Fruits in bright orange and silvery foliage: the sight of a sea buckthorn (Hippophae rhamnoides) brings back memories of sunny vacations by the sea for many. Numerous varieties suitable for gardening not only have a high ornamental value, but also score points with a lush yield. We explain what is important when cultivating the wild fruit plant.
Growth and properties
Sea buckthorn is a deciduous shrub of the oilweed family (Elaeagnaceae). Originally from Nepal, the species was a pioneer plant after the Ice Age on the gravel and gravel surfaces formed by the glaciers. Later, the light-hungry woody plant settled on sand dunes along the coast, rocky slopes, and dry river floodplains.
Even though the large shrub grows sparsely and can reach 5 meters in height, it cuts a fine figure in the garden. The small, yellowish flowers appear between March and May. Later, narrow willow-like leaves appear on the thorny branches. Its beauty is most apparent during the ripening season, when the orange fruits peek out from the silvery foliage.
Female and male sea buckthorn
The flowers of the sea buckthorn are usually pollinated by the wind. Since it is a dioecious plant, you will need a female fruiting specimen as well as a male pollinator.
The root system of the sea buckthorn can reach considerable proportions. It extends to a depth of 3 meters, and to the sides it can be as much as 12 meters. This makes older specimens true drought performers.
In addition to the original species, there are now many attractive cultivars suitable for growing in the garden. These differ in terms of yield, fruit quality and growth height. Those with a small garden should choose a weak to medium-growing variety, such as ‘Dorana’. An alternative is ‘Friesdorfer Orange’ – a proven self-fruiting variety.
‘Pollmix’ and ‘Hikul’ are suitable pollen donors for female varieties. The dwarf buckthorn ‘Hikul’ grows spherical and is ideal for a small garden. Even without fruit, it is an attractive feature in a mixed border. ‘Pollmix’ grows nice and loose and reaches about 4 feet tall. Four clones are commercially available:
‘Pollmix 1′ for early flowering cultivars (e.g., ‘Frugana’), nearly thornless, tightly upright.
‘Pollmix 2′ for medium-early varieties (e.g. ‘Dorana’), heavily thorned, broadly upright
‘Pollmix 3′ for late cultivars (e.g. ‘Leikora’), sparsely thorned, broadly erect
‘Pollmix 4′ for medium-early cultivars, tightly upright, few spines
Sea buckthorn varieties for large and small gardens
'Askola': vigorous growth, 400 cm - 500 cm height of growth, very productive, moderately thorny, especially rich in fruit acidity 'Habego' or 'Orange Energy': strong growth, 300 cm - 500 cm height of growth, rich fruiting, strongly spined, fruits are quite large and can be easily detached 'Frugana': strong, tight upright growth, 300 cm - 500 cm height, few spines, very productive, the fruits can be easily shaken off the branch, early maturing 'Sirola': tight upright growth, 300 - 400 cm growth height, almost red, very conspicuous fruits, especially early ripening 'Leikora': very strong growing, dense and compact, 300 - 400 cm height of growth, large, deep orange fruits, weakly spined, fruits adhere very firmly 'Friesdorfer Orange': medium strong, sparse growth, 200 cm - 300 cm growth height, self-fruiting. If several specimens are planted, the yield per plant increases. 'Hergo': medium growing, 200 cm - 300 cm growing height, very productive, low to medium spination. 'Garden's Gift': strongly branched, bushy, 200 - 300 cm growing height, large fruits with relatively low acidity 'Dorana': weak to medium growth, 200 - 300 cm growth height, low runner formation, medium spiny, poor regeneration after pruning
Site and soil
Sea buckthorn is considered robust and undemanding, but its site should be chosen carefully. Be sure to plant the light-demanding shrub in a full-sun location! Admirable is the frugality of the wild fruit shrub with regard to soil quality: it also thrives in a lean soil with a high sand or gravel content. However, the soil should be deep and loose so that it can anchor itself well with its root system. You can improve a heavy garden soil by adding coarse sand. If, on the other hand, the substrate is very sandy, mixing in compost will favor a higher yield.
Symbiosis with invisible helpers
Sea buckthorn forms a community with Frankia bacteria at its roots. Thus it has the amazing ability to bind nitrogen from the air and then absorb it. Once the shrub is well established in the soil (after about 2 years), there is no need to fertilize subsequently. Therefore, the chosen location should be maintained without fail, as the shrub will not tolerate transplantation without damage.
The best time to plant sea buckthorn in the garden is in early autumn or late winter (late February). Take into account the high space requirements of a single shrub! This is because it must not be shaded by other woody plants, even in later years.
One male plant can supply about six female specimens with its pollen. The pollen is spread over 10 meters by the wind. Therefore, it is best to place a female buckthorn in the lee of the male pollinator.
Tip: Acquire at least two female plants, because a shrub will only produce a good yield every two years. If the female shrubs are cut back alternately, you can enjoy a bountiful harvest every year.
When should sea buckthorn receive a root barrier?
As is well known, the root system of sea buckthorn can become powerful – and many garden owners* are therefore afraid of its runners. In a larger area that provides ample space for a wild shrub hedge, the shrub can be cultivated without a root barrier without any problems. If, on the other hand, space in the garden is limited, you should put the prolific plant in its place for safety’s sake.
For a root barrier - similar to bamboo - a sheet of polyethylene is placed in the ground like a ring around the rootstock. It's best to delineate the buckthorn's growing area with a 60-centimeter-high barrier. The thickness of the film is at least 2 millimeters. The required trench has a diameter of about 1.5 meters. Ideally, the film should protrude about 5 centimeters from the ground. Close the ends with an aluminum rail.
Care for sea buckthorn in the garden
Once established, sea buckthorn does not require water or fertilizer. It proves drought resistant and heat tolerant. You can provide a newly planted shrub with some horn meal once to bridge the time until nitrogen-fixing soil bacteria are formed. Later, it is sufficient to work a shovelful of mature compost into the soil around the plant from time to time.
Cut sea buckthorn
Do not forget to regularly reach for the scissors when caring for your sea buckthorn! Otherwise, it will only produce fruit on the outside, which will also be difficult to reach.
Cut the harvested shoots back to short beginnings every two years in late winter. The yield will be lower the following year, but the plant will produce plenty of new wood. This will then ensure a bountiful harvest in the second year. Thinning is also recommended. To do this, cut back thicker branches to about 15 centimeters every second year (from the fourth year of growth). It is best to prune a male representative every three to four years. However, only remove half of the flower shoots so that fertilization can continue to take place.
As soon as the fruits take on their intense color – around the end of August to September, depending on the variety into October – you can harvest the wild fruit. However, the fruit quality of some varieties can quickly deteriorate: they become pale and even taste rancid after a while. Therefore, you should harvest and process the shoots as quickly as possible.
It is best to wear gloves when picking, as this can be painful due to the thorns. Varieties such as ‘Dorana’ and ‘Habego’ are good for harvesting. Their fruit stems are relatively long and the berries sit quite loosely on the bush. Alternatively, you can shake off the ripe fruits. Lay out a tarp or sheet for this purpose.
Tip: Whole shoots are generally easier to remove than individual berries. Strong-growing varieties also allow this harvesting method. The branches can then be deep-frozen (“snap-frozen”), which makes it easier to shake off the fruit. Freezing is also a good method to preserve the valuable ingredients of sea buckthorn.
Use in the kitchen
Ten times more vitamin C than in lemons: The fruits of the sea buckthorn are true vitamin bombs. They are also packed with secondary plant compounds and valuable oils. However, they taste quite sour and tart when raw – the delicious aroma can usually only be enjoyed when cooked. In this way, the fruits can be wonderfully processed into fruit puree, juice, jam, syrup, wine and liqueur.
Tip: A good way to preserve the fruits is to dry them. For this, they are washed and dried in the oven, dehydrator or simply on the heater. Afterwards, they serve as a delicious addition to tea or muesli, for example.
Make sea buckthorn juice yourself
To obtain a juice from the healthy fruit, proceed as follows:
Briefly boil sea buckthorn fruit with water or fruit juice in a pot (the liquid should just cover the fruit). Then coarsely puree the mass. Pour the puree into a fine sieve or juice cloth. Press the pulp through the strainer or wring out the cloth vigorously. Collect the juice in a bowl. To preserve, heat again briefly to about 80 degrees Celsius and bottle into sterile bottles.
Pure sea buckthorn juice comes into its own in a salad dressing, for example. For “sweet tooth” it can also be refined with fruit juice or honey.