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How to Care for Olive Trees Through the Seasons

Penelope lived in Tuscany among the olive groves and farms for years, learning from local people about their culture, land, and food.

Olive trees in Tuscany.

Olive trees in Tuscany.

Year-Round Olive Tree Care

Have you ever been interested in taking care of your own olive trees? Learn what work is done throughout the year in the olive groves in Tuscany so that healthy trees are grown to produce good olives. It covers the annual cycle of olive trees and what needs to be done for their care.

For example, at different times of the year, the local farmers need to:

  • medicate against the pests that could harm the trees,
  • prune and shape the olive trees,
  • nourish the ground around the trees and cut the grass, and
  • harvest the olives and press them into olive oil (or for curing in jars).

The cycle of work that goes on in the groves is the same each year, naturally. The olive trees rest, recharge, produce flowers, and produce fruit. The farmers accompany their development and growth accordingly.

Diagram of the Olive Tree Cycle in Tuscany

Here is a simple design to show what the olive tree cycle is, illustrating in which months the farmers perform which tasks and how they take care of their olive trees.

This diagram shows when farmers prune, fertilize, medicate, and harvest their olive trees, among other tasks.

This diagram shows when farmers prune, fertilize, medicate, and harvest their olive trees, among other tasks.

When to Prune Olive Trees

During February, when the icy cold winds have stopped blowing and fear of frost is over, pruning begins in the groves and can go on until the first of May when the olive tree begins to flower. Winters can be quite harsh in Tuscany, and I notice pruning doesn't really get underway until closer to March.

How and Why to Prune

The farmers lean their ladders against the trees and with a handsaw remove the upward-going shoots on the inside of the branches (in all trees aged between 5 to 2,000 years) from the base of the trunk all the way to the top branches. They want to bring as much air and the light into the tree as possible. This encourages a healthy production of olives and helps to remove the threat of fungus growing.

Note: If a fungus (La Fumagine) has sickened branches or if the cold winds have killed them, they chainsaw the branch off down at the joint.

Pruning occurs in February in Tuscany.

Pruning occurs in February in Tuscany.

When to Fertilize Olive Trees

In Tuscany, fertilizing is also done in the February–May period. Here are the steps to proper fertilization.

1. Prepare the Earth

The farmers turn the earth with a tractor-drawn piece of equipment called a Disc Plow, which cuts into the earth 21 centimeters deep, turning it over, getting rid of weeds. The nutrients in the soil are for the trees only.

All the stones are removed from the field, where new trees are going to be planted.

2. Plant and Water New Olive Trees

The 2-year-old trees will be planted one by one, by hand (and shovel) and will need to be watered for a month or two.

If there are water reserves in the vicinity, then irrigation systems are being set up these days, which lightly drip water into the ground around the olive tree, which in turn provides healthy trees and good large olives.

3. Fertilize the Olive Groves (Just a Little)

The farmers lightly fertilize the soil shortly after turning it with a compost containing nitrogen. Super-fertilization isn't for olive trees. Being semi-wild and not big feeders, they grow better in their terrain just the way it is. Over-fertilizing would damage them.

Cutting grass

Cutting grass

When to Cut the Grass

The grass and weeds have grown tall in the groves by May and need to be cut so that the nutrients that were feeding them now feed the olive trees.

When to Medicate With Pesticides

The trees are medicated against different pests at different times of the year.

La Tignola (Moth)

In May, the trees are sprayed with a phosphoric spray, which efficiently kills the small moth called 'La Tignola' (Prays oleae), which can seriously damage the wood of the tree, the leaves, and the flower.

Cutting grass

Cutting grass

La Mosca (Parasite)

In the morning and late in the afternoon, when it is less hot, in August, September, and even October the olives on the trees are sprayed with a pesticide against a parasite called 'La Mosca' ('Dacus oleae'). This parasite seriously compromises the olive production. They will spray until they are sure it has gone.

When to Pick Olives

In November, the olives are harvested by everyone in the neighborhood. They throw their nets on the ground under the ripened olive trees, set their ladders against the tree and pick all day! Someone brings a truck, which they fill and fill again. The truck takes the olives to be pressed for olive oil, locally. It's a great time of pulling together, being one, enjoying the world we live in, the trees, the sky, the day, each other, our olives, our trees.

Harvesting Is an All-Day Event

The weather is often sunny, though there's a morning nip in the air, the forewarning of the end of the mild days. Aware they won't have time to make a meal at the end of the days picking, the women light a fire in the kitchen (with a log of 'green' olive wood) before leaving the house in the morning. At evening home-coming the charcoal will be hot enough to grill some freshly made sausages.

They'll have a glass of the year's new wine, which is ready on November 8th, each year.

Every year, it is the same.

"To everything there is a Season, and a time for every purpose under heaven" - Ecclesiastes 3:1

Olive Harvest

Olive Harvest

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

Question: What causes spots on the leaves of olive trees?

Answer: I’d suggest you take a leaf to your local garden center for professional advice. Once there, they can advise about what to do about the spots. It could be a fungus, but of course, I’m not in a position to say.

© 2012 Penelope Hart


Toni mooney on October 16, 2018:

I planted an avocado seed 10+ years ago and was giving up on fruit after reading all the negative info about bearing fruit. Then i was sitting in my car and oh my god i saw one on my tree. Giant fla. Avocados rich and the best ive ever tasted.

Sophie on May 14, 2012:

Very interesting... This sound like a great community thing, taking care of olive trees and harvesting them. It is always wonderful to read and learn new things. Have a lovely day.

Sean Hemmer from Wisconsin, USA on May 14, 2012:

Very informative! Upvote! Its great to hear the community chips in during harvest time. Sharing the fruits of labor is one of the best things about a harvest. I look forward to your other hubs about olives!

Susan Keeping from Kitchener, Ontario on May 13, 2012:

Very good hub. I would love to live in a climate where I could grow olive trees :)

Susan Zutautas from Ontario, Canada on May 13, 2012:

I'm learning so much about olive trees in your hubs. Another very educational one.

Bev G from Wales, UK on May 13, 2012:

Fabby photos as usual. I am learning more and more about olive trees!

Penelope Hart (author) from Rome, Italy on May 12, 2012:

Olive oil is essential isn't it So pleased you liked my Hub, thanks.

Linda Crampton from British Columbia, Canada on May 12, 2012:

I enjoyed learning about caring for olive trees by reading your hub, GoodLady! Olive oil is one of my favorite oils, and it's interesting to learn about the tree that produces it.

Angela Michelle Schultz from United States on May 10, 2012:

Gorgeous photos! Great information. Voted up!

Brainy Bunny from Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania on May 10, 2012:

Beautiful photos, as always! And I'm really enjoying learning about olive trees -- who knew?

Jimmy the jock from Scotland on May 10, 2012:

I learned how to plant olive trees in your last Hub and now I know how to care for them when I do, thanks for sharing.....jimmy

Sid Kemp from Boca Raton, Florida (near Miami and Palm Beach) on May 10, 2012:

Lovely, thank you for sharing your way of life. Voted up and beautiful.

Penelope Hart (author) from Rome, Italy on May 10, 2012:

Thank you poppit!