How To Care For Olive Trees

If allowed to grow and flourish, olive trees make a great addition to any Californian yard.

As it reaches maturity, the thin, sage-colored foliage, grows into a wonderfully full canopy, supported by a thick, ridged trunk. These stately trees prefer well-drained soil and, like most fruit trees, need at least six hours of full sun a day. Typical fruit-bearing olive trees can grow up to 30 feet tall, but there are dwarf varieties that remain petite.

Olive trees are suited to drier climates, which makes them very drought resistant. That said, they still require regular watering, especially as the tree is becoming established in your yard and throughout dry spells. It is essential that you give your tree plenty of water if you want it to bear healthy fruit, but do not add organic material fertilizer or any soil that retains a lot of moisture.

If your goal is to harvest olives for making olive oil, try some cultivars of the European olive tree such as the self-fertilizing Arbequina and Mission olive trees. The typical canned “California” black olive comes from a Manzanilla olive tree. It’s important to note that most olive trees take about three years to begin producing noticeable amounts of fruit. When you have enough olives, the best time to harvest is in the late summer or early fall (when most olive fruits tend to ripen).

 USDA Zones: 6 – 8

Pruning Your Olive Tree

How To Care For Olive Trees 1 If allowed to grow and flourish, olive trees make a great addition to any Californian yard.
An example of a beautiful olive tree that was properly trimmed when it was young.

The purpose of trimming olive trees is to open more of the tree up to sunshine so that the tree can flourish and potentially produce more fruit. Opening up the canopy and exposing the center growth to more light will improve fruiting, and give you a nicer looking tree in general. Olive trees grow slowly, so only occasional light pruning is needed to maintain a healthy tree.

It’s okay to prune olive trees to achieve a desired shape, but cutting new growth may affect how much fruit the tree produces. If you are starting with a young olive tree, don’t prune until it at least four years old. These first years are critical for the tree to establish itself and produce new growth. Please, step away from the shearers!

It’s a shame to see all the wonderful olive trees that have been hacked to death by unqualified trimmers. That’s why I am of the strong opinion that it’s best to leave any major pruning to a professional arborist. I do understand, however, that tree trimming services can be expensive, so if hiring a professional is not an option for you, here’s the best way to do it:

The best time to prune your olive tree is when it begins to bloom, in the spring or early summer. Wait until winter rains are over, because the open wounds from trimming will make your tree vulnerable to water-borne disease.

To help the tree produce more fruit or simply open up the canopy so inside leaves are getting enough light, carefully remove some central branches. Aside from making sure your tree is not resting on your house or low power lines, the only trimming that you should be doing is to de-crowd the center of your tree. If your tree is growing too tall, you can thin out the growth at the top, but do not hack away at major branches, as that will only promote new tall growth. Pruning the top, upwardly growing branches back a few inches will encourage more lateral growth (which is helpful when picking fruit).

After your olive tree’s structure is established, it should require very little subsequent maintenance. Below are some examples of olive trees that were not properly pruned.

How To Care For Olive Trees 2 If allowed to grow and flourish, olive trees make a great addition to any Californian yard.
How To Care For Olive Trees 3 If allowed to grow and flourish, olive trees make a great addition to any Californian yard.
Olive trees that were improperly topped.
olive tree shaped like a mushroom
A mushroom-shaped olive tree. Although maybe not improperly trimmed, the canopy is extremely dense.
improperly pruned olive tree
How To Care For Olive Trees 4 If allowed to grow and flourish, olive trees make a great addition to any Californian yard.
An olive tree that was turned into a strange art project.
How To Care For Olive Trees 5 If allowed to grow and flourish, olive trees make a great addition to any Californian yard.

Growing an Indoor Olive Tree

olive tree grown indoors
Olive trees can lend a tuscan feel to modern interiors. Photo Credit: Bolig

Many are surprised to learn that some olive trees can be grow indoors, although not indefinitely. Some speculate they will last around eight to nine years inside (which is plenty of time for me).

In the right pot, olive trees will elevate any modern interior with that quintessential tuscan feel. Make sure you choose a dwarf olive tree, and place it in a south-facing window so it gets plenty of sun. Plant your olive tree in a larger container so its roots have plenty of room to grow, and water often. Potted olive trees will need to be watered more frequently than those planted in the ground.

When should olive trees be pruned?

Olive trees should be pruned after winter rains, in the early spring or summer when its flower buds are beginning to open.

How much to water an olive tree?

Water olive trees regularly, especially after just being planted or during a dry spell.

How to trim an olive tree?

Thin the center of the olive tree’s canopy to allow for more light and a well structured tree. Thin some small top branches to encourage lateral growth.

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3 thoughts on “How To Care For Olive Trees”

  1. If you can put it the sleigh on your roof, that would be great.

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