So you’ve heard of this shrub, Sea Buckthorn, and think you want to try growing it, but you’re not sure if it is a good match for your place? Well, let’s take a look. The reasons to consider it are that as a landscape ornamental with willow-like silvery foliage and attractive orange berries, this is a tough, drought-tolerant plant. A large shrub or small tree, Sea Buckthorn can withstand coastal winds and grows in most soils.
As a permaculture plant Sea Buckthorn, Hippophae rhamnoides, has lots to offer: it restores degraded sites through preventing soil erosion and fixes nitrogen with the help of soil microbes. The edible and medicinal berry is an up-and-coming super-food that goes by the name Seaberry.
There are a couple of factors to think about, especially if you like to practice right plant-right place. If you want to keep it in polite company within the garden as an 8-foot shrub, purchase a named variety from a nursery. A popular choice is Titan, a Russian variety. Be sure to purchase a male too. You can find it and several other varieties at https://www.onegreenworld.com/ and http://www.raintreenursery.com/
Buy a variety and you get a known quantity; buy open-pollinated seedlings and the plants will be variable in size and shape. They can be very thorny. Since Sea Buckthorn is like Holly (dioecious), the female plant requires a separate male plant to produce fruit. One male can pollinate five females. With seedlings you might wait five years until flowering when you can sex the plants. Some seedlings are sold after they have flowered and are sold as female or male.
Ilana Smith in Port Townsend has grown these two seedlings in her garden for about 25 years. Although she had never heard of the plant at the time, she was curious to try them. She trained them into attractive small trees, planted in the lawn. Mowing over the years has suppressed suckers (leafy sprouts from the roots).
Windbreaks or hedgerows call for many plants, and neither uniform size nor fruit production is critical. Seedlings are also much cheaper, maybe four dollars instead of twenty-five dollars. This farm in Maine has a great blog about seedlings and they sell both plants and seeds: http://www.jiovi.com/plants.html
How invasive is Sea Buckthorn? In vegetated environments with decent soil it will not become a problem because seeds won’t sprout and seedlings can’t survive with shade. Where it does spread is subarctic regions of the world and deserts of sandy soil with low fertility. It has become a problem in Alberta, Canada where one plant can colonize acres. On the other hand, the fibrous and suckering roots bind sand and add nitrogen, so it has been used extensively in China for reforestation and in the Netherlands for dune restoration. For more information on risks see this site connected with University of Wisconsin, Madison http://uncommonfruit.cias.wisc.edu/seaberry-sea-buckthorn/
I spoke to Phil at One Green World and asked how vigorously the varieties will grow. He told me that at their test farm in Molalla, Oregon there are several twenty-year-old shrubs. The largest varieties are about 12 to 15 feet tall but have not spread more than 6 to 8 feet wide. He recommends Titan for the west coast.
Sea Buckthorn can grow almost anywhere as long as it gets sunlight. If it gets less than half-a–day
sunlight, Sea Buckthorn seedlings will wither. Interior branches on mature plants die out from shading. Seedlings destined for a windbreak could be raised in a nursery bed and kept weeded to prevent shading from surrounding vegetation.
To be continued as Part 2 Seaberry Super-food, berry production