Pruning Olive Trees is easier than you might think. An olive tree can live quite happily with little pruning. A trim when needed, especially for the Lollipop or Pom Pom olive trees will keep them in good shape. To maintain tip-top health or if growing an olive tree for fruit however, pruning will be required.
Olive trees are generally slow growers so don’t require much pruning in the early years. By allowing foliage to form at this stage, energy will be produced helping to provide a stronger, healthier specimen. For the first few years pruning is only required to direct the tree’s growth and develop the initial framework. If grown in a container however, the growth will be quicker and pruning will become necessary sooner.
Olive trees flower and fruit on one-year old wood, and fruit will not be produced on branches that are shaded. If you wish to harvest fruit from your olive tree, pruning will be necessary.
You should be Pruning Olive Trees in late Spring or early Summer when the weather is milder but before flowering. As the olive tree is an evergreen plant, new growth will be produced from most of the pruning cuts. These fresh shoots will be susceptible to damage from cold weather. Water-borne diseases are also less likely to enter the tree if cuts are made when the winter is over.
Using a lopper, begin at the base of the olive tree and remove any suckers or water shoots which divert strength from the main tree, pulling them away or cutting as close to the base as possible. Next, turn your attention to the crown which can become quite dense and block light from reaching the centre of the tree. Stand at the trunk and look up through the canopy – you should be able to see sunlight between the tree’s limbs. If not, remove some of the branches using a pruning saw or loppers, starting with dead or diseased wood and any that detracts from the shape of the olive tree. Controlling the height of the tree by removing the tallest branches will also be necessary with a pot grown olive specimen.
Re-check the olive tree throughout the summer and continue to remove any suckers. It is unlikely that a repeat pruning will be necessary in Autumn but any further dead or diseased wood can be removed after harvesting the olives.
Advanced Pruning Olive Trees
To re-establish an old or un-productive olive tree, more drastic open centre or vase pruning techniques can be used. This is where the central branches are removed allowing sunlight to penetrate and increasing the fruiting area. This may require quite severe pruning. Olive trees are fairly robust however, and new growth will always spring from just above where the cuts are made. In it’s natural environment a new trunk will often grow from the base of a tree if the top growth dies. Even so, it is best to perform this type of pruning over three years. Once a sound structure has been established, all subsequent pruning will be for maintenance i.e. removing growth that begins to block sunlight from reaching the centre of the tree.