Olive tree, the Mediterranean comes to the garden

Olive trees, both potted and planted in the ground, are certainly a kind of tree that is garnering much attention these days.

Olive tree key facts

Name – Olea europea
Family – Oleaceae
Type – fruit tree

Height – 10 to 13 feet (3 to 4 m)
Exposure – full sun
Soil – well-drained, chalky, dry

Foliage – evergreen
Harvest – September to December

Caring, pruning and watering all take a part in letting olive trees grow well.

How to plant an olive tree well

Planting an olive tree, both in the ground and in pots, requires great care and attention. A well-planted tree will have stronger growth.

Olive tree planted in the ground

Choose a sun-bathed area, which is never waterlogged.
Also try to shelter olive trees from strong winds, especially if you aren’t in Mediterranean climates.

As for soil, ensure that it is very well drained.
Mix sand into your soil and cover the bottom of the hole with small rocks to ensure that water never sits near the roots.

Olive tree on terraces or balconies

Growing olive trees in pots is perfectly possible as they adapt well.

  • Choose a pot or garden box that is large enough for roots to freely develop.
  • Choose a sun-bathed area, sheltered from stronger winds.
  • Water when the surface of the soil has dried out, without drowning the roots.
  • If temperatures dwell below 23°F (-5°C), bring the olive trees indoors in a cool and ventilated place or wrap them with horticultural fleece.

Pruning and caring for an olive tree

Pruning olive trees is recommended yearly at the end of the winter / beginning of spring.

Olive trees prefer light pruning to severe pruning. But if you must drastically reduce branches, do so in fall if freezing is rare in your area, and in spring elsewhere.

Moreover, never prune your olive tree in winter, before or during a freezing spell, since this could kill your trees. If you prune your trees in fall or autumn, they will grow new buds that will be very vulnerable to frost and freezing. Olive trees pruned in fall or winter might freeze.

  • Remove branches that have grown from the foot of the tree or along the trunk.
  • Remove branches that grow inwards, upwards, or are crossing/touching each other.
  • Free the center of the tree, trimming branches growing towards the inside and keeping major branches that will shape the silhouette of the tree.
  • For larger branches, apply pruning paste after the cut to avoid fungus infections.

A good tip to remember which branches to cut is ICU for Inwards – Crossing – Upwards. As in, “I see you, ICU!”

After pruning, if you’re suspicious that fungus may have infected leaves, burn the leaves.

Add olive tree fertilizer to get a magnificent olive tree with abundant harvests.

Olive trees are biennial fruiting trees, meaning that the harvest is bountiful one year and meager the next. Pruning yearly helps even out production.

Most common cultivated olive tree varieties and their characteristics

Among the hardy olive cultivars, here are the most common: ‘aglandau’, ‘amellau’, ‘frangivento’ and ‘olivère’.

Among the productive varieties used for olive oil, here are the main ones in alphabetical order: ‘aglandau’, ‘amillau’, ‘araban’, ‘amygdalolia’, ‘Bouteillan’, ‘cayet rouge’, ‘calletier’, ‘cayon’, ‘frangivento’, ‘colombale’, ‘corniale’, ‘grossanne’, ‘lucques’, ‘manzanille’, ‘moufla’, ‘négrette’, ‘noirette’, ‘pardiguier’, ‘pointue de l’Ardèche’, ‘poumal rougette of Ardèche’, ‘reyne’, ‘tanche’, ‘verdale’ or ‘zinzala’ (incomplete list).

Finally, if you wish to only plant one tree, the most common self-pollinating varieties are ‘aglandau’, ‘amygdalolia’, ‘frangivento’, ‘cayon’, ‘grossanne’, or ‘poumal rougette of Ardèche’.

Interesting Italian olive tree cultivars are the ‘Ascolana’, ‘Frantoio’ (also called ‘Oblonga’), ‘Dolce Agogia’, ‘Manzanilla’ and ‘Leccino’.

A Spanish olive tree cultivar that has spread throughout the world is the famous and hardy ‘Arbequina’. Arbequina olive trees were originally bred and grown in Catalonia, in Spain. Other Spanish olive tree varieties inclure ‘Sevillano’

Tunisian cultivars are also interesting, like the ‘Chemlali’.

Newer South American olive varieties include the ‘Arauco’ (Argentina), ‘Criolla’ (Peru) and ‘Azapa’ (Chile).

Israel also is home to some olive varieties, like the ‘Barnea’.

For growing olive trees in pots, choose the ‘Amygdalolia’ variety, which naturally grows to smaller sizes.

Diseases and parasites that attack olive tree

The olive tree resists diseases very well, and they rarely are fatal. Nonetheless, some parasites are common and it is worth treating them so as to not weaken the olive tree.

In recent years, a bacterial disease called Olive Quick Decline Syndrome has spread to Europe. Tree leaves dry out and the tree dies within a few years. The bacteria that causes this is Xylella fastidiosa.

Learn more about the olive tree

Olive tree branch with green fruitsOlive trees are enchanting, merely mentioning their name brings in mind images of Provence and of the Mediterranean.

This tree has a lifespan that extends over a thousand years. It is typical of Mediterranean regions, but it can be found already in more temperate climates such as along the Atlantic coast.

Some succeed in growing it in the North, as long as it is well-endowed with sunlight and sheltered from excessive moisture. Olive tree will survive temperatures colder than 23°F (-5°C) if properly hardened. Cold is even necessary for olive production.

Its edible fruits are olives and are most often seen to be black or in shades of green. The closer the growing conditions are to their native environment, the more abundant can the harvest be.

Olives can be eaten raw, even though they are better when they are prepared. Be prepared, they’re very bitter and the fact that they look like sweet grapes is very deceiving! They are often pressed to produce olive oil which is famous for all the health benefits of olives on health!

Smart tip about the olive tree

In rather temperate climates and in cases of strong frost spells, cover your olive tree with horticultural fleece to protect it from the cold!

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Credits for images shared to Nature & Garden (all edits by Gaspard Lorthiois):
Ripe black Picholine Olives by Rosalyn & Gaspard Lorthiois, own work
Green olives on branch by Valentina Zotova under Pixabay license