The Nerium oleander Plant

Tips for growing the Nerium oleander plant in the ground or in containers. Information about the oleander caterpillar and oleander poisoning. Pictures of oleander shrubs in various settings.

The Nerium oleander plant is a 20 foot evergreen shrub from the Mediterranean. Its sometimes fragrant flowers appear at the ends of its willowy branches from early summer through fall.

Image of blush pink single oleander flowers.

There are single and double-flowered varieties blooming in just about every color imaginable.

The leaves are usually dark green, narrow, and leathery. But the cultivar 'Variegatum' sports gray-green leaves with cream edges.

Growing Oleander

Nerium oleander plants growing on Siesta Key Beach in FL.
Plant oleander in any well-drained soil in full sun. Nerium is salt tolerant and suitable for planting right on the dunes. Keep newly planted bushes moist until they are well established and have developed their characteristic drought tolerance.

Nerium oleander plant with pink flowers. Pinch the young oleander plants regularly to promote branching. Once they begin to flower, plants will usually branch on their own.

Oleander can survive temperatures as low as 0 degrees F. but the top growth may be killed. It will reemerge from the roots the following spring.

Growing Oleander in Containers

Tree ferns and double-flowered pink oleander.

Oleander makes a showy tub plant that will adorn your patio all summer long with bunches of fragrant flowers. Growing it in a container makes it easy to protect from freezing weather.

You can cut it back just before bringing it inside for the winter. See Oleander Care for pruning instructions.

Keep tub plants moist except in the winter months when they should be kept on the dry side. Feed them monthly in spring and summer.

You can propagate your oleander plant by taking tip cuttings in the spring or summer. Oleander cuttings root easily. Watch for scale and mealy bugs, especially while the plant is indoors. Launch an offensive the moment you notice either one of these pests.

White oleander growing in a South African garden.

Why Oleander Caterpillars are Not for the Birds:

Birds will not eat them as they do other caterpillars because they are full of oleander which is poisonous to everything except the oleander caterpillar!

Oleander plants grown outdoors may be attacked by the dreaded oleander caterpillar. These 2 inch long orange worms have black spots and tufts of black hair lining both sides of their bodies. They are the larvae of a purplish black moth with white dots on its wings.

The only good thing I have to say about the oleander caterpillar is that it won't sting you if you touch it like most other hairy caterpillars. All these pests eat is Nerium oleander. They appear in large numbers and can defoliate your plant almost overnight.

Look for their eggs on the undersides of the leaves of young shoots. There will be 12-75 eggs in a mass. Destroy these or the newly hatched larvae and you won't have much of a problem.

If you can't or don't want to pick the bugs off, there is an organic control. Bacillus thuringiensis commonly called BT, is a bacteria that is only harmful to caterpillars. You mix it into water and spray the plant when the pests are present.

Organic Caterpillar Control

Oleander Poisoning

All parts of the oleander plant are poisonous. Caution children not to put any part of it into their mouths. Dispose of any trimmings carefully. Never burn the stems as they will emit an extremely irritating smoke.

Symptoms of oleander poisoning include:

  • Blurred vision
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Stomach pain
  • Vomiting
  • Slow heartbeat
  • Weakness
  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting
  • Headache
  • Hives

If you develop these symptoms after exposure to oleander seek immediate medical attention. Make note of the part of the plant that was ingested, the amount and the time.

Oleander Poisoning can be Fatal

If you have any questions about poisoning--from plants or anything else--you can call The National Poison Control Center (1-800-222-1222) from anywhere in the United States. This is a free service available to you every day, around-the-clock.

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