Sea buckthorn in the garden: cultivation & care

Frederike
Frederike
Frederike
Frederike

I am a student of agricultural sciences and a real country kid. At home, I love tending my small vegetable garden and spending time out in nature. When not outdoors, I love to write. Beyond gardening and writing, however, I am particularly passionate about wildlife.

Favourite fruit: currants and raspberries
Favourite vegetables: salsify, savoy cabbage and potatoes

How and where can you grow sea buckthorn plants in gardens? What to consider when pruning sea buckthorn? Here are our tips on sea buckthorn care and guide to using the berries for sea buckthorn juice, oil and liqueur.

Sea buckthorn plant with orange berries
Sea buckthorn is becoming increasingly popular in gardens [Photo: Tatyana Mi/ Shutterstock.com]

Just a few years ago, sea buckthorn was a rare sight in gardens, but nowadays, these shrubs are extremely popular. And no wonder! Sea buckthorn is an eye-catching perennial, while its berries have lots of uses and health benefits. This article will tell you all you need to know about sea buckthorn care, so that you can have both a healthy plant and an abundant harvest of berries to enjoy.

Sea buckthorn: origin and characteristics

Sea buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides) is a member of the olive family (Elaeagnaceae). It originates from the Nepal Himalayas but spread throughout Asia and the Americas and has been found in Europe from as early as the first ice age. It is now considered to be a native plant here in the UK.

Fun fact: Sea buckthorn’s Latin name translates as “shiny horse” – because for centuries, it was mainly considered a medicinal plant for animals and was used for grooming horses.

In the UK, sea buckthorn grows naturally in the sand dunes along the east coast of England and the coast of Ireland. Nowadays, it is also widely cultivated both commercially and in home gardens.

This shrub is pretty hard to miss: it can grow up to 6 metres tall bearing bright orange, oval berries and fuzzy leaves that have a striking grey hue. Sea buckthorn flowers, however, are more subtle and appear between March and May. Sea buckthorn is dioecious, meaning that each plant has only either male or female flowers. Because of this, female sea buckthorns will only produce berries if they have been pollinated by a nearby male.

Person picking orange, oval-shaped sea buckthorn berries
Sea buckthorn grows naturally in the sand dunes along Britain’s coast [Photo: Mantikorra/ Shutterstock.com]

The best sea buckthorn species and varieties

Besides the wild sea buckthorn, there are many cultivated varieties to choose from for your garden. When deciding on a particular type of sea buckthorn, you will notice that male and female plants are sold separately. Due to this plant’s dioecious nature, there are important factors to consider when picking out female and male sea buckthorns. Here is an overview of the best sea buckthorn varieties for your garden:

Female sea buckthorn varieties

Female sea buckthorn plants are by far the most popular sea buckthorn variety. After all, they are the ones that produce berries! From March to April, light green flowers will begin to bloom and in late summer, usually from August to September, the berries are ready to harvest. Here are some of our favourite female sea buckthorns:

‘Askola’:

  • Vigorous and healthy variety that can reach up to 5m in height without pruning
  • Moderate thorn count
  • Regenerates well after pruning, but can break in the wind
  • High berry yield with a sweet and sour taste, particularly rich in vitamin C

‘Frugana’:

  • Vigorous and productive upright growth, can grow up to 4m tall
  • Limited branching and thorns
  • Regenerates quickly after pruning, but can break easily in the wind
  • Berries ripen at the beginning of August
  • High berry yield, milder taste

‘Hergo’:

  • Medium and upright growth
  • Heavily branched; overhangs slightly while bearing fruit
  • Regenerates quickly after pruning; strong weather resistance
  • Especially high berry yield; rich and flavourful taste
  • Must be harvested quickly, otherwise berries will rot

‘Leikora’:

  • Strong, compact, broadly upright growth
  • Regenerates well after pruning
  • Berries ripen somewhat later, between early September and end of October
  • Dark orange, droplet shaped berries

Tip: Female plants will only produce berries when pollinated by a nearby male.

Female sea buckthorn plant with orange berries
There are several female varieties of sea buckthorn [Photo: ALEXANDER V EVSTAFYEV/ Shutterstock.com]

Male sea buckthorn varieties

For female sea buckthorn to produce berries, there needs to be a male sea buckthorn nearby. Male sea buckthorns are primarily sold as ‘Pollmix’. These are varieties that have been bred for high pollen production. One male plant can pollinate around 6 female plants.

‘Pollmix’

  • Male sea buckthorns do not bear fruit,
  • Very hardy
  • Flowering period in April, brown-orange flowers
  • Produces lots of pollen
  • There are four types of Pollmix, that can be distinguished by their flowering periods
    1. ‘Pollmix 1’: Very early flowering, almost thornless
    2. ‘Pollmix 2’: Mid-early flowering, heavily thorned
    3. ‘Pollmix 3’: Mid-late flowering, very few thorns
    4. ‘Pollmix 4’: Mid-early flowering, few thorns
Male sea buckthorn variety with brown-orange flowers
Sea buckthorn ‘Pollmix’ has brown-orange flowers [Photo: Streltsova Maria/ Shutterstock.com]

Growing sea buckthorn

Sea buckthorn has become an increasingly popular addition to the garden, and fortunately, growing it is relatively simple if you know what to look out for.

Planting sea buckthorn in your garden

Sea buckthorn is best planted between October and November, or in late February. This shrub prefers airy, sandy soils that are either slightly acidic or slightly alkaline. When planting, mix heavy soils with at least one-third sand to improve aeration. The lighter the soil, the less sand you will need. Though if your garden already has very sandy soil, mix in potting soil in a ratio of 1:1 to improve yields. For this, choose a compost which is high in phosphorus but not too high in nitrogen. Our Plantura Organic Flower Compost is ideal as it releases phosphorus slowly, promoting healthy root growth and berry formation. 

Plantura Organic Flower Compost
Plantura Organic Flower Compost

Peat-free & environmentally-friendly:
for flower beds & plant pots,
ensures beautiful plants that flower all summer,
100% natural ingredients

Sunlight is also an important factor for sea buckthorns. This plant needs a lot of light to thrive, and without enough light, female sea buckthorns will not bear any fruit. A sunny location without any shade from other trees is perfect.

Sea buckthorn is known for its wide, spreading growth. Plant your sea buckthorn at least three meters from any other plant to give it enough room to grow. Sea buckthorn tends to form runners and spread over large areas of the garden, so using a root barrier and regularly removing shoots will prevent it from taking over your garden.

Tip: Plant your male sea buckthorn so that the wind blows its pollen towards the females. Although, this is not necessary for the few varieties of sea buckthorn that have been cultivated to be self-pollinating, like the variety ‘Friesdorfer Orange’. They do, however, tend to produce less fruit.

Sea buckthorn branch with ripe orange fruits
Sea buckthorn grows very broad, spreading growth, so it needs plenty space in the garden [Photo: artjazz/ Shutterstock.com]

Growing sea buckthorn in a plant pot

Though sea buckthorns flourish in open areas, they can survive for a few years in a pot. Plant the shrub in a pot that is at least 60cm wide but make sure to regularly repot into larger containers if possible. We recommend using a citrus plant-soil mixed with about one-third sand and expanded clay. Also, apply a fertiliser, such as our Plantura Liquid Citrus Food, to your sea buckthorn every so often so that the plant has continuous supply of nutrients. It is also worth completely changing the soil every few years to give the plant fresh porous soil and replenish its nutrient supply. Ultimately though, these shrubs need much more room than a pot can provide, and only will really flourish when planted directly in the ground!

Plantura Liquid Citrus Food
Plantura Liquid Citrus Food

Liquid fertiliser with an NK ratio of 4-5, for all citrus & Mediterranean plants, promotes healthy plant growth, child & pet friendly

Sea buckthorn care

The sea buckthorn is extremely hardy and easy to care for, but to help this plant stay healthy, it is good to be mindful of a few things.

Water and fertilisation of sea buckthorn

Sea buckthorn is extremely drought-tolerant, so there is no need to get out the watering can or garden hose for this shrub! Although there is one exception: potted sea buckthorn may need a little watering during hot summers, as potting soil tends to dry out quickly. Make sure to avoid waterlogging as the plant is sensitive to this.

Sea buckthorn is also undemanding when it comes to food, as it can cover its own nitrogen requirement and mostly fertilises itself – keep this in mind when planting. Young sea buckthorns, on the other hand, do not fertilise themselves very well, so use a good potting compost or a slow-release fertiliser like our Plantura Flower Food to help the young plant get a good start. Potted sea buckthorns also need fertiliser more often due to the limited soil and nutrient supply. If you cannot work the fertiliser into the surface, simply soak the pellets in water for a few hours, stir and then pour into the pot. Finally, cover the whole thing with a thin layer of bark mulch.

Healthy sea buckthorn plant with green leaves and orange berries
Sea buckthorn is very low-maintenance [Photo: Eugene PLISHKIN/ Shutterstock.com]

Pruning sea buckthorn

For an abundant harvest of berries, pruning sea buckthorn regularly is essential. Of course, additional pruning is not necessary if the branches are cut with the fruit when harvesting. In both cases though, it is best not to prune young sea buckthorn shoots, because they will provide next year’s flowers and fruits.

If the branches are not cut with the fruit when harvesting, make sure to prune your female sea buckthorn during its first year planted in your garden and afterward every other year in late winter. Male sea buckthorn varieties can grow for three to four years without ever being cut, but when you do decide to prune it, cut no more than half the shoots so that there is enough pollen for the next season. If your sea buckthorn is growing too densely, you can always thin it out and remove dead branches; doing so will ensure that the innermost parts of the shrubs receive enough light. As always, wear gloves to avoid injury when pruning and harvesting.

Tip: If you have two or more female plants, prune them in alternating years – this will maximize your annual harvest!

Long sea buckthorn branches with lots of orange berries
Sea buckthorn needs to be pruned regularly [Photo: giedre vaitekune/ Shutterstock.com]

Pruning sea buckthorn: recap

  • Wear gloves
  • Prune in late winter, before flowering begins
  • Prune female varieties every 2 years, and male varieties every 3 to 4 years
  • Cut back old shoots to the roots, do not cut young shoots
  • Prune male plants cautiously, leave old wood untouched
  • Thin all year round if necessary

Overwintering sea buckthorn

Sea buckthorn can thrive in just about any climate and tolerates temperatures as low as -43°C. Young sea buckthorn, however, should spend their first winter in a greenhouse before they are planted outside.

Sea buckthorn branch with berries covered in snow
Sea buckthorn is exceptionally hardy [Photo: Kotelnikova Anna/ Shutterstock.com]

Sea buckthorn propagation

Propagating sea buckthorn is a breeze – in fact, it is usually more of a challenge to stop them! The plants’ runners spread very quickly through any garden and form dense hedges if left unchecked.

If you are intentionally trying to propagate sea buckthorn, there are a few different methods. The easiest way is to use the runners: you can either let them grow if they are growing in the way that you want or, alternatively, you can cut these rooted runners off with as much of the root attached to them as possible, and replant them wherever you like.

Another method is to use low-hanging branches – a shoot that is growing near the ground and on the outer edge of the shrub is best. Create a narrow hole in the ground, lay the shoot inside, and cover it with soil, so that only the tip of the shoot is visible. To keep the branch in place, use stones to cover the hole, but be careful not break or splinter the branch in any way. Once roots form at the base of the branch, you officially have a new sea buckthorn plant! As with the runner, you can leave the newly rooted branch where it is or cut it off and move it the following year.

Lastly, you can use cuttings to propagate new sea buckthorn plants. In winter, cut a strong, year-old shoot from the centre of the shrub. These cuttings should be around 15 to 20cm long, or two buds in length. Plant the cutting in a pot with loose, low-nutrient potting soil, such as our Plantura Organic Herb & Seedling Compost, with only the top third of the cutting visible. Mix in around a third of sand to two thirds compost to make an airy soil and promote efficient root growth. Keep the cuttings in a cool, frost-free, shady, and wind sheltered area. While the pot should never dry out completely, do avoid waterlogging. After your cutting begins to sprout, wait about three weeks before planting.

Tip: Cuttings are trickier to propagate than runners or shoots. Given that not all cuttings will produce a plant, use several cuttings to increase your chances of success.

Propagating sea buckthorn from hardwood cuttings:

  1. In winter, cut off a strong shoot from last year (around 15-20cm long, or two buds in length)
  2. Plant cuttings in a pot with potting soil, so that only a third of the cutting is visible
  3. Move your cuttings to a cool, shaded place with no wind
  4. Keep the soil moist but avoid waterlogging
  5. Plant the cutting out in your garden about three weeks after sprouting
Bushy sea buckthorn plant with berries and berries
Sea buckthorn is thorny, but not poisonous [Photo: Surkova.photo/ Shutterstock.com]

Is sea buckthorn poisonous?

Despite its slightly unfriendly, thorny appearance, no part of this shrub is poisonous. On the contrary, the berries are extremely healthy and delicious!

Harvesting sea buckthorn berries

Sea buckthorn berries ripen between September and October, though some varieties are ready as early as August. When sea buckthorn berries are at their brightest, it is time to pick them. You can even harvest sea buckthorn as early as spring, though these early season berries tend to be much less palatable and are often found by hungry animals well before human eyes can spot them.

This perennial’s thorns make harvesting tricky: always wear thick gloves to avoid injury. You can also invest in a berry picker, or simply use a kitchen fork to push berries off the branches.

The later the berries are harvested, the more likely it is that you can simply shake the fruit off the branches and catch them with a cloth. How tightly the fruits are attached to the branch depends on the variety. You can also cut whole branches into small pieces and then shock freeze them so that you can shake the berries off afterward.

Using sea buckthorn

The sea buckthorn’s berry has a sweet and sour taste and is a wonderful source of beta-carotene as well as vitamins such as C, E, and B12. These berries are also anti-inflammatory and particularly good at preventing colds and fever. Drinking sea buckthorn juice regularly is also recommended during pregnancy for a healthy intake of vitamins. They are a real superfood!

Although it is safe to eat this fruit raw, they are tastiest when cooked. The sky’s the limit when it comes to using buckthorn berries in the kitchen: They can be made into fruit puree, juice, jam, jelly, syrup, and liqueur. If you choose to dry them, they are delicious in tea, and can even be made into a powder. The berries can also be pressed to extract a luxurious sea buckthorn oil, which is used mainly for cosmetics.

Jar of sea buckthorn jam
Sea buckthorn makes a delicious jam [Photo: Yala/ Shutterstock.com]

The berries are not the only versatile part of this plant: sea buckthorn leaves also have many uses. Thanks to their high vitamin C and antioxidant content, the leaves are a fantastic addition to a healthy diet. Sea buckthorn leaves are particularly popular as tea, but they are also used in cosmetics and medicine.

Sea buckthorn leaves
You can also make use of the sea buckthorn leaves [Photo: Yuliya Khovbosha/ Shutterstock.com]

Rosehip is another versatile fruit that also makes a lovely jam. Read all about it in our article.

Plantura's Garden-Mail Newsletter