Somewhere on the small island of Crete lies a 2,000-year-old olive tree that survived the Pompeii volcanic eruption in AD79 and the fall of Rome AD64. Can you imagine the resilience required to survive a volcanic eruption!?
Young or recently planted outside olive trees should be watered consistently to ensure the tree gets established. As an outdoor tree matures, a drip irrigation system can encourage root growth. Indoor olive trees are much easier to manage since you can control their temperature and moisture.
Olive trees remind you of sitting in a Mediterranean restaurant. The well-dressed, seemingly ancient-looking, silver-leaved tree provides gorgeous drupes called olives. Their graceful, yet simple look may attract those to get Olive trees in their garden or in a pot inside their homes.
What Are Olive Trees Exactly?
Scientifically known as Olea europaea, Olive trees are also known as shrubs. They are native to the Mediterranean basin, Asia, and Africa.
Olive trees stand short but can sometimes grow up to 25-40 feet. They are super slow-growing trees that can flourish both indoors and outdoors if cared for properly.
They grow small, white, and feathery flowers, small drupes (Olives) that are thin-fleshed. Olives are harvested in their green up to their purple stage. Surprisingly, olives are not native to the Americas.
Imagine! The olives in our drinks and scrumptious food aren’t native to America. According to historical records, the Spanish brought olive trees to the Americas when they cultivated the tree in Peru, Chile, and Argentina.
Ask yourself a few questions.
- Is your Olive Tree planted inside or outside?
- Do you live in an area with limited water availability?
- Is your Olive Tree sapling young?
Their ability to survive in hardy conditions and grow in HOT, DRY summers makes them incredibly resilient in the Mediterranean climate. Unfortunately, the Mediterranean climate didn’t include frigid winter temperatures (below 20 F). The cold weather can damage or sometimes even kill a tree.
6 Most Commonly Found Indoor/Outdoor Olive Trees
Generally, much more tolerant of cold temperatures, these Spanish natives have been grown in California since the 1700s.
They are grown in USDA growing zones 7-10 and require full sun exposure.
These French varieties are great for growing in a pot! Their olives are most common in France and are great for snacking and cooking. The olives have a spicy yet nutty flavor.
They can be found in USDA growing zones 8-10 and ALSO require full sunlight!
These varieties are often encouraged to be grown in containers as you can shape them to the size of the container, they fit in. Just like the Mission variety, these are also tolerant of cold weather.
These can be found in USDA growing zones 8-10 and *ding ding ding* require full sunlight!
If you look closely enough, you will recognize these as what you find in your drinks and hummus. These are the most commonly consumed olives in the United States! This olive tree variety makes a good-looking addition to your landscape (but take note- these are very SLOW-growing).
Unlike the other varieties listed above, this one is not as cold-weather-tolerant. YIKES! Make sure you are careful when exposing this tree to cold weather. This variety loves USDA growing zones 8-10 and expects FULL sunlight!
Norcellara Del Belice
These olive trees produce mild-favored and butter-textured olives that are popular worldwide. The olives grow well in USDA growing zones 8-11 and require full sunlight. This cultivar is also fairly resistant to pests and diseases!
So, you wouldn’t have to worry too much about protecting them from damage. That being said, any tree should be monitored for pests and potential issues. Just because a tree is resistant doesn’t mean they are 100% protected.
Looking for a snack to make? Look no further! This olive tree can produce some good-tasting, firm yet chubby olives. These olives are fairly soft and can be added with cheese, fruit, and pimientos for a yummy snack!
These trees, when mature, look super graceful with their long, sweeping vines. They love growing in USDA growing zones 8-11 and require full sunlight!
How To Water Your Indoor Olive Tree
New olive tree potted plants are very sensitive and should be looked after very carefully.
- Check the soil! Use your finger to check the top layer (approximately 1 inch) of the soil before considering watering more. If the soil is wet to touch, DON’T water the plant. Olive tree plants don’t like wet soil!
- Make sure the soil is well-drained. Olive tree plants prefer growing in rocky, well-drained soils.
To imitate the dry, well-drained ground in the Mediterranean, you can add plenty of compost, some sand, gravel, or rocks at the bottom of the pot, and mix properly before planting the olive tree.
Make sure the rocks or pebbles are placed at the bottom of the pot in a pot with sufficient drainage holes.
- Water the olive tree thoroughly. Too little or too much water can permanently damage olive trees and eventually lead to the end of the tree. If the plant is young or newly potted, olive trees should be watered thoroughly once every 5 days or when you find the topsoil layer (1 inch) dry.
If you are not comfortable sticking your finger in the soil, you can also use a moisture meter. Try XLUX Soil Moisture Meter! It provides reliable and accurate readings of moisture content in soils!
The dial is big enough that reading isn’t a problem, while the instructions are CLEAR! Just stick it in the soil and moisture reading is instantly provided.
- If the soil is wet, then you should avoid watering the olive tree as you can risk the plant rotting.
- While watering your indoor olive tree, if you want to be extra nice to your olive tree, consider taking your plant outside every month and cleaning the bottom of the leaves.
Sometimes pests (such as leaf-footed bugs or stink bugs) can be found on your leaves and feeding on your plant. If you don’t take care of those pesky pests, they can damage your plant. According to the University of Florida, olive trees are generally considered pest and disease-resistant trees, but it’s always good to keep an eye out.
And just so you know, once you get olives, you aren’t supposed to eat the olives directly off an olive tree.
How To Make Your Indoor Olive Tree “Winter Resistant”
If you live in areas with milder winters (temperatures never drop below 20 F), there isn’t much you need to do for your indoor olive tree.
- Try to give your olive tree a lot of SUNLIGHT. Remember, its roots are used to the Mediterranean sun. It loves the sun! Try placing it next to a window in your home with lots of sunlight throughout the day (try South-facing windows.)
- Every time you get tempted to water the plant, check the soil first! Your plant can endure low water, but cannot tolerate too much water. Use your finger or the moisture meter to check the moisture in the soil before you decide to water.
If you live in an area where winters are harsher, here are some tips to maintain your olive tree:
- Try to put your olive tree again in a South-facing window but not too close to your window if your winter includes extreme cold temperatures. Remember that cold and hot temperatures can radiate directly from windows.
- Make sure not to over-water them during winter. Too much moisture in the winter is not good for olive trees!
Do Olive Plants Need A Humid Environment?
Olive plants do not necessarily need a humid environment. Many other indoor plants love a gentle mist of humidifier around it to keep the plant perky and happy.
You will be happy to know that olive plants don’t need that. A good water down occasionally should be good enough.
So, this must make a lot more sense now, right? Olive trees need a lot of sunlight, and they mostly prefer proper sun. Do not make the mistake of trying to stick them in the shade!!
How To Water Your Outdoor Olive Tree
Outdoor olive trees are exposed to many weather elements compared to indoor olive plants. There are a lot of factors that determine how and where you plant the olive tree.
If the olive plant has been growing in a pot indoors, plant it at a similar depth outdoors in the ground. As a young olive tree, it should be watered frequently to ensure it becomes established.
- For the newly planted Olive trees, provide them frequently watering for the first few months. Especially in the dry months.
- If possible, consider installing a drip irrigation system for the newly planted olive tree. If you need help in terms of an irrigation system, consider buying a Flantor Garden Irrigation System.
An irrigation system is also good for when you are traveling and still need a fixed watering schedule. Imagine worrying about watering your plants while you are on vacation!
- You can cut back on the watering once every week after the olive tree is established.
- To ensure that the water is still draining, make sure the soil around your olive tree is draining well.
Signs Your Olive Tree Has Had Too Much Water
So, as we discussed before, olive trees love dry, arid climates like in Mediterranean areas.
Thus, they don’t necessarily require too much water. If you notice any of these below, you may be over-watering your olive tree.
- Weak or rotting stems
- You don’t notice visible new growth
- Lower leaves start to yellow
Signs Your Olive Tree Has Had Too Little Water
Even though Olive plants can live in an arid climate, like every other plant, they need water to survive and flourish. Although they don’t need a constant water source, they will enjoy good watering.
- Stunted growth
- A noticeable gap between soil and the plant pot edge
- Dry or crisp leaves
How To Make Your Outdoor Olive Tree “Winter Resistant”
You will be pleasantly surprised to know that olive trees are capable of surviving cold temperatures. If you live in an area with dry winters, the olive tree will resist the winter weather.
In an area where winters get precipitation, here are a few steps to protect your olive trees:
- Create a slope around the bottom base of your olive tree to ensure that roots don’t get excess water and get damaged.
- A good thing to remember: Olive trees can survive dry times, but they struggle with excess water or moist environments. (i.e. keep the area fairly free of standing water.)
- Consider using mulch or pine straw or moss around the base of the olive tree to protect it from freezing.
- Once the winter months are over (springtime), you can continue irrigation or regular watering.
How To Maintain Your Olive Tree For Long-Term Growth
- If for any reason you feel like consulting the internet hasn’t answered your questions, go see a plant specialist or horticulturist!
- Monitor your olive tree indoors and outdoors soil water content. Your soil shouldn’t be too dry or too wet, otherwise, the plant will be damaged.
- Olive trees need diverse soil and cannot survive in heavy clay soil. Heavy clay soil will hold on to water the most and prevent proper drainage.
Remember how we discussed that proper drainage is crucial for an olive tree to flourish?
When Is The Best Time To Fertilize Your Olive Tree?
If you have recently planted a young olive tree, fertilizing would be beneficial. However, once the olive tree is established, fertilizers will help the tree stay healthy! If you are wondering what proportions, a 16-16-16 (nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium) ratio or something similar would work.
- A good time to fertilize would be the start of spring and up to fall. So, the months between March and September are a good rule of thumb!
- If creating a fertilizing mixture for your olive trees is a bit too much work, you can also consider TreeHelp Premium Fertilizer for Olive. The product is specially formulated for olive tree fertilizing use.
A single 1.5 kg bag can treat a single large tree or 2-3 smaller or newly planted trees. The package comes with additional how-to-use instructions.
Practice Proper Olive Tree Soil Management
Olive trees are fairly tolerant of different soil situations, but they are NOT tolerant of poor draining soil. You could be surprised to learn most of the olive trees don’t survive because of stagnated water around them!
Make sure the soil is drained and placed on a slope of a kind that can automatically drain soils of water. As mentioned, spring and summer are good times to irrigate soils around olive trees.
As young olive trees, they are ok with well-drained soil. But as the tree matures or if you choose to plant it in the soil, you can consider putting a drip irrigation system a little further from the olive tree’s base so you can encourage the roots to grow a bit more.
How Long Will Olive Trees Survive?
These drought-resistant trees can survive for a very long time if you provide them with proper water and care. Although they can survive suboptimal conditions, they can provide better fruits if they are cared for properly.
While the average lifespan of on olive tree is around 500 years give or take, some olive trees can live to be thousands of years old. The oldest living olive tree in the world is somewhere between an impress 4,000 to 5,000 years old, according to The Smithsonian.
Now of course, that’s the VERY rare exception.
Let’s keep in mind that olive trees need draining soil (no standing water), full sunlight, and water to keep the soil moist (not wet) for long term growth.
You will also have to remember that proper and regular irrigation during the spring and summer months helps prevent extra dryness.
It is also important to know the growing times and patterns of your olive tree. You can learn more in our complete timeline on olive growth to learn about when olives actually come on the tree!
That’s A Wrap!
Aside from their ability to produce beautiful fruits known as olives, Olive trees are also aesthetically pleasing to humans. In their young age, they do require some attention, but as they mature into healthy trees, they can do with scheduled maintenance. In fact, too much attention may be harmful to the tree.
If you still feel uncomfortable with taking care of an olive tree (indoors or outdoors), don’t hesitate to reach out to a local horticulturist.
They are experts in taking care of plants! Sometimes a few questions and pictures of your plant will go a long way!
Marc Greven, Sue Neal, Steve Green, Bartolomeo Dichio, Brent Clothier, The effects of drought on the water use, fruit development and oil yield from young olive trees, Agricultural Water Management, Volume 96, Issue 11, 2009, Pages 1525-1531,ISSN 0378-3774.
Osman, S. M., Khamis, M. A., & Thorya, A. M. (2010). Effect of mineral and Bio-NPK soil application on vegetative growth, flowering, fruiting and leaf chemical composition of young olive trees. Res. J. Agric. & Biol. Sci, 6(1), 54-63.
R. Gucci, E. Lodolini & H. F. Rapoport (2007) Productivity of olive trees with different water status and crop load,The Journal of Horticultural Science and Biotechnology, 82:4, 648-656.
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