How to Grow Olives

Four Methods:Choosing Your Growing LocationDeciding on a Cultivar of OlivePlanting Your Olive TreesNurturing Your Trees to Maturity

The olive is now grown commercially or for personal use throughout the world. While an olive tree can live longer than 1,000 years, like many plants, certain conditions must be met for the tree to thrive. If you want to nurture a small olive plant from infancy up to maturity, and want to know all the tricks that farmers use to grow delicious fruits and oils, read this guide.

Method 1
Choosing Your Growing Location

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    Determine whether your climate is appropriate for growing olives. The crop thrives best in climates with mild winters and long, dry, and warm summers. Suitable geographic areas, for example, include Europe's Mediterranean region and coastal valleys in the state of California. It is difficult, if not impossible, to grow olives in tropical climates.
    • Frost will kill many olive trees if care is not taken. Temperatures that hit 22 °F (−6 °C) can harm small branches, while large branches and even whole trees can be killed if the temperature dips below 15 °F (−9 °C).[1] Even if branches and trees survive the cold, the flavor of the olives and the resultant oil can be compromised by cold streaks.
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    • Olive trees do need a certain amount of cold, however. Proper flower development depends on the climate dipping to 45 °F (7 °C) or below, although this number alternates with olive tree varietals. This is why cultivation is extremely difficult in the tropics.
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    • Make sure that bloom season is fairly dry and moderate. Bloom season (April to June) should be fairly dry and not excessively warm. Olives are wind-pollinated, so wet conditions can hamper a tree's fruit set.
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    Look for areas that have good drainage. Improper drainage is one of the leading causes of tree death for olive trees. Look for areas where water may accumulate and avoid them. Olive trees hate consistently wet soil. Planting your olive trees on a gentle slope can solve a lot of drainage problems.
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    Check for soil that is not excessively fertile. Excessively fertile soil produces trees that are a little too exuberant for their own good. In fact, the best fruit is produced by trees in moderately fertile soil conditions.[2]
    • Ideal conditions include moderately fine-textured soil, such as loam, that is well-drained and aerated for root growth. Sandy soils work fine, too, as do soils that are loose.[3]
    • Soils that are nutrient-deficient can be corrected by adding 40 to 100 pounds of nitrogen per acre, yearly.[4] Planting cover crops (such as legumes) beside the olives, or adding compost to the soil is a popular way of delivering the necessary nitrogen.
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    Check the pH of your soil. The soil should be moderately acidic or moderately basic, with a pH greater than 5 and less than 8.5. Many farmers believe 6.5 to be ideal.

Method 2
Deciding on a Cultivar of Olive

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    Decide whether you want to cultivate fruit or oil — or both. While you can turn the fruits of any olive tree into oil, certain cultivars, such as Izmir Sofralik olives, are mainly used for olive oil, while others, such as Mission olives, are mainly used for their fruit. If you plan on cultivating the olives instead of their oil, expect to irrigate the trees more. If you plan on pressing the olives into a mash and then extract the oils, expect to water the trees a little less.
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    Know whether your cultivar is self-fertile. A self-fertile tree simply means that it doesn't need another variety to set fruit. Self-sterile trees need other cultivars nearby in order to pollinate.
    • The Arbequina cultivar, for example, is self-fertile, meaning that it can pollinate without the help of other cultivars. Arbequinas produce dense pockets of small, grape-sized fruit. Their oil is considered very high quality, although it is not very stable.
    • The Arbosana tree, for example, is self-sterile. It needs to be coupled with any of the following cultivars to produce fruit: Maurino, Coratina, Pendolino, Frantoio, Leccino, or Olivastra.

Method 3
Planting Your Olive Trees

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    Consider growing in a container. Dwarf species of olive are particularly well-suited to container gardening. If you do decide to plant your olives in a container, select a container that is large enough. The container should be at least two feet across and two feet deep.
    • Make sure your soil drains well. Remember that the enemy of the olive is consistently wet soil. Choose a sandy or loamy soil that irrigates well. Make sure that soil is completely dry at least an inch down before watering again.
    • Know that potted olives require a little more maintenance and pruning than soil-planted olives. Regular pruning is often needed, and many farmers advise to keep plants from developing too many main branches. Only three or four main branches is often desirable.
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    If planting an olive tree in soil, start by spreading 2.5 to 3 cubic feet of nitrogen-rich compost or well-rotted animal manure at each tree site. Spread the compost over an area roughly 9 feet (2.7 m) by 9 feet (2.7 m) to avoid over-concentration in one spot.
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    Bring up your soil's pH to an acceptable level with the addition of lime. If your soil's pH is below 6.5, consider adding lime to the soil to boost its alkalinity. Talk to your Department of Agriculture representative or contact a local fertilizer company if you want specific pH readings and/or pointers on how to get a uniform pH of 6.5.
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    Deep-rip your soil at least 2 feet (0.6 m) deep and 10 feet (3.0 m) wide across each planting row. Deep ripping increases soil drainage and eases compaction, giving your olive trees an excellent start and the possibility of speedy growth.[5]
    • This process will simultaneously mix any fertilizer, lime, or other trace minerals into the soil. Instead of getting fertilizer and lime concentrated on only the top cover, it should be better distributed beneath the top cover of soil.[6]
    • After ripping, you may want to level out the earth with a blade or rotary hoe, although it's not strictly necessary.
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    Plant the olive tree in full sun, outdoors, at the same level that it was in the pot. Ideally, plant in April or May when frost is not likely to harm the tree.
    • Dig a hole about the same size as the tree's planting container.
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    • Take the tree out of its container and check the roots. Cut or untwist any circling roots as best you can without disturbing the root ball.
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    • Use the previously dug soil and surrounding soil to fill in the rest of the hole.
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    Water and mulch the area with straw. Mulching with straw will do several things: it conserves water, keeps the soil cool, and inhibits nasty weed growth. If using course straw as mulch, try to buy rain-damaged bales, as they come extremely cheap and make for great mulch.
    • Other mulches can be used instead of coarse straw. Lucerne, soya bean, and pea hay, to name a few, are excellent mulches high in nitrogen and other nutrients to feed the tree.
    • When mulching, keep the base of the tree trunk — a 4" to 6" radius — free of mulch. This allows the tree to breathe as it grows.

Method 4
Nurturing Your Trees to Maturity

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    Water and irrigate your olive tree modestly or as necessary. In California, it is usually sufficient to deeply water a tree once a month. Waterlogged roots of olive trees will cause damage to the tree itself and may spoil the taste of the fruit.
    • Remember, how often you water your tree may be dictated by whether you want to cultivate fruit or oil. If cultivating fruit, water your trees more often — anywhere from every week to every two or three weeks. If cultivating oil, water your trees less often. This will help concentrate the flavor of the oil.
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    Know how to prune properly. Pruning should occur between the end of winter and flowering. Although not all trees need to be pruned every year, proper pruning will result in a tree with balanced vigor and better fruit. Removing unwanted branches and suckers can keep the tree at a manageable height for easier harvesting and prevent uneven bearing of fruit.[7]
    • Remember a couple things when you prune your olive tree:
      • Less is more. Don't prune just because you want to.
      • Younger trees don't need to be pruned as much as older trees.
      • When pruning, move from top to bottom.
      • Make large cuts before attempting small cuts.
      • Pruning should be for correcting vigor in branches, not just for aesthetic reasons.
      • Delay all cuts that you can until the next year.
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    Know how fruiting works. This year's growth will be next year's fruit. Olives will only develop on areas of the tree that grew the previous year. If you prune too much new growth from your tree, you'll impede the tree's ability to produce fruit.
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    Check diligently for pests and other diseases. Like most plants, the olive tree is sometimes susceptible to attack, particularly from black scale, or Saissetia oleae. As a farmer, you want to strike a fine balance between letting your trees grow organically and protecting them from infestation and disease.
    • Black scales looks like what they sound like: tiny black scales on the surface of the bark. Native to Africa, black scales can produce up to 2,000 eggs each.[8] Although black scales primarily infest already diseased olive trees, healthy trees are not immune from attack. If discovered, treat black scale with the appropriate insecticide.
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    • Verticillium wilt may also affect olive trees, causing leaves and branches to unexpectedly wilt. Although certain cultivars of olives come equipped with resistance, there is yet no treatment for this fungal disease.[9] If afflicted branches aren't cut off, wilt can affect the whole tree. If you've had a problem with wilt in your soil before, avoid planting in that area.
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    Know that you may need to wait several years for your trees to start bearing fruit. Well-watered trees will start bearing fruit two or three times faster than dry-farmed trees. While some cultivars begin bearing fruit as soon as two or three years if properly maintained, many trees won't start bearing until 10 years old. Dry-farmed trees may not bear until they are 20 or 30 years old.[10]
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    Decide when to harvest. Olives start out green and eventually all turn black as they ripen. Olives that are harvested when they are still green have a peppery, grassy, or more herbaceous flavor, while olives that are harvested when they turn taker have a milder, buttery flavor. Many oils are a mix between green and ripe olives, harvested right when they are turning color.


  • An olive tree can also be grown in a large container indoors.
  • Olive trees can grow to 50 feet (1500 cm) tall and their tops can spread to about 30 feet (900 cm).
  • It is possible to plant an olive tree on an incline or in a terraced area but these locations may make harvesting and upkeep inconvenient.
  • To prevent olives from forming in a certain place on the tree, prune the desired flowering olive branches in early summer.


  • Make sure your pruning tools are clean when pruning olive trees during a rainy season. Pruning tools can become infected with olive knot, a bacterial disease that is spread from the tools to the olive trees.
  • A fungal disease called verticillium wilt can strike California-grown olive trees. Avoid it by removing damaged trees and branches and not planting trees on any disease-infested soil.
  • Try not to spray olives grown for making olive oil with chemical treatments. The processed olive oil will retain the odors of these chemicals.
  • The medfly and olive fruit fly are pests that can harm olive trees grown in the Mediterranean region.
  • Ripe olives will bruise easily and must be handled carefully during harvesting.

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