Olive Planting Guide
Olives will grow in a wide range of soil, as long as good drainage is provided. Heavy clay needs to be avoided. Olives are among the most tolerant of fruit trees for high soil salinity. Look for a sunny, well drained spot to plant your tree.
Now dig a hole about three times the size of your pot and the same depth as the root ball. Set the soil you have dug out to the side and mix it 50/50 with aged mushroom compost, aged manure, or rotten pine bark. Remove the plant from its pot and gently loosen the root ball. Place the plant in the planting hole and replace the soil with the mix 50/50 and gently pack down the dirt. To avoid planting too deep, make sure the plant is at a position with the top most roots at the soil line. Next we need to thoroughly water the olive to settle the roots and eliminate air pockets. DO NOT PUT FERTILIZER IN THE PLANTING HOLE! Only apply fertilizer at the correct time of year.
If desired, construct a water basin at the base of the tree about 36 inches in diameter. Mulch in the spring time should be about 4-6 inches deep. Keep mulch a few inches away from the trunk of the tree. Depending on how you wish to prune your trees will determine how far away they should be spaced apart. For trees that will be grown to full size, space about 30 feet apart in Zone 9, and 20 feet apart in Zone 8b.
Chemical or organic, whatever you prefer makes sure that the fertilizer contains iron, zinc, manganese, magnesium, molybdenum, copper and baron. Most soils are low in these elements, but to your olive tree they are crucial for its growth. Application rates vary according to age and plant. See chart below for details:
10-10-10 or 10-0-10 with minerals
1 cup per each year of tree’s life
**Max out at 9 cups for mature tree
Espoma Citrus Tone (Organic)
6 cups for 1 year old
10 cups for 2 year old (4-6ft)
18 cups for 7-9ft tree
24 cups for tree over 9 foot
Fertilizer should be spread evenly under the entire canopy of the tree. Be sure to avoid 5 inches around the trunk. For zones 8a and 9, fertilize 3 times each year; in late February, late May, and late July/early August. NEVER FERTILIZE AFTER AUGUST this will promote growth to late in the year which will lead to freeze damage.
Olives are drought tolerant once they have been established. The first year is a critical time for the establishment of a new olive. It is best to water thoroughly twice a week on light soil and once a week on clay soils. Be sure to soak the whole root system; this will usually take 40-50 minutes. Olives need to get at least one inch of water each week for best growth and the best chance at producing fruit. Olives need to be watered regularly during a drought; if they aren’t this can make the fruit drop to early.
Arbequina olive trees are self pollinators. They tend to bear heavy one year and slack off the next. Olive trees do not have to be pruned once they reach maturity, but in there juvenile stage they should be trimmed. If they aren’t, this can cause what is called over-bearing. Over-bearing will make the limbs too heavy to support and they will break off over time. For the largest olives and the strongest limbs, thin your tree to only 2 or 3 fruit per foot of a twig as soon as the fruit is set.
Pruning & Shaping
There are many ways to grow a healthy olive tree. In an orchard, in containers, or as an espalier. Espalier trees must be trained to the desired shape. For trees in containers or in an orchard, only 3 branches should be chosen to serve as the scaffold in the first year. In the next 3-4 year to come remove all the suckers and water sprouts as well as any damaged limbs or cross branches. During this stage the pruning should be kept at a minimum. A secondary scaffold system made up of three branches may be developed from the main scaffold branches.
Olive tree fruit is borne on the previous year’s growth. Most of their fruit is carried in a shell 2 to 3 feet deep around the outer edge of the tree. Pruning of an established tree should be done to promote a constant supply of new fruiting wood and to keep the bearing zone vigorous. Excessive pruning will reduce the fruiting crops and increase the vegetative growth. Olives require good light for fruiting and should not be spaced too close, or planted in shade.
If your tree gets damaged by frost one year wait until the following June or July to prune that way you avoid removing limbs that may have survived and will produce fruit. Dead or damaged branches should be removed. Young trees (1-2 years old) are more likely to be damaged by frost than an older tree. If you are expecting temperatures in your area to drop into the mid-20˚F, wrap the trunks of the young trees with insulation for protection.
Pests & Diseases
Be sure to provide excellent drainage, ample sun, and avoid over watering. Olive scale and peacock leaf spots aren’t very common but can happen if the tree is not being taken care of properly.
Depending on how you wish to produce your olives would decide the time in which you harvest them. Green olives should be picked when some of the fruit have purple-black tinge to them. Black olives on the other hand are picked when fully darkened. The quickest and easiest way to pick olives is to place a tarpaulin under the tree and either hand pick or use a rake with widely spaced teeth. All olives must be processed before eating. Raw olives are astringent!