Olive trees, even in the North!

Close-up of an olive tree branch covered in heavy snow.

Olive trees in the North? Yes, you can do it! A single thing matters: take great care of the special needs of this exceptional tree.

Part of the Oleaceae family, olive trees are the most typical of Mediterranean trees. The name alone is enough to bring visions of warmth, light and crickets lazily calling on each other during the afternoon nap.

These trees are exceedingly slow to grow, and their longevity is extraordinary.

Their twisted trunks and evergreen leaves with delicate colors of gray and green make these remarkable ornamental trees.

In the Northern parts of our temperate climates, this is the prime appeal of olive trees. Indeed, with short summers, you won’t get any olive harvest!

Olive tree on a balcony in the North

Olive trees are perfectly adapted to growing in garden boxes as long as they get full sun and are sheltered from wind. Choose a nice terra cotta pot where you can add a couple lavender plants.

Olive trees are extremely drought-resistant, and only require moderate watering. They are very comfortable with being transplanted, and this will let you change their pots as soon as you feel the fit is getting tight.

In winter, bring them in a sheltered place like a cool, well-lit, dry room.

Olive tree planted in the ground in the North

You can plant your own olive tree in the ground if you can ensure the following environment: Southern exposure, light, dry soil with excellent drainage. You’ll also need to give it some elbowroom – 20 to 25 feet (6 to 8 m) with the trunk in the center – because this trees thrives best when it doesn’t feel crowded.

It abhors moisture and strong wind, but can cope with temperatures down to 5°F (-15°C), as long as the air and soil are dry.

During the first years of your olive trees’ growth, watch out for rabbits! They might come snack on your young trees’ bark, which could be fatal if they reach the core. Also, remember to prune them at the end of winter to shape the trunk into a single stem.

M.-C. H.

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Credits for images shared to Nature & Garden (all edits by Gaspard Lorthiois):
Snow on an olive branch by Jean Latour under © CC BY 2.0