Here is a guide on how to take care of that irresistible little olive tree you bought to diversify your garden (if you weren’t traveling by plane that is).
You may look at those little trees and think that ‘Oliviers’ won’t grow where you live- but with the right care, you’ll be surprised!
The little dwarf olive trees you see in florists and at the market are already about 4-5 years old. Olive trees grow slowly but can live for 1,000 years. A lasting souvenir of Provence indeed!
One of the first things you should do when you bring your little ‘Olivier’ home (after naming it of course) is to re-pot it. The little pots they are sold in are often plastic and retain no water. This means that your tree will require more watering and will most likely be blown over easily by gusts of wind. The pepinieriste that I work for at the Ste Remy Market on Wednesdays says that being in such a small pot is like trying to suck water out of a tiny cup with a tiny straw…or something like that.
Olive trees grow according to the size of pot they’re in. So plan accordingly. If you plant your tree directly in the soil you can have a full-grown tree in around 10 years depending on weather conditions.
If you don’t want to re-pot your olive tree it will need watering every 2 days depending if you’ve put it in the hot Provencal sun or not.
Once re-potted in a sandy, well-draining soil (always in a pot with a drainage hole and stones at the bottom to facilitate draining). The week after you’ve re-potted make sure to water your tree every day to help establish roots. Afterward, you will need to water your little tree 1-2 times per week. In the winter, you can stretch this to once every 2 weeks.
If you live in a cold climate- fear not! Olive trees freeze around -15 degrees Celsius. The real problem with olives is sitting in wet soil. So, you can leave your tree outside but out of the rain. You can also bring it inside but always remember that this plant loves full sun.
Fertilize your plant during the growing season (March-October) and only a little at a time. Be careful with compost and mulches, these are often too heavy and moisture-retaining for olive trees. A normal store-bought nitrogen-based fertilizer will work well. Of course, you can also buy fertilizer especially for olive trees but it isn’t necessary.
The olive tree doesn’t need pruning (as do some other trees) to produce fruit (or, at least it doesn’t need pruning until it’s quite a seasoned tree). Therefore, you only need to prune to retain whatever shape you like. Do this in the autumn. I must say that I like a wild looking tree…
The olive tree is one of the hardiest trees in terms of drought-resistance and pest-resistance. Here in Provence nothing really attacks the trees but there are sometimes problems with a fly that attacks the fruits. In less dry environments check the undersides of leaves regularly just in case there is an outbreak of scale. In which case, spraying lemony soapy water on the undersides of the leaves works well. Also, you can use a Savon de Marseille spray made for plants.
Et voilà! Follow these tips (even loosely) and you’ll have a lovely little olive in your garden that, if happy, will produce olives. Remember that you can’t eat olives right off the tree- they need to be soaked in brine. If you don’t believe me, I dare you to try one…
A little tree won’t give you enough olives to brine yourself, but if you want to give it a try, see my recipe for brining your own olives.