Olive Growing Guide
Crop Rotation Group
Fertile, very well-drained soil with a neutral to slightly alkaline pH.
Cold hardiness of olive is very limited. Temperatures below -4°C (25°F) will kill young trees and cause damage to small branches of older ones.
Feed in spring by spreading a high nitrogen organic fertiliser over the root zone of the plant. Trees that are holding a large crop benefit from a second feeding in early summer.
Single Plants: 4.50m (14' 9") each way (minimum)
Rows: 4.50m (14' 9") with 4.50m (14' 9") row gap (minimum)
Sow and Plant
Set out purchased plants in late winter or early spring. Container-grown plants can be transplanted until early summer, but may shed some leaves if set out under stressful conditions. Olive trees are not grafted, so you can plant them slightly deeper than they grew in their containers. In addition to adding organic matter to the planting hole, gravel or other coarse material that aids drainage may be beneficial when planting olives in heavy soil. Water young plants regularly during dry weather. Olives need regular water during their first season after planting, and become more drought tolerant once they are well rooted. These small trees can be planted alone or as part of a hedge. Most cultivated olives grow into stocky trees about 20 feet (6 m) tall and wide. Young olive trees benefit from the improved drainage in containers, but become so large they can be impossible to move.
Our Garden Planner can produce a personalized calendar of when to sow, plant and harvest for your area.
An evergreen tree or large shrub native to the Mediterranean region, olives grow best in climates with hot, dry summers and mild, wet winters. Exposure to cool winter nights is required for olives to set flower buds, and then the fruits need a long, dry summer to mature. For these reasons olives are difficult to grow for edible fruit or oil in all but a few climates outside of their native range. Where olives grow well, they are lovely specimen trees with gray-green foliage and white flowers in early spring. Most olives are self-fertile, but because olives are wind pollinated, growing more than one tree can improve fruit set. Trees start bearing three to five years after planting. In some communities in the southwestern US olives are unwelcome because of their spring pollen, which causes an allergic reaction in some people. Lightly prune olive trees while they are in bloom to shape the plants into a strong structure, remove awkward branches, and increase light penetration into the centre of the canopy.
Olives for brining and eating at the table are gathered just as they begin to change colour, while fruits are still green. Olives to be pressed for oil are left on the plants until they begin to drop to the ground. Spread a sheet on the ground when picking olives, and shake the branches as you work. Do not refrigerate fresh olives. Store them in a cool, dry place and process them as soon as possible.
Olive trees have shallow roots so they are easily toppled by wind. Several diseases can bother olives, especially in more humid growing areas. In wet weather, root rots can develop unexpectedly in young plants. Older trees that bear heavily one year may not bear at all the following season.
Planting and Harvesting Calendar
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