What Tree to Plant Instead of Russian Olive Trees!

What Tree to Plant Instead of Russian Olive Trees!

olive tree

With soft sage green foliage and fine texture, the Russian Olive Tree is common to see growing along roadside and highway ditches. These scrubby-looking, wild trees may not look the greatest in these areas but a cared-for Russian Olive in the landscape is something to behold!

So why can’t you find a Russian Olive for sale in a tree nursery?

The Russian Olive (Elaeagnus angustifolia) is a deciduous tree native to Europe and Asia and unfortunately, has found its way here and become invasive in many areas. Growing That is why you will not see them sold in stores.

Introduced in the early 1900s as a windbreak tree that stabilized soil along riverbanks (its favorite environment) and provided habitat for wildlife, unfortunately, the Russian Olive escaped cultivation and is invasive throughout California and 16 other states. Outcompeting and choking out native trees and plants.

So what can you plant instead?

Russian Olive Tree Alternatives For Your Landscape!

Hardy throughout USDA growing zones 3 to 7, here are some cold-climate and warm-growing zone options for the Russian Olive.

1. Serviceberry/Juneberry Trees


The Amelanchier tree or shrub goes by many names like Common Serviceberry, Downy Serviceberry, Juneberry, Saskatoon Serviceberry, Shadblow, Shadbush, and Sugarplum, but this hardy native with small soft-green foliage and brilliant fall color creates an open and airy tree or shrub that thrives in a wide range of climates and growing conditions. The white flowers feed bees and become fat, juicy, edible purple berries resembling blueberries! Make syrups and jam from the fruit or let your songbirds eat them instead. Try a large-scale Autumn Brilliance Serviceberry, or the Cole's Select for incredible three-season beauty.

  • Smaller White-Flowering Shade & Street Tree
  • Wide Range of Heights & Widths
  • Edible Fruit For Humans & Wildlife
  • Incredible Fall Color
  • Open, Airy Canopy


2. Amur Chokecherry Tree

amur chokecherry

Nicknamed the Manchurian Cherry, the Amur Chokeberry (Prunus) is a fantastic edible ornamental that has four seasons of visual interest. This mid-sized tree delivers a symmetrical look but has an open and airy feeling that works well in naturalized landscapes. You'll welcome spring with a wonderful, fragrant flower display of drooping clusters. Delicate 3-inch racemes of pristine, white blossoms herald the new season. Those pretty, white flowers transition to small, red drupes that transition to black as they ripen in July. They are edible and - with sugar - can be used in tasty jams and jellies.

  • Leaves Turn Yellow in Fall & Drop Cleanly for Easy Fall Clean-up
  • Mature Height 20 - 30 feet
  • Mature Spread 25 - 30 feet
  • Decorative Bark With Year-Round Interest
  • Great Pollinator & Wildlife Tree
  • Fragrant, White Spring Flowers
  • Growing Zones 2 - 6
  • Use the Berries to Craft Jam or Jelly


3. White Fringe Tree

white fringe tree

Known as the Old Man's Beard and many other regional names, the White Fringe Tree (Chionanthus) features unusual streamer-like white spring flower clusters that become purple grape-like fruit (on female trees) that birds love! The lacy fine texture and open canopy complement any landscape in both sun and partial sun locations. They’ll even handle full shade in hotter climates of USDA zones 4 to 9.

  • Unique Fringed Streamer-Like Flowers
  • Open & Airy Canopy
  • Purple Fruit In Fall On Female Trees
  • Mature Height 15 - 20 feet
  • Mature Spread 10 - 15 feet
  • Can Handle Moist to Average Conditions


4. Japanese Snowbell Trees & Shrubs

japanese snowbell

The small foliage and smooth grey bark that fissures as it matures, the Japanese Snowbell is densely packed with elliptical deep green, and glossy foliage all growing season long! Plus you and your pollinators will benefit from the abundant white, pendulous flowers that become flashes of red berries for birds in the fall! As this deciduous tree ages, its bark starts to exfoliate and reveal mottled orange streaks beneath the gray outer surface. 

  • Smaller White-Flowering Shade & Street Tree
  • Mature Height 15 - 20 Feet
  • Mature Spread 6 - 9 Feet
  • Yellow-Green Tulip-Like Early-Spring Flowers
  • Great Fall Color & Textured Bark For Winter Interest
  • Pollinator/Bird-Friendly


5. Real Olive Trees

olive tree

Fruiting Olive Trees are the natural choice in warm regions as alternatives to Russian Olives. But with the bonus of edible fruit. Olive Trees are best in warm growing zones of 7 to 10 and have all the perks and benefits of the Russian Olive without any invasive tendencies. However, these trees prefer more arid, Mediterranean conditions instead of moist, riparian sites.

  • Open Light Shade Canopy
  • Sage-Green Fine-Textured Foliage
  • Drought/Xeric Loving
  • Airy Flowers For Bees
  • Edible Fruit For Preserving & Brining


Honorable Mentions

For a smaller option with silvery foliage reminiscent of the Russian Olive, the Silver Buffaloberry is an 8-12 foot tall bush or multi-trunked tree form, that also has the added benefit of vibrant red berries for birds! It offers unique silver foliage, is extremely drought-tolerant, and spreads wide without getting too tall!

Another option is the native Nannyberry Viburnum bush, you don't have to work hard for its priceless rewards - including shockingly bright fall foliage, cherry-red bird-friendly berries finish ripening to blue-black, and profusions of pure white blooms for pollinators. Growing 18 - 20 feet in height and spreading 6 - 10 feet, this incredibly cold-hardy shrub can be trimmed into a multi-trunked tree form for a more formal look!

honorable mentions

Non-Invasive Alternatives

The Russian Olive tree may have cemented its presence along American roadsides and ditches, but finding alternatives that aren’t invasive is easy!

Nature Hills employs Plant Sentry™ to ensure we adhere to all State and Federal Agricultural Laws and not ship this Tree into areas where it will be any kind of an issue!

Find these fantastic alternatives and many more Unique Trees at Nature Hills Nursery today!

Happy Planting!

olive trees

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