Olive Trees can grow in a variety of climates, but if you want them to bear fruit, make sure to keep outside in a moderate climate with plenty of water.
Here we'll discover more about how to take care of this popular tree for its maximum growing potential as ornamental trees as well as for fruit production.
Olive Tree Overview
|Origin||Mediterranean, Africa, and Asia|
|Scientific Name||Olea europaea|
|Type||Evergreen fruiting tree|
|Common Names||Olive tree|
|Height||Up to 30 feet|
|Watering||Drought-tolerant, but water often|
There are several olive tree cultivars available, and while the trees are self-fertile, having a mixture of cultivars in your garden will increase cross-pollination and the chances of your trees bearing fruit. Some cultivars you could choose from include the following.
Olea europaea ‘africana’
This tree produces a more compact fruit and benefits from attractive glossy foliage in a dark green shade.
Olea europaea ‘frantoio’
This variety of olive tree produces fruit that is commonly pressed to produce olive oil. It is an especially popular variety in Italy.
Olea europaea ‘sativa’
This olive tree produces tiny white flowers in spring and summer, which have an appealing scent (Royal Horticultural Society).
Caring for Your Olive Tree
If you are planting an olive tree directly into the ground, you first need to choose the position wisely. Ensure the tree won’t be situated in a dip. Otherwise, water will pool around it during heavy rainfall. Ideally, you should build the ground up a little where you are planting the tree to prevent this from happening and encourage water to run away from the base of the tree.
Dig a hole in the ground the same size as the olive trees current pot, and lower the root ball into the ground without disturbing it. Do not add any compost, organic matter, or other potting soil to the tree. A young olive tree needs to acclimate to the soil it will be inhabiting, so you shouldn’t alter it, only using the natural soil from around the same area to help fill around the root ball. The only exception to this is if your native soil is not well-draining. Olive trees require plenty of moisture to thrive but do not like to be kept in wet soil. Therefore, well-draining soil is essential for the health of the tree. If your soil is not well-draining, then you should adapt the soil to increase its drainage capacity.
Once established, olive trees are considered to be one of the most drought-tolerant trees you can grow. However, if you want your tree to flower and bear fruit, you will need to provide the tree with plenty of moisture throughout the year, especially in hot, dry climates. Water the tree moderately in spring and summer, aiming to maintain moist soil. Cut back on watering during the fall and winter, but do not allow the soil to dry out completely.
The amount you have to water your olive tree will be dependent on many things, so rather than watering on a schedule, you should pay close attention to the health of your tree and the condition of the soil to decide on a watering plan.
Potted olive trees will need to be watered more frequently than those planted in the ground, as their roots are confined to their container and, therefore, unable to seek out moisture further from the tree itself in the way that planted tree roots can. Potted soil also has a tendency to dry out much quicker than ground soil and may need to be watered as frequently as every day during hot, dry summers.
Giving the tree plenty of water is essential for the tree to bear fruit but also to ensure the fruit doesn’t dry out. If you do not water your olive tree enough during the summer, you may find that the fruits shrivel up and will no longer be suitable for consumption.
Because olive trees like to be watered a good amount, well-draining soil is essential. Despite being thirsty plants, the trees will not do well if sitting in soggy soil. Although olive trees depend on moisture to bear fruit, they will go into decline if they are watered too frequently, and therefore, if you are unsure, you should err on the side of caution. Overwatering the olive tree can cause root rot and the death of the tree.
Olive trees require full sun. They thrive in bright, hot, dry areas, and are not well suited for growing in the shade. If your plant is kept in a pot, you have the advantage of it being portable, at least while it is small and light enough to move. You can try out setting the olive tree in different areas of your garden to see where it will benefit from the most light.
For olive trees planted directly in the ground, they do well in open orchard style areas where they won’t be shaded by nearby buildings or fences. Olive trees can also be grown indoors, especially if you live in a cold climate where the tree won’t survive during the winter. To grow your olive tree indoors, situate it in your brightest window or in a conservatory where it will enjoy at least 8 hours of light each day.
Olive trees are natively grown in Meditteranean countries, as well as Africa and Asia, and therefore enjoy hot summers and cool winters. Once established, they are frost hardy, though frosts will damage young olive trees, sometimes beyond repair. They can tolerate temperatures as low as 14 °F, though ideally should not be kept in temperatures as low as this for prolonged periods of time. If you live in a climate that is likely to drop to temperatures as low as 14 °F, then it would be advisable to grow your olive tree in a container and bring it inside for the winter.
Most olive trees are hardy to USDA zone 6. People living in areas outside of this should bring their olive trees inside to protect them against the winter temperature drop. That being said, olive trees also do not like to be kept in consistently warm climates. In order to bear fruit, they need a two month period of cool weather, where temperatures will ideally be between 40 °F and 50 °F. They also require a temperature drop overnight. Because of these requirements, olive trees that are kept indoors are unlikely to fruit, as the tree will not experience the necessary temperature fluctuations.
If you live in a climate where these temperatures are typical, growing an olive tree which bears fruit will be fairly easy. In other climates, growers may find it difficult to provide the necessary conditions and will struggle to get their olive trees to fruit. If the fruit is not important to you, then growing an olive tree is quite easy in a variety of climates (University of Florida- Gardening Solutions).
Olive trees will benefit from a regular feed of fertilizer. A specific fertilizer is not necessary, so just select one with a high nitrogen content and plenty of other minor minerals, as these tend to be missing from most soils, and they benefit the growth of the tree greatly.
Liquid fertilizer is absorbed quickly and should be diluted down to avoid damaging the tree. Liquid fertilizer will also need to be given frequently, as often as every week. A slow-release fertilizer might be a better option for your olive tree, as this will gradually release nutrients over time and won’t need to be used as often. Cease feeding your olive tree in fall and winter, then resume your feeding schedule in the spring.
Professional olive growers most commonly propagate their trees through grafting, though it is also possible to propagate olive trees via cuttings. Take semi-ripe cuttings in summer of around 4 to 6 inches in length. These can then be dipped in rooting hormone and inserted into well-draining potting soil.
Heating the cuttings from underneath will help to encourage rooting. You can also follow the same process with hardwood cuttings taken from mature trees in winter. These cuttings should be a few years old and will need to be longer in length, ideally around 12 inches.
Olive trees grow slowly, and therefore, do not need pruning often. However, an occasional light pruning can benefit the health of the tree, as well as give it a more clean-cut look. Do not prune your olive tree when it is young, instead allowing it to establish itself and form dense foliage. Once the tree is at least four years old, you can begin to prune.
First, thin out the tree by selecting the weakest branches in the center of the tree and removing them. This allows more light to penetrate the tree, which will encourage fruit production. Branches of the tree that are shaded will be unable to bear fruit. Thinning out the branches also increases airflow, which is better for the health of the tree, helping to prevent fungal growth. You can also cut back the height of the tree, as this will result in more lateral growth.
If you are unconcerned with fruit production, you can also cut back the ends of stems to form your desired shape; however, this will likely impair fruit growth, so it should be avoided if you are intending to grow olives. The fruit grows on last year's new growth, so these branches should be left alone during pruning so as not to interfere with your olive tree bearing fruit. You should also prune back any dead or damaged growth throughout the year to keep the tree in its best condition.
The best time to do the harvesting is in the late summer or early fall, the time when most olive fruits are ripe. To know if it's ripe not, look for the olive fruit colors - they are much darker when their fruits get older.
The easiest way to pick ripe olive fruits is to pluck them from lower branches by hand. To collect many fruits immediately, you can use a long rod to hit the branches with lots of ripe olives to make them fall off the branches.
If you have any questions about growing olive trees, leave us a comment below. Also, share this page with other olive tree growers!