Olive Tree Care
It seems like we see more and more places these days that have olive trees for sale. People love the hearty, silvery-leaved trees and the delicious, healthy fruit varietals they produce. Temecula Olive Oil Company has cultivated over 35 varietals of olive trees on our Southern California ranch for over a decade, so if you’re considering adding this lush beauty to your home or garden, let us teach you about proper olive tree care.
Olive trees thrive in full sun during long, hot and dry growing seasons in well-drained soil. Olive-producing regions are often coastal, where mild winters are experienced and the winter temperatures remain between 33 °F-50 °F. Extreme winter temperatures will damage the olive fruit. Olive trees should also be planted out of the wind’s path as wind can damage the flowers and cause fruit to drop before it’s ripe.
When transplanting olive trees from the pot include the root ball and plant the tree at the same depth where it was in the pot. It is better to plant the olive tree too shallow than too deep in the soil. If the tree requires a stake, there will be a stake with the tree in the pot. Use arborists tape and a sturdy stake to secure your tree when transplanting.
Olive trees are very drought resistant; however, they still require water to survive. When establishing an olive tree, keep the soil moist, yet not saturated. Water an establishing olive tree once weekly for the first year or anytime the top 2” of soil becomes dry. After an olive tree is established, deep watering once monthly is sufficient.
With proper olive tree care, it is best to begin fertilizing in March, using a high-nitrogen fertilizer. Continue to fertilize your olive trees throughout the growing season. Never use wood chips for mulch as they rob the soil of precious nitrogen. Instead use pine straw and keep it away from the trunk by several inches.
When purchasing olive trees please keep in mind they can tolerate drastic pruning. Olive fruit grows most abundantly on the previous year’s new growth, so pruning will both control growth by shaping the trees and will increase yield. It is best to begin pruning after the spring buds are finished blooming and cease after fruit ripens in the fall to get rid of old and diseased branches. Prune by clipping the tips of branches just past where the new leaves meet the branch. Leave branches at least six inches long or as long as desired beyond that.
If a gnarled, braided look is desired, stake the basal suckers (shoots that grow at the base of the tree) to strengthen them at an angle that allows them to entwine as they grow together. If a single trunk is desired, prune the suckers and branches below the lowest desired branching point away from the trunk.
Olive trees have minimal natural pests, primarily the olive fruit fly, the med-fly and soft-bodied tree scale. Since the skin of the olive fruit is eaten, it is unwise to spray pesticides, the odors of which sink into the skin and affect the taste of the fruit and olive oil it produces. Instead, employ biological control, such as traps which lure the female fruit fly with food. She needs to eat before she lays her eggs, and once she’s gone into the trap to eat, it prevents her from leaving to lay her eggs in the olive fruit.
Harvesting season for olives is longer than for most produce, extending from October through February. Olives should be harvested by hand to prevent bruising as they are fragile when ripe. Olives may be harvested when green or ripe. If selecting to harvest green olives, wait until they reach a mature size before picking.
Olive trees produce mature fruit beginning at about 4-5 years of age. Since most varietals are self-pollenating and wind-pollenated, multiple trees yield better fruit production.