Lots of people ask us do olives grow on trees?Yes, you CAN grow olive tree plants!
Growing olive trees in the backyard orchard or in a container is not only possible, but easy and very rewarding. Learn how to plant an olive tree with this Olive Tree Planting Guide; it will lead you in the right direction for a healthy and thriving fruit tree!
Growing Olive Trees
Olive plants do best where the summers are long, hot and dry, and the winters are cool and not so dry. They are native to Mediterranean climates. They like a sharply drained calcareous or limey soil, and can tolerate salty, coastal locations. Many varieties of olive trees require cross-pollination; that is, you need at least two different varieties to reliably get olive tree fruit.
Perfect Plants offers the Arbequina olive variety (Olea europaea) which is self-fertile and a semi evergreen tree.
Where Do Olives Grow?
To produce olives, the Arbequina olive tree requires at least 300 chill hours; that is, 300 hours below about 45°F in the wintertime, making it well adapted for in-ground cultivation in United States Department of Agriculture Plant Hardiness Zones 7B-11 (find your USDA zone). Arbequinas cannot withstand below freezing temperatures below 25-30°F.
Where not cold hardy, you can grow Arbequina olives trees in a pot to be brought indoors in the winter months. The Arbequina olive is semi-deciduous, usually dropping some of its attractive gray-green leaves in the winter. Arbequina tends to bear heaviest in alternate years, and fruiting may be increased when another variety is nearby for cross pollination. It is also pest and disease resistant, especially to fungal diseases.
Once established, arbequina olive tree care requires little maintenance! Under good growing conditions, you should expect to harvest some olives by the time the trees are 3-6 years old.
How to Grow Olives Outdoors
For olive tree care outdoors, plant your olive tree where it will get a minimum of 6-8 hours of sun per day, and preferably full sun all day with plenty of light. Choose a site with very well drained soil; olive trees don’t tolerate heavy, clayey soils and it must drain easily.
You may be wondering how fast do olive trees grow? Arbequinas can get up to 20 feet tall and 15 feet wide, so plan ahead. Multiple trees should be spaced about 10-20 feet apart. They prefer dry air.
Dig a hole about twice as wide as the pot and at about the same depth. Straighten out and/or trim any coiled roots before placing the root ball in the hole. Do not bury the plant deeper than it was in the pot. You only want a few inches of soil above the root system and you don’t want to disturb the roots too much. Do not add slow release fertilizer at this time. Fill the planting hole in with the native soil and water deeply. Spread a layer of organic mulch about 4-6 inches deep over the root zone and a little beyond, but avoid piling it against the trunk.
For the first six months, while the new landscape tree is getting established, it should be watered deeply two or three times a week. Setting up a drip irrigation will help the tree’s roots grow and will improve fruit production.
Pruning Olive Trees
Pruning olive trees is tricky so take your time! Do not prune in the first year. In the second year, you should begin training the tree for its mature tree shape. As a rule of thumb, prune each year to maintain desired shape and size.
Allow for a central leader at the top of the tree with three “scaffold” side branches. After a few years, you can annual prune for a secondary scaffold system on the first three side olive branches. Prune annually to produce heavy crops.
Olive trees bear fruit on the previous year’s growth, and they never bear on the same wood twice. They should be pruned in spring, removing shoots that bore fruit the previous year, but leaving new shoots that just developed the previous year. Remove suckers and water sprouts whenever you see them.
Mature olive trees are very drought tolerant, but if they get about an inch of water every week or ten days during the early spring and summer, they will produce more and larger olives. A regular watering schedule is suggested to establish olive trees quicker.
For indoor container cultivation for climates that are too cold to keep outdoors year round, select a pot that is larger than the nursery pot it came in and has big drainage holes. Use a well draining potting mix with some gravel or sharp sandy soil mixed it to make the free drainage even better.
Position the container in full to mostly full sun during the dry summer and water when the potting medium is dry to the touch. You may have to water daily, but be careful not to overwater. The potting soil should dry out between waterings and have good drainage.
Bring the container inside to the sunniest spot available when temperatures get below 25°F. An eastern or western facing window would work best for full sunlight. After a couple of years, you will want to re-pot up to a larger container, replacing as much of the potting medium as practical. Return outdoors once the frost has passed.
Potted trees do grow slower than ones planted in the ground but are equally as beautiful. Growing olives indoors is a great option for those who live in areas with exceptionally cold winters with frost damaging weather.
Olive Tree FertilizerOlive trees, in the ground on in a container, should be fertilized with a balanced fertilizer (for example: 10-10-10 with micronutrients included) every 2-4 weeks starting in its second spring. For a 10-10-10 formulation, apply about one cup for each year of age. Always follow label directions and do not let the fertilizer touch the trunk of the tree. Stop fertilizing in late summer so you don’t encourage new growth that could be damaged by frost.
Your olive tree should start producing fruit after 3 years. Since the Perfect Plants young trees are already 2-3 years old they are already producing green olives or will be within the next year! Olives are generally green at first but then turn a blackish purple when fully ripe at the end of the growing season. Arbequina’s can be made into table olives for eating, but more commonly are used in making olive oil due to their buttery and fruity flavor. Ripe olives have a bitter flavor until brined when you let them ripen on the tree.