5 Reasons To Prune Olive Trees In Pots (And How To Do It)

Olive trees in pots against a stone wall crete

If you’ve grown any type of tree or plant, you probably know that pruning is one of the best things you can do for your plant. We’re going to dive into the reasons to prune olive trees in pots and just how to do it, so keep reading!

Pruning helps keep your olive tree healthy. Removing unnecessary branches, improves air circulation, prevents overcrowding of branches, and helps prevent pests and diseases. It also promotes the new growth of flowers and fruits, by directing energy to the remaining branches and foliage.

Keep reading to learn why you should prune your olive trees in pots, and how to do it to make your olive trees grow stronger and healthier!

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Should You Prune Olive Trees In Pots?

Absolutely yes, you should prune your olive trees!

Pruning your olive trees is a great preventative care tool to use. Additionally, it helps your olive tree grow stronger and healthier through the removal of dead, diseased, and damaged branches (the three D’s).

If you are growing an olive tree in a pot, you may have to begin pruning sooner than if it were planted outdoors in the ground.

When you choose to prune your olive tree is crucial for the health and well-being of your olive tree.

Make sure to prune your olive tree during the dormant period, during winter, this helps to ensure that pruning wounds heal before active growth. However, you can also prune your tree in late spring, which avoids the extreme lows of winter temperatures. 

Let’s dive into the reasons to prune olive trees in pots!

If you don’t know where to start with growing an olive tree in a pot, the Arbequina Olive Tree is a great way to get started. 

This cultivar of olive tree, arbequina, is a self-pollinating olive tree, which means that it yields fruit on its own and you don’t need another tree to pollinate it. Additionally, this olive tree is known to produce an abundance of fruit in hot and dry climates, and can even withstand temperatures of 20 degrees Fahrenheit. 

5 Reasons To Prune Olive Trees In Pots

Blooming olive tree in terracotta pot

1. Improves Air Circulation

Improving air circulation in your olive tree, or any plant is so important. By removing damaged, dead, and diseased branches (the three D’s), air can freely move throughout the entirety of the tree to help reduce the potential for mold, affliction, and rot.

Doing so helps remove any excess moisture that can lead to deeper issues on your olive tree.

This also allows light to get to the center of the tree and to areas that may have been blocked by the canopy and other branches.

2. Prevents Overcrowding

Have you ever seen branches growing over one another, or resting on one another? These are called crossing branches, and these are not healthy for your tree! Pruning these branches can drastically improve the health of your tree more than you would think.

If you have branches that are positioned poorly, and on top of one another, you are asking for trouble! Air and sunlight cannot penetrate these overcrowded areas, thus, leading to disease and rot. 

According to the New York Department of Environmental Conservation, pruning back branches that are damaged can help encourage wounds on your tree to heal faster. Additionally, it reduces the likelihood of more damage and encourages the development of a stronger tree.

3. Increases Fruit Production 

Along with improving the health of your tree, this is probably the main reason to prune your fruiting trees. Pruning can increase fruit production and quality.

By removing deadwood and non-thriving branches, the tree can now focus its energy on growing new olives

Olive trees will also thrive with the correct fertilizer.

They do best with a 16-16-16 nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium ratio fertilizer like Jobe’s Organics 09524 Purpose Granular Fertilizer. This fertilizer helps with disease resistance, improves the soil nutrient content, and contains a microorganism that breaks down fertilizer material for quicker results.

4. Maintains Plant Health

Despite what you might think, pruning your tree regularly keeps it healthy! I know it seems like you’re cutting off perfectly good growth and even may seem like you’re damaging the tree, but you’re not! 

Pruning removes the weak and unhealthy branches of your tree, allowing the stronger branches to proliferate.

The interior branches of the tree can now also receive more sunlight, get more air circulation and put their energy into growing. 

Since your olive tree can receive these benefits immediately, it helps your olive tree grow stronger, protecting it from damage and pathogens.

Pruning can also help eliminate competition with other branches.

Removing certain branches can help the dominant or central trunk flourish, rather than having to compete for resources with lateral branches.

You should of course, make sure to properly water your olive tree as well to supplement your pruning efforts!

5. Helps Control Pest Damage

Pruning your olive tree can also help limit the spread of other affected issues and pests. Pruning can also help remove pests or fungus that are already present. 

Certain fungus can be controlled by removing the affected branches, thus, pruning can help keep infections and pests under control!

According to the University of California Integrated Pest Management Program, one example of this is olive knot, which causes girdling branches and dieback. Although difficult to control, treatment for olive knot includes a preventative bactericide as well as pruning during the dry season.

How To Prune Your Olive Tree

So you have your olive trees in pots and you want to prune them, well just how do you do that? Let’s get into how to prune olive trees in pots, it’s not as scary as it seems!

According to the University of Maine, there is a natural tendency for trees to continuously grow shoots and branches, causing the interior parts of the tree and canopy to be shaded.

Basically, when sunlight can’t penetrate the interior parts of your olive tree, this inhibits the tree from flowering and causes branches to become weaker.

Determine The Age Of Your Olive Tree

Young olive trees in pots on a terrace

Before you begin pruning, you’ll want to determine the age of your tree, the season, why you’re pruning in the first place, and what tools you’re going to use.

Your olive tree should be at least three years old before you begin pruning to allow the tree to acclimate without being disturbed.

Here’s a guide we wrote on the full timeline of an olive tree so you can help gauge the age of your tree, if you’re interested.

Prune During The Dormant Season

Next, you’ll want to prune during the dormant season, for the most part, but you can also prune during the spring and early summer once the buds open to determine your olive yield.

If you decide to prune outside of the dormant season, you’ll want to prune lightly. Over pruning, or heavy pruning during this time can severely weaken the tree. So to avoid this, you’ll want to do the majority of your pruning during the dormant season.

You’ll most likely want to shape your olive tree so it doesn’t get out of hand and grow wild since it’s a container olive tree.

Last, if you’re pruning and not shaping, you’ll want to remove dead, diseased, and damaged limbs, this is the best way to prune, and exactly where to start if you’re unsure.

Choose A Pruning Technique

There are multiple different pruning techniques, these include heading cuts, thinning cuts, and vase pruning.

Heading cuts are used to control the height of the tree, and are sometimes known as topping. When using a heading cut, you are removing the terminal shoots. 

By using heading cuts, you can control the thickness and compactness of the growth near the heading cut. This is helpful to shape your container olive tree and maintain its size. 

Thinning cuts are helpful and used to help promote airflow throughout the tree. Thinning cuts also help to increase sun exposure to the inner portions of the tree resulting in greater health and strength of your tree. 

Vase pruning is similar to thinning cuts in that it focuses on removing branches within the center of the canopy. This type of pruning opens up the center of the tree resulting in a larger yield and a more aesthetic shape. This is the most common type of pruning for olive trees.

Choose Pruning Tools

You can use a variety of tools when pruning your olive tree depending on the height and thickness of the branches. This could include hand pruners, loppers or lopping shears, or a pruning saw in consecutive branch size order.

Hand pruners are the perfect choice for branches less than ½ inch in diameter. The FELCO F-2 068780 Classic Manual Hand Pruner is a great option for hand pruning your olive tree.

Felcos are known in the horticulture industry for being an excellent choice for all your pruning needs!

Loppers would be used for anything between ½ inch to 1.5 inches in diameter. The Fiskars 394801-1003 PowerGear2 Bypass Lopper is another fantastic tool if you’re looking to trim hard to reach branches.

Pruning saws can be used for any larger diameter branches. The Fiskars 15 Inch Pruning Saw with Handle is perfect for any bigger branches on your mature potted olive tree. It makes quick and easy cuts and has a lifetime warranty.

You’ll want to first prune any of the three D’s (dead, damaged, or diseased). If it’s a young tree, you don’t want to remove the dominant trunk unless other dense branches are growing from the trunk that seems to be competing with it. 

You’ll also want to remove any branches that are crossing and resting on top of one another. Make sure to also remove low-lying branches as the tree grows. Because you are growing your olive tree in a pot, you’ll want to make sure you shape it as it grows.

That’s A Wrap!

So there you have it!

Pruning olive trees is super beneficial. Let’s recap why it’s so great for the health of your tree. 

Pruning olive trees promotes the new growth of flowers and fruits by directing energy to the remaining branches and foliage. 

Despite what it may seem like, pruning makes your tree healthier and stronger by removing the weaker branches. Pruning olive trees in pots improve air circulation, prevents overcrowding of branches, and helps prevent pests and diseases. 

There are two types of pruning cuts, thinning and heading, both can be used to prune your olive tree. Heading cuts can help control the thickness and height of your olive tree, and thinning cuts can increase sunlight exposure, airflow, and strength of your tree. 

When pruning you’ll want to make sure you remove the three D’s (dead, diseased, and damaged). As well as any branches that are crossing or lying on top of one another.

Thanks for sticking around and learning the reasons why you should prune olive trees in pots and just how to do it. 

We wish you the best of luck on your Tree Journey! Until next time, friends!


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El, S. N., & Karakaya, S. (2009). Olive tree (Olea europaea) leaves: potential beneficial effects on human health. Nutrition reviews, 67(11), 632-638.

Şahin, S., & Bilgin, M. (2018). Olive tree (Olea europaea L.) leaf as a waste by‐product of table olive and olive oil industry: a review. Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, 98(4), 1271-1279.

Sofo, Adriano, Salvatore Manfreda, M. Fiorentino, B. Dichio, and Cristos Xiloyannis. “The olive tree: a paradigm for drought tolerance in Mediterranean climates.” Hydrology and Earth System Sciences 12, no. 1 (2008): 293-301.

Spinelli, R., & Picchi, G. (2010). Industrial harvesting of olive tree pruning residue for energy biomass. Bioresource Technology, 101(2), 730-735.

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