The oleander is a shrub typical of the Mediterranean vegetation, it is widespread throughout Italy in cultivation, in southern areas it is also present in the natural state; a plant well known to garden and non-garden enthusiasts, the oleander is a vigorous evergreen shrub, which produces beautiful fragrant flowers throughout the warm season, gathered in racemes at the apex of the flexible branches. The flowers are typically pink in color, but there are numerous hybrid varieties, with red or white flowers, sometimes variegated, sometimes double or double.
Oleanders are widespread plants in areas with a Mediterranean climate thanks to the few cultivation requirements, they are often used in urban furniture, as they survive even in non-ideal cultivation conditions, such as extreme heat or drought. Typically in Italy the oleanders are planted even along the highways, since they are suitable for living without watering even for months, still continuing the summer flowering.
The flowers in autumn are followed by fruits, long woody capsules, which contain the small fertile seeds, with feathery layers.
The oleander's foliage is oval, elongated, dark green; the leaf page is rough and waxy, not glossy and slightly leathery.
The oleander is a shrub suitable to be cultivated in areas with a mild winter climate, in fact they fear intense and prolonged frost, which can ruin the ends of the branches; hardly an impromptu frost will irreparably ruin the plant, which generally recovers without problems after a simple pruning, in spring. Generally in areas with a very cold winter climate, oleanders are grown in pots, so that they can be sheltered in the event of frost or snow; or they can be planted in areas to the south, with the shelter of the house, a terrace, a wall, which avoids leaving the plant completely at the mercy of the weather. If we live in northern Italy, in places where autumn is already very cold, with nocturnal minima below zero, the oleander must be sheltered and covered with non-woven fabric by the end of October, and can be re-exposed to open in April-May.
Practical cultivation tips
It does not need a particularly rich soil, preferring poor and very well drained substrates, excess humidity can promote the development of harmful molds or fungi; in general the oleanders bear drought without problems, but to have a vigorous plant and a flowering for the whole beautiful season, it is convenient to water the plant when the soil is well dry, therefore abundant but sporadic watering.
At the beginning of spring it is advisable to spread around the oleander a slow release granular fertilizer, which guarantees the right level of mineral salts in the soil for the spring and summer months.
In general, oleanders do not require regular or vigorous pruning, it is sufficient, at the end of winter, to remove the branches ruined by frost, the tips that still bear the six or withered flowers, the weakest branches.
Oleander: A poisonous plant in the garden
As everyone knows, the oleander contains, in the foliage, in the stems and in the roots, a strongly toxic alkaloid, which acts by ingestion; it is therefore a strongly poisonous plant.
Fortunately, the foliage does not have an inviting aroma and has a strongly bitter taste, which makes it practically impossible for someone to decide to eat them, the same is true for the roots and the stems.
However, it is advisable to be careful when you decide to prune an oleander, resulting in toxic latex on your fingers; the poisonous substances contained in the oleanders are not absorbed through the skin, but it may happen to rub your eyes or take food and contaminate it with dirty hands; for this reason it is advisable to wear special gloves, or at least to wash your hands thoroughly after being in the garden, as well as the shears, the grafting knife, the scissors used to cut the oleander.
Although oleanders contain highly poisonous substances, which happens to many other plants in the garden, generally in Italy it is highly unlikely that anyone will remain a victim of such poisons, unless they are specifically used to harm them.
This happens because, as mentioned before, the foliage of poisonous plants is generally not tasty and fragrant, indeed, and does not invite to be eaten, sucked, chewed, added to the salad.
So we don't have to worry if we have an oleander in the garden, the possibility that someone might take a bite is highly remote.