How To Grow & Care For Olive Trees

Olive Trees

Olive trees (Olea europaea) are symbols of peace, wisdom, and longevity. With their silvery-green leaves and gnarled trunks, they are not only valued for the fruit they produce but also as an ornamental tree with timeless beauty. Native to the Mediterranean region, olive trees have been cultivated for over 6,000 years and have become synonymous with Mediterranean culture and cuisine.

The olive tree is an evergreen that can live for hundreds, even thousands, of years if given the right conditions. They’re drought-tolerant and hardy, thriving in areas with hot, dry summers and mild winters. Olive trees are revered for their fruit and the oil extracted from it, which plays a vital role in the Mediterranean diet.

The allure of growing an olive tree extends beyond the Mediterranean. Many gardeners are drawn to its distinctive appearance and historical significance. Growing olive trees requires understanding their specific needs, including light, soil, water, and temperature preferences. Whether for fruit production or purely ornamental purposes, olive trees can be a rewarding addition to gardens or landscapes.

Common NamesOlive Tree
Botanical NameOlea europaea
Plant TypeEvergreen Tree
Mature Size20-30 feet tall, 15-25 feet wide
Sun ExposureFull Sun
Soil TypeWell-drained, Sandy, Loam
Hardiness Zones8-11
Native AreaMediterranean Region

Olive Tree Care

Caring for an olive tree is not overly complex, but it does require attention to specific conditions. Planting in a location that receives full sun and in well-draining soil is essential for healthy growth. Olive trees are relatively drought-tolerant once established, but regular watering during the growing season will encourage healthy development. If growing for fruit, selecting the right variety and proper pollination are key factors.

In addition to light, soil, and water, regular pruning is necessary to maintain the shape and promote fruit production. Fertilizing with a balanced fertilizer during the growing season will further enhance growth and fruiting.

Light Requirement for Olive Trees

Olive trees require full sun and need at least 6-8 hours of direct sunlight per day to thrive. Insufficient sunlight can lead to poor growth and reduced fruit production.

Soil Requirements for Olive Trees

Olive trees prefer well-drained soil that is slightly acidic to slightly alkaline. Sandy or loamy soil that allows good air and water movement is ideal. Planting in heavy clay or poorly draining soil may lead to root rot.

Water Requirements for Olive Trees

While olive trees are drought-tolerant once established, they do benefit from regular watering during the growing season, especially in the early years. Watering should be deep and infrequent, allowing the soil to dry out between watering.

Temperature and Humidity

Olive trees are best suited to a Mediterranean climate, with hot, dry summers and mild, wet winters. They can withstand temperatures as low as 10°F for short periods, but prolonged exposure to freezing temperatures can cause damage.


Fertilize olive trees with a balanced, slow-release fertilizer in early spring and again in late summer. Avoid over-fertilizing, as this can lead to excessive foliage growth at the expense of fruit.

Pruning Olive Trees

Pruning is essential for maintaining the shape of the olive tree and encouraging fruit production. Remove dead or diseased wood and thin branches to allow light and air to penetrate. Pruning is best done in late winter or early spring.

Propagating Olive Trees

Olive trees can be propagated from cuttings or by grafting. Cuttings should be taken in late spring or early summer and rooted in well-draining soil. Grafting requires some expertise but can be a successful way to propagate specific varieties.

How To Grow Olive Trees From Seed

Growing olive trees from seed is a lengthy process and requires patience. Fresh seeds need to be cleaned and stratified before planting in well-draining soil. Germination may take several months, and seedlings will need careful nurturing.

Common Pests & Plant Diseases

Scale Insects

These can be treated with horticultural oil or insecticidal soap.

Olive Knot

A bacterial disease that can be controlled with proper pruning and sanitation.

Verticillium Wilt

A soil-borne fungus; choosing resistant varieties and proper soil management can prevent it.

Common Problems With Olive Trees

Poor Fruit Production

This may be due to inadequate pollination or improper pruning.

Yellow Leaves

Usually a sign of over-watering or poor drainage.

Frost Damage

Protecting the tree during freezing temperatures can prevent this issue.

Pro Tips

  1. Choose the right variety for your climate and soil.
  2. Plant in full sun and in well-draining soil.
  3. Water deeply but allow soil to dry between watering.
  4. Prune regularly to maintain shape and encourage fruiting.
  5. Monitor for pests and diseases and treat as necessary.