Growing Olive Trees in Containers

Updated on April 6, 2016

Humans have been enjoying the company of Olive Trees for thousands of years! Originating in the Mediterranean area, the olive tree quickly became an integral part of old world cultivation. As time passed, and the Americas were explored, the olive tree's grasp only grew larger. As they traveled overseas with the Spaniards in the 16th century, the olive tree was destined to be grown all up and down the coastlines of the new world. Although this sounds like the end of the story, it couldn't be further from the truth. Olive tree cultivation is still expanding, except this time it's doing so one container at a time. Entering into container gardens, Olive trees continue to offer the lure and excitement that so many generations before have already discovered. By growing olive trees in containers, you'll take your turn in uncovering this evergreen gem!

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Basic Olive Tree Care -

If you're new to the world of keeping trees in containers, the olive tree is a great one to start with! Due to it's hardiness in nature, the olive tree can easily adapt to life in flower pots. Here's the basic necessities for growing them:

Olive tree in a container. This particular tree is three years old. 2014
Olive tree in a container. This particular tree is three years old. 2014

Olive Tree Cultivars -

Variety
Reproduction
Fruits
Arbequina
Self Fertile
Small, but very fleshy.
Frantoio
May need another olive tree for proper fertilization.
Large olives.
Mission
Self Fertile
Large olives.
Picual
Self Fertile
Large olives.
  • Full Sunlight - Find the sunniest area on your patio or porch to grow your container olive tree. These trees thrive in full sunlight (6+ hours daily), and can tolerate even the hottest, most direct, sunlight your area has to offer. Most garden plants tend to suffer in extreme heat, but not the olive tree.
  • Well Draining Soil - When it comes to olive trees, soil fertility takes a backseat to drainage. These trees are well acclimated to growing in rocky soils with less than perfect nutrition. To simulate this in the container garden, start with an average organic potting soil and then amend with additional perlite, or even better, a cup or two of small lava rocks. This spreads out the nutrition and increases the drainage capabilities.
  • Clay or Wood Container - Choosing a clay or wooden container to house your tree all goes back to the matter of soil drainage. One thing that I've consistently found to be true in the garden is that plastic containers always retain a greater amount of moisture. Seeing that you want the roots to stay well aerated, plastic is probably not the best option. Containers made from "breathable" materials such as clay and wood are much better choices.

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How to Plant & Grow Your Olive Tree -

When purchasing and planting your olive tree, there are a few things that you'll need to pay attention to. Below you'll find important information on how to properly care for your olive tree.

This is the same olive tree as above, only before replanting and pruning.
This is the same olive tree as above, only before replanting and pruning.

Don't Water Too Much. . .

Beginner gardeners are notorious for over watering. While some garden plants will tolerate the extra water, the olive tree will not! Consistently soggy soil will kill olive trees. Always make sure that the soil has become dry in between waterings.

Olive tree leaves.
Olive tree leaves.
  • Obtaining Your Tree - It's important to select the greenest and most healthy looking olive tree that you can possibly find. The foliage should be a healthy dark green without any excessive browning or dying leaves. Be sure to also check for scale. These pests are common in coastal areas and can easily be seen with the naked eye. Typically they are black in color and will cluster on young branches. While they can easily be deterred with an organic soap spray, it's better just to skip the trouble and buy a healthy plant to start with.
  • Planting In a Container - After the threat of frost has passed, prepare your container and soil mix. Remove the olive tree from the container you purchased it in and gently shake off the soil from the roots. Once the previous soil has been removed, gently trim off any dead or dying roots. Plant into the new container, gently pack down the soil, and then water in well.
  • Watering - The frequency of water needed will depend on the size and type of container you chose to plant in. In general, water your olive tree deeply once the top 2-3 inches of soil has been allowed to dry. Since the trees are drought tolerant, they will not mind the soil drying. When watering, never leave the planter sitting in standing water. This is one sure fire way to saturate the soil and kill your tree. Always allow excess water to drain freely from the planter.

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Yearly Care -

Once established in its container, your olive tree won't need much care other than a few measures on a yearly basis. By completing the following yearly care, you'll help to ensure that your olive tree stays healthy for a long time to come!

Still the same olive tree, just a picture from the season before! 2013
Still the same olive tree, just a picture from the season before! 2013

When will I get olives?

Depending on the initial age of your olive tree cutting, it may take a couple seasons of growing before your tree produces any olives. Most store bought olive trees are around two years of age, so you may have to wait three years for the first olives to appear. Olive trees grown from seed may take 4-6 years (sometimes even longer) before they start producing olives.

Do you have an olive tree?

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  • Bring Indoors - If you live in an agricultural zone lower on the scale than zone 7A, you'll need to bring your patio olive tree indoors for the winter months. The timing of this event is a sensitive matter for your tree. To achieve a winter dormancy state, olive trees need to be exposed to a couple weeks of nighttime temperatures that drop down to a little below freezing. After two weeks of cooler temperatures (or if the temperatures drop below 22°F), bring the olive tree indoors. Place in a bright windowsill or under artificial lighting. Make sure that your tree is placed away from any cool drafts or heaters.
  • Springtime Reconditioning - A month or two before you are ready to move your olive tree back outdoors, you should prepare the container for the season ahead. For small trees, you may want to re-pot them into a slightly larger container with a fresh soil mix. Larger more established olive trees do not need to be re-potted on a yearly basis, but will benefit from a small layer of compost spread around the base of the tree.
  • Pruning - Skip out on pruning your olive tree during the first year. After that, prune the olive tree during the spring season. Cut the tips off of growing branches to keep the foliage from becoming too straggly. Trim back to whatever length you'll think will look nice in your container. For fruiting olive varieties, prune the plant so that it has 3-5 main branches. This will keep them productive when olives begin to set.

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With a little care, and a whole lot of sunlight, you'll be able to keep your olive tree alive and productive for many years. As olive trees are known to live for hundreds, and sometimes even thousands of years, your patio tree could end up being a lifelong friend. Now, that's pretty awesome if you ask me! Thanks for reading this guide on growing olive trees in containers. Best of luck with your container olive tree, and as always, please feel free to leave any comments or questions you might have.


Questions & Answers

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      • profile image

        Trev 

        3 months ago

        Ok. So here’s the truth about growing olive trees in containers. In my experience, olive trees grown in containers are quite thirsty especially during the growing season. Although tough and drought resistant when planted in the ground, this is not the case with container grown trees. As long as growing soil is well drained soil water to your hearts content during hot weather.

      • profile image

        mike raffard 

        9 months ago

        i live in manitoba and have a 2 yr old olive tree i planted from seed . its 2 ft tall and was on my south windowsill for first yr. my window is a slider and south winds leak thru when minus 20 c. does not seem to bother it one bit. very hardy. gained some info from this website.

      • profile image

        Victoria Blocker 

        13 months ago

        We live in Valrico, near Tampa, Florida. I have thirty-one Alberquina Spanish olive trees. This is the kind they sale here in the nurseries. Four trees are big, and the rest were planted later so they are smaller. They are so healthy looking ! I love gardening and these olive trees are my pride and joy :) Dr. Wayne S. and Victoria Blocker. P.S. My olive trees survived Irma hurricane !

      • profile image

        Helen Wright 

        18 months ago

        I have a tree and it's leaves are curling up although the soul is wet?

        I have just put it outside in the full sun but it seems the sun is causing it.

        Any help?

      • profile image

        Mike 

        18 months ago

        Is it ok to bring my potted olive tree outdoors during the winter if it's a sunny day and the temperatures are say 45°+ Thanks. Also, can I start my olive tree in a pot and down the road plant my tree in the ground, when it's more established?

      • profile image

        Kayla 

        22 months ago

        I love this website

      • profile image

        Nancy 

        23 months ago

        I just tried to move my container grown olive tree into a protected area for winter. The roots had grown through the drain hole into the soil. There are now exposed roots outside the pot. What should I do to protect them? Did I damage the tree when I moved it and pulled up the roots?

      • profile image

        Mahmood 

        2 years ago

        Hi - what's the typical growth rate for the olive trees? Mine is about 7" tall right now and healthy. It is a fruitless tree in an outdoor container (Souther California weather), and I'm wondering how quickly it will grow. Thanks.

      • RTalloni profile image

        RTalloni 

        4 years ago from the short journey

        Interesting to learn about growing olive trees. Thanks for posting this info.

      • teaches12345 profile image

        Dianna Mendez 

        4 years ago

        I love olives but I don't think I would tackle this interesting project. Still, I know this will be very useful to someone who loves the challenge.

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