttings for growing new plants with the sea buckthorn. For this purpose, about 15 to 20 centimeters long centerpieces are cut from the shoots of the sea buckthorn in winter. Strong shoots from last year are best suited for this. The cuttings should be at least two nodes long. Now it is put into a pot with loose, nutrient-poor potting soil so that only the upper third peeps out. You can use our organic herb & seed compost for this very well. To increase the air permeability and the success of rooting, it is advisable to mix 30% sand into the potting soil.
Soon, the cuttings should be in a cool (but frost-free), shady place protected from the wind. The pot must never dry out completely, but waterlogging should be avoided. After the cuttings have started to drive out, you have to wait about three weeks before you can plant the sea buckthorn in a suitable place in your garden.
Tip: Propagation through cuttings is considered more demanding than that through runners or subsidence. Since plants usually do not actually grow from all cuttings, it is advisable to use several cuttings at the same time if you want to grow a plant.
Summary – this is how you propagate sea buckthorn from cuttings
- Cut off cuttings (15-20 cm long central parts of a shoot with at least two leaf nodes) in winter
- Plant cuttings in a pot with potting soil so that only a third is visible
- Set up in a windless, cool, and shady place.
- Keep moist, but avoid waterlogging.
- Plant out in the garden about three weeks after the cuttings have been driven out
Is Sea Buckthorn Poisonous?
The sea buckthorn may have a deterrent effect with its thorn-covered branches, but neither fruits, leaves nor flowers are poisonous. On the contrary: the berries are considered extremely healthy, taste extremely tasty, and can be consumed in any quantity without hesitation.
Harvest sea buckthorn
The fruits of sea buckthorn are usually ripe between September and October, with some varieties even in August. The harvest can be recognized by the fact that the fruits take on their brightest hue. Theoretically, you can harvest until spring, but the taste suffers and even hungry animals like to nibble on the fruit. Anyone who already suspects that harvesting the tasty fruits through the thorns will not be child’s play is, unfortunately, spot-on: To avoid injuries, gardeners should therefore not harvest the berries without protection with thick gloves. Many also use a fork or a berry comb to help push the berries off the branches.
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However, the later the harvest, the better the chances are that the berries can simply be shaken off the branches and caught with a cloth. How firmly the berries sit on the shoots varies from variety to variety. It is also common practice to cut whole branches into small pieces and then shock freeze them so that you can shake off the berries afterward.
Use the healthy sea buckthorn fruit in the kitchen
The sweet and sour taste as well as their high content of vitamins (C, E, and B12) and beta-carotene make the fruits of the sea buckthorn a real regional superfood. They are considered anti-inflammatory and particularly helpful in the fight against colds and fevers. Regular consumption of sea buckthorn juice is also recommended during pregnancy to ensure the supply of vitamins.
It is generally safe to eat the fruits raw, but they only become really tasty when they are cooked. There are no limits to creativity – sea buckthorn is particularly popular in the form of fruit puree, juice, jam, jelly, syrup, and liqueur. Another way to preserve the fruit is to dry it. Then they are a delicious addition to tea or can be processed into powder, which can then be used in a variety of ways. In addition, the fruits can also be pressed and valuable sea buckthorn oil obtained from it, which is, however, used more for cosmetic purposes.
But not only the berries of the sea buckthorn can be used in the kitchen: its leaves have numerous uses too. Due to their high content of vitamin C and antioxidants, the leaves are a real insider tip when it comes to a healthy diet. The sea buckthorn leaves are especially popular as tea, but the leaves of the sea buckthorn are also used in cosmetics or in drugs that have an effect on circulation or for wound healing.
Another fruit that is great for various products such as jams is the rosehip.