Olive trees have been in cultivation for more than 6000 years. They do best in Mediterranean type climates, where summers are long, hot, and have dry air, and winters are cool and moist. Temperature-wise, olives are adapted to USDA zones 8 and above, and can die when temperatures get much below 15°F.
So, can olive trees grow indoors?
The short answer: Yes, but not indefinitely.
Olive trees need full sun. They will not survive indefinitely indoors, but we can grow an olive tree in a container positioned outside in summer and brought inside for the winter. If you live where it gets too cold for outdoor cultivation, you should give it a try.
What type of container for indoor olive trees?
Select a container that is lightweight because you will be moving it around. Olive trees don’t tolerate slow-draining soil, so be sure the pot has big drainage holes. Use a free-draining potting mix (such as a cactus potting soil) and mix in some perlite, bark chips, or gravel to make sure it drains easily. We like perlite because it’s so lightweight.
Position the container outside in full to mostly full sun during the spring, summer, and fall. Water when the potting soil feels dry to the touch. Be careful not to overwater. The soil should dry out between waterings, then you should give it a good soaking until water runs out the bottom of the pot.
When temperatures start getting below 25°F, bring the container inside to the sunniest spot in your home available (a south-facing window is best). Don’t let the leaves actually touch the window glass because that can cause them to “burn.” Your indoor plant will grow more slowly inside and will need considerably less water. This is, after all, its dormant period.
When do you move your indoor olive tree back outside?
When spring returns, move the tree back outside, but do so gradually so it can acclimate to the wind and bright sun. Start out in a protected, partly shady location for a few days, gradually moving the tree into the open, full sun for the rest of the growing season.
Do not prune in the first year. In the second year, begin training the tree for its mature shape. Allow for a central leader with three “scaffold” side branches. After a year or two, you can prune for a secondary scaffold system on the first three side branches. You also will need to prune for size control.
Every few years you will want to pot up to a larger pot size, replacing as much of the potting medium as practical.
The Arbequina Olive Tree can be grown indoors
Perfect Plants offers the self-fertile Arbequina olive variety. To produce olives, the Arbequina olive tree requires around 300 chill hours; that is, a total (not necessarily consecutive) of 300 hours below about 50°F during the wintertime. So, keep this in mind as you decide when to bring your tree indoors. This is not a dwarf variety and can grow up to 20 ft tall in the ground. It will stay smaller if planted in a container.
Indoor olive tree care
Olive trees bear fruit on the previous year’s growth, and they never bear on the same wood twice. They should be pruned in early spring, removing the shoots that bore fruit the previous year, but leaving new shoots that have just developed. Remove suckers and water sprouts whenever you see them.
Olive trees, in the ground on in a container, should be fertilized with a balanced fertilizer (for example: 10-10-10 with micronutrients) every 2-4 weeks during the growing season. For a 10-10-10 formulation, apply about one cup for each year of age. Always follow label directions and don’t let fertilizer rest against the trunk.
Watch for scale insects on the branches and twigs, and spray with insecticidal soap if they appear.
Check out the Olive Grow Guide for more information on growing olive trees. Growing olives as fruit trees is a fun and easy tree or house plant to have. You will be rewarded with delicious olives to use as table olives or for olive oil. Our Arbequina olive tree will not disappoint!
You can find more information on growing olive trees in containers here.