Growing Olive Trees: Frequently Asked Questions
Growing Olive Trees has become common place in the British garden but they can quite expensive. Naturally, you don’t want to be buying new Olive Trees every couple of years so you’ll probably have a few questions. To help you with your research, here is some of the most common questions we get asked.
Can Olive Trees Grow in the UK?
The answer is generally yes! Olive trees are incredibly adaptable and can cope well with intense sunlight, frost, drought and even fire. Being native to the Mediterranean, conditions can go from one extreme to the other. The oldest tree in Spain is 3,500 years old, so they can cope in these conditions. You do however have to be careful with extreme cold. If winters in your area often drop to -12°C for prolonged periods then you may want to avoid growing Olive Trees. However, if you wrap or cover your Olive Tree in winter it will be fine in those conditions too.
Can I grow an Olive Tree in a container?
Yes. Growing Olive Trees in containers is perfectly fine. In fact, in some case it may be better for the tree to be planted in a container. This is because Olive Trees need to have good drainage, which is easily achieved in a container. When you plant your Olive, make sure the pot is quite big as your tree will grow a lot over the years, the last thing you want is to re-pot an olive tree you can’t move. Next, make sure you add some gravel (broken up pot will do) to the bottom of the pot to allow water to seep out. You’ll then need to add a loam based compost such as John Innes no.3. It may even be worth mixing in some grit with your compost to add a little extra drainage. You will however need to water your olive tree occasionally, even in winter. Especially if you want a chance of growing your own olives.
Can I plant my Olive Tree in the ground?
You can indeed plant your Olive Tree in the ground however, it needs good drainage. It will also need a lot of room to grow as the trunk will expand a lot over the years. You can always dig up you tree and re-locate it however, it is best to leave your Olive Tree where it is. When you plant your Olive, dig a very large hole, at least 50% larger than you need. Then refill with a couple of inches of gravel or grit to add drainage. Then refill around you tree with a loam based compost.
Can I grow my own Olives?
Growing your own olives in the UK is not an easy task but it can be done. In fact, as long as you keep your tree watered (but well drained) you have a good chance in the UK. Olive Trees can generally grow fruit after 3 – 5 years old. They need about 2 months in cold conditions to trigger the flowering process. But remember, they need to be kept in as much sunlight as possible to have a chance at fruiting.
You may however run into problems when it comes to pollination. Although they are self-pollinating, they are wind pollinated. This means you need a bit of luck on your side. Remember, the olives themselves should not be eaten straight away. They need to be cured first to be fit for human consumption.
Do I need to prune my Olive Tree?
The short answer is no. If you just want to grow a strong, low maintenance tree then you will never need to prune your tree. Olive Trees do infact grow slowly so you can more or less leave them to it. However, as they get larger you may want to tidy them up. Also, if you are keeping Olives for the topiary aspect, then you may need to give them a little trim now and then.
If you are hoping to grow your own olives, you will need to put a bit more effort into pruning. They key to growing Olives is to get a good balance between leaf coverage and sun light. To do this, we advise cutting out some of the centre branches to allow the more horizontal branches to get more sunlight. Also, look for any over lapping major branches. It’s a good idea to cut out these out too, providing it’s not going to be too dramatic.
Always bear in mind that it is better to make one large cut rather than several smaller cuts. Whatever you want to do, ensure your Olive Tree has time to heal before winter. We always recommend pruning early on in spring to give the tree plenty of time to recover.
How big will my Olive Tree get?
This depends on the age of your tree. The younger ones will grow more rapidly but will have quite a small trunk circumference. Our Standard Olive Trees in Bonsai Pots are roughly 25 years old and stand at approximately 8ft in their pot. This won’t get much bigger over the next couple of years but as time goes on, it will reach the gnarled stage. Our Gnarled Trees can have a circumference of about 2 metres but they can get much bigger than that. However, remember to bear in mind that the gnarled trees we have in stock are around 50-100 years old. So, if you add a 25 year old standard olive to your garden, you are unlikely to see it reach the gnarled stage. Depending on the variety of Olive Tree, you may even find the trunk remains smooth for a longer period of time.