Planting an Olive Tree

If you are not accustomed to the Mediterranean tradition, you would be surprised that people always plant an olive tree for every new birth in the family. The idea is to have the child and the tree grow up together and represent the family history. The oldest, living fruit-bearing olive tree is more than 2000 years old. It is located in a small village in Crete, Greece.

Olive trees also became a long-standing symbol of peace, vitality, and victory. They usually are attributed to the Greek goddess of Wisdom, Athena.  However, this plant is more than just a family heirloom.

Who would ever forget the mix of the sweet, salty, and bitter taste of a purple olive fruit? Not to mention, the all-around olive oil that most kitchens have?

Olive Tree Facts

Ancient olive tree grove

Olive trees are ancient Mediterranean plants first recorded in Syria, Iran, and the southern part of the Caspian Sea. Ancient Greeks used to farm Olive trees before spreading it in Southern Africa, Northern Europe, and Eastern Asia. Back then, Ancient Greece protected olive trees with their law. Anyone caught digging up too many of them will be fined – even if it is in their backyard.

Olive trees are small shrubs that can grow up to 10 to 40 feet tall. Its fruit is mostly used for cooking, although it does not taste good if consumed directly from the tree. Some people soak the fruit in water to make it less bitter. Meanwhile, its wood is frequently used to make furniture because of its durability and less susceptibility to decay.

Scientists also discovered medical uses in olive leaves. When the leaves are used for tea, they can reduce anxiety and help with sleep problems. When it is turned into oil, it became a popular natural alternative for commercial products. It is commonly used to alleviate threats of heart disease such as high cholesterol and high blood pressure.

Growing an Olive Tree

Olive trees prefer warmer climates with dry summers and mild winters. They have no problem enduring the driest seasons. The tree has long and deep roots that can reach the Earth where the soil is still damp. However, they might not survive in regions with extreme wintertime.

If temperatures drop below -10 degrees celsius without any protection from the cold, the tree suffers and eventually dies.

Not everyone can grow olive trees for their fruit or oil. If you live in a place with a frequent cold climate, fret not! You can still enjoy Olive trees in containers and indoors (for a short time only). Choose the dwarf variety if you want an olive as a houseplant. Dwarf olives can grow up to six feet tall.  Some gardeners prune them to keep them shorter or make them bonsai.

Olive tree white flowers starting to bloom

To start planting, use a large container with a lot of drainage holes. Fill it with a potting mix that drains quickly. You can also use the sandy mix from your cactus soil if you want to. Olive trees love soil that is rich in limestone.

Secure a spot where it gets at least six hours of direct sunlight a day. Avoid placing the plant near the windows as it will get burned quickly. Water the plants sparingly. Olive trees grow slowly, so avoid overwatering.

During fall and winter, feed the tree once a month with a balanced fertilizer. During spring, start feeding twice a month. Olive trees require a drop in the daytime and nighttime temperatures to stimulate flowering. They also need two months of temperatures around 10 degrees celsius. Increased outdoor exposure will allow the plant to have more flowers that will turn into fruit. To boost productivity, plant more trees surrounding it for cross-pollination.

Things to Remember:

Wait until the frost has ended before returning your plant outside. Help it re-acclimate by keeping it in a sheltered place a few days before directly exposing it to the sun. The same applies when the winter season is coming. From the sunny place, move the plant back to a partially shaded spot to adjust to lower light levels indoors.

Check if the plant’s roots become overcrowded. Move it up to one pot size up and top with two to three inches of fresh potting mix. Prune the growing tips if necessary. Cut out some branches to keep the tree open in the center, allowing plenty of light and air to enter.

Olive plants are susceptible to scale. Use pest control techniques to get rid of those. If you prefer a chemical-free one, we suggest encouraging the presence of ladybugs, lacewings, earthworms, and praying mantis. They are the natural predators of the sap-sucking scales. These beneficial insects are attracted to flat-topped flowers like calendula, sweet alyssum, and marigold. Try planting some of these next to your olive tree.