Growing an olive tree: 5 tips

Sun, solitude, stones, silence. Is it a nursery rhyme, we hear you ask? No, it’s the 4 Ss required to grow an olive tree in the traditional, country way.

We often see olive trees as having been around for thousands of years, growing happily in warm Mediterranean areas in arid ground. Yet in actual fact, olive trees need care and a few tricks in order to grow well and bear fruit. Growing an olive tree requires passion and patience, just like all plants.

Many of us view olive trees as almost sacred – and part of that comes from their love of silence. Olive trees are not afraid of dry areas and indeed don’t do well in humidity, but they don’t mind stony ground and can thrive for years in solitude, far away from woods and forests. Their best friend, though, is the sun – that’s the one thing they really can’t do without.

Let’s take a look at 5 tips on growing an olive tree...

Choose the right type of exposure

Olive trees are sun-loving plants and so should always be placed in direct sunlight, even during the winter months. As such, it’s no surprise that olive trees are one of the most common types of tree grown in Mediterranean areas. Southern Italy, Spain, Greece and Turkey are packed with olive trees because they can offer a mild climate all year round, barely see frosts even in the winter and have very hot, dry summers. Olive trees hate humidity, which is why it’s always recommended that they are placed in a south-facing position in ground with good drainage and no standing water.

In order to protect olive trees from frost, they should be planted at no more than 800 meters above sea level, on a hill or at the base of a mountain.
How to plant an olive tree – Fratelli Carli

The best type of soil for an olive tree

Olive trees can be grown in the ground, if you wish to produce fruit, or in a pot or container, for decorative purposes.

For trees planted into the ground, the ideal soil type is dry, chalky/clay-rich soil, particularly when enriched with organic matter. The soil should be moderately acidic or alkaline, with the ideal pH between 5 and 8.5. You can increase the pH using lime or decrease it using sulfur. In order to limit excess moisture, you’re advised to grow your olive tree in soil with good drainage, avoiding any areas where puddles or pools of stagnant water form.

The draining issue can be solved by planting the olive trees on a slight slope, because this can help the water to drain away.
Growing olive trees – Fratelli Carli

So can you grow an olive tree in a pot? Most definitely. You need to choose a container that is big enough, place the plant in the sun and, in the winter, make sure it’s by a wall or window in order to give it more warmth and protect it from frosts.

How and when to plant an olive tree

Now that you’ve learned a bit more about this fascinating plant, here’s some information on how to plant an olive tree in your very own garden.

So when should an olive tree be planted? In spring. With winter out of the way and the last frost done and dusted, spring is definitely the best time to plant an olive tree. Depending on the year and the region in question, the best period can range from the start of April to the end of May.

Choose your plant. In order to avoid the tricky, delicate process of growing from seed, we recommend that you buy a plant that is already 1.2 to 1.5 meters tall, with well-established branches measuring around 90 cm. You can find small olive trees easily at nurseries, gardening centers or online.

Prepare your hole. Once you’ve chosen your olive tree, it’s time to plant it. The first step is to dig a hole which matches the circumference of the pot, to ensure that there is enough space to accommodate all of the roots of the plant.

How to grow an olive tree – Fratelli Carli

Control the roots. It’s important that you remove the plant from its pot gently and carefully. You must free up all the roots by cutting or untangling any that have become tangled up, taking care not to tamper with the root ball.

Planting. Once you’ve placed the tree and its roots in your hole, it’s time to fill it in. To do this, you can use the earth you dug out to make the hole, or any surrounding earth, without adding any fertilizer or other substances to enrich the soil.

Water generously. In order to encourage your newly planted olive tree to take root, it’s important to give it a good water.

Check the rooting. It will take just a few weeks to see whether your olive tree has successfully taken root. If the bark is green, the tree is taking root well, but if the color is tending towards straw yellow, you’re best off removing the tree and planting a new one.

Watering: how much and how often

Olive trees are hardier than most plants when it comes to standing up to water stress.

It’s important to plan your watering carefully. Droplet irrigation systems which avoid getting the foliage wet are ideal when it comes to providing olive trees with the right quantity of water and keeping a constant supply. The frequency of watering varies depending on what you want to get from the tree. If you want olives for eating, you want to be watering your tree between once a week and once every two/three weeks. If you’re looking to produce oil, on the other hand, you’re recommended to water the tree less frequently.

Olive trees’ resistance to the heat and water scarcity results in better quality oil with interesting attributes such as spiciness and subtle bitter sensations.

Getting the pruning right

The aim of pruning is to optimize the growth of the tree in order to make sure it achieves the best possible shape and can maintain this over the years. However, in the first year of the life of an olive tree, you are advised to limit pruning to those branches that are no more than 90 cm off the ground. As the tree grows, you can eliminate any weak or unwanted branches.

Usually, olive trees are pruned after the winter period, though the period and technique used can both vary significantly depending on the season and the reason for cultivation.

The way pruning is carried out and the way the olive tree is managed in general terms can affect (both positively and negatively) the production of olives the following year.