How to look after an olive tree

How to look after an olive tree

 · 5 min read
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Did you know that olive trees are becoming increasingly popular in UK gardens? You may think that they belong to summer climes and Mediterranean vistas. Yet, we can successfully grow them right here in our more northern corner of the world, and they are easy to come by in most local garden centres.

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Did you know that olive trees are becoming increasingly popular in UK gardens? You may think that they belong to summer climes and Mediterranean vistas. Yet, we can successfully grow them right here in our more northern corner of the world, and they are easy to come by in most local garden centres.

What’s especially great about olive trees, is the way they bring a sunny feel to any garden. Not only that, but they’re also relatively easy to look after as long as you follow the main tips. So, if you’re a gardener with budding skills, or you just prefer a lower-maintenance approach, these plants could be the perfect addition to your leafy borders.

How often do you water olive trees?

To give your olive tree the best chance of thriving, you’ll need to keep it well-watered. Regularly watering your olive tree is the key, so don’t be misled by the idea that it belongs to hotter, drier countries.  At the same time, avoid keeping your olive in standing water or saturated soil that doesn’t drain easily. This will do more harm than good.

A good test is to feel the top layer of soil. If the top inch or so is dry, give it a good watering. Potted olives may need more frequent watering than those planted in the garden, as they have less access to water from the ground. In the UK you’d usually keep your olive in a pot too, so keep those watering tips in mind.

Ultimately, A sunny spot, with good drainage, and regular watering is the simple and manageable tip to keep your olive tree looking in top condition.

Will Williams, Creative Director, Soto Gardens, told Age Times: "Olive trees are low maintenance – they require only a little water, tolerate most soil types and are slow growing, but they do need more light than a lot of other trees. Pruning to your desired shape allows light to the whole tree, which encourages fruit production, with the added benefit of making the Olive tree appear neater."

How do you wrap an olive tree for the winter?

Olive trees are surprisingly hardy and can withstand frosty conditions with the right precautions. In the wintertime, move your less established olive trees to a sheltered spot to prevent any untold damage. This may be a less exposed part of your garden, a greenhouse, or a sunny porch.

If your olive tree is well established, it will still need some protection in the colder months. Wrapping it with horticultural fleece or some hessian will help it to survive. This acts as a buffer against cold winds and increases the temperature inside the fleece just high enough to keep it safe.

Measure the diameter of your plant to work out the right amount of fleece. Then wrap it top to bottom. Just make sure that the stem is also completely covered. Then take care to secure it as necessary to keep it in place even if a storm is raging!

If you’re unable to move your olive tree indoors, you may also want to wrap the pot. If the roots freeze, it may damage your plant irreparably, as they won’t be able to take on any new water. The other thing to remember in the winter is to reduce or cut out your watering completely. You still need to keep the soil moist but take care not to waterlog it or dry out completely.

Why are the leaves on my olive tree falling off?

There are a few reasons why your olive tree is dropping leaves, and it’s not always bad news. Olives naturally shed older leaves in the spring to allow for new growth, so if there are no other obvious factors, such as dried out soil, and it’s that time of year, don’t be too worried.

On the negative side, when an olive tree loses leaves, it could be a sign that all is not well. Remember that olives are evergreen, so although they may shed a bit seasonally as new leaves come through, they shouldn’t be dropping leaves throughout the year at an alarming rate.

The most common issue, in this case, is a lack of water and testing the soil for moisture will quickly tell you if that’s the problem. As mentioned, even though you find them in hotter places, they are not drought plants. They like moist soil conditions. The good news is that if you have allowed the soil to dry out, you can usually rectify it if you catch it soon enough. The leaves will then regrow, and it will be able to flower again.

How do you prune an olive tree?

This is one of the big reasons why olives are fantastic in low-maintenance gardens. They are slow-growing plants, so you don’t need to prune your olive tree regularly.

Your olive will more or less take care of itself, aside from the odd trim and keeping its water levels topped up sufficiently. If it’s a young plant, you may want to pinch it out as needed to give it shape, but make sure to do any pruning in the summer months, before August.

Pinching your olive is a simple process.  When the plant is big enough, which is at around 5ft, or 2-3 years old, select three or four of the best-placed shoots, then pinch out the rest. You should also remove dead or diseased branches in the springtime to encourage new growth and keep your olive tree looking bushy and healthy.

Don’t get too hung up on the specifics of pruning your tree aside from the obvious tips for keeping it healthy though. Prune your olive tree as much or as little as you fancy! Just as long as you pay attention to the growth and health of your plant overall.

Clio Paterson
Clio Paterson
Clio joined Age Group in 2020. She is lifestyle content writer and a mum of two. Based in Manchester and specialising in travel, beauty and fashion, Clio has had her work featured by some of the best publications most exciting brands across the U.K. and Europe.