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How to Plant and Grow Olive Trees: Advice From Tuscany

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

Farmers Co-operative.

Farmers Co-operative.

How to Prepare for Planting Olive Trees

Are you planning to plant a few olive trees for garden ornamentation or several hundred for olive oil production? My local farming friends here in Tuscany advised me that the wisest first move would be to have a good look around to see which olive trees are doing best in your area.

Varieties range from green to black, with various preferences for the following:

  • soil
  • climate conditions
  • terrain (lower or steeper hills)
  • sun-facing directions
  • winds

The one or two varieties that are doing well in your area are the ones to go for since they're probably a better choice than any you might make from a textbook of explanations. A visit to your local nursery or farmers co-operative and a conversation about the local trees will confirm their suitability.

2-Year-Old Olive Trees at the Garden Center

2-Year-Old Olive Trees at the Garden Center

What Varieties to Plant

There are three varieties in the groves adorning our undulating Tuscan hills which have been growing proudly for up to three thousand years (since the times of the Etruscans). A typical grove here today will be planted 94% with the following varieties:

  • Leccino
  • Frantoio
  • Moraiolo

The remaining 6% is planted with pollinators:

  • Maulino
  • Pendolino

Other parts of Italy grow other varieties. It is impossible to generalize. Other areas in the world grow yet other varieties. One simple set of criteria that suits all is not easy. One of our local Tuscan nursery gardeners originally comes from La Puglia and, while beaming a superior smile, says, "We grow La Coratina where I come from." A relative of ours in California grows many other varieties in his farm: Arbequina, Arbosana, Lechen de Sevilla, Cornicabra, Picual, Horjiblanca, Empeltre, and Manzanilla.

When to Buy Olive Trees for Olive Oil

Choose to buy from the most reputable local farmers co-operative or nursery. Having sold and planted-up other farms, gardens, and municipal sites, they have the necessary agronomic expertise, a dependable reputation, and the proper machinery. They might very well have the manpower to hire as well.

If you are planning to produce olive oil, they will advise which varieties to buy and how to plant your groves once you discuss the whys and wherefores of:

  • picking olives by hand or harvesting them with machinery,
  • if you will be going biodynamic or organic or not,
  • whether there is local labor for this type of work, and
  • how expensive that labor is.

These are the factors that influence how many you want to plant, how wide apart they should be, and eventually which trees are suited to your plans and budget.

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Read More From Dengarden

Olive Trees in a Secular Grove Planted Six Meters Apart

Olive Trees in a Secular Grove Planted Six Meters Apart

When and Where to Plant

Olive trees should be two years old and be planted as follows:

  • Plant them in autumn or spring, when the chances of extreme hot or cold weather are less likely.
  • Plant them in well-drained, non-congealing soil (clay soil is no good, though a little clay mixed with sand is alright).
  • Plant them on land or hillsides with altitudes of up to around 500 meters (though occasionally they've been known to grow on even higher terrain); the earth will drain and the air will circulate to keep the plant as dry as possible (to prevent fungus).
  • Plant them southwest facing, which is the most suitable.

How to Prepare the Ground

  1. In spring, plow the field with a disc-plow (which overturns the soil 20 centimeters deep) to air it and uproot weeds. Plowing a wet field is not good because the earth will clod and will not break down as it does when it is dry.
  2. Fertilize to encourage spring growth and healthy flowering.
  3. Remove the stones in the field so that when the holes are dug, the ground is ready. The spade won't hit the rocks and time won't be wasted moving them aside.
  4. Keep weeds and plants away so that all the goodness in the earth feeds into the tree.
  5. Lay out the ground/field: Plant in squads 6 x 6 square meters. The size of the root formation through the years is as expansive as the tree's foliage.
The Disc Plow

The Disc Plow

How to Space the Trees When Planting

How wide the foliage will grow affects the spacing between the trees when planting. When the tree has reached its full width, there should be space between it and the next in any direction to facilitate harvesting the olives (mechanically or not) or treating the soil around them via tractor. It's important to distance them far enough from each other so that light and sun can reach all the branches and they can grow healthily.

How to Plant the Trees

In a field or area that is now weed-free:

  1. The roots of the sapling need to be wet, so wet them in their pots before planting.
  2. Dig holes for the young tree 80 centimeters to 1 meter deep by 1.20 meters wide. The holes are dug manually where I live.
  3. Make sure the roots of the tree are not meshed up. If they are, tease them apart with your hands gently.
  4. Cover the planted, wet roots firmly with the earth that's in the field, only. "You don't need to compost or fertilize it," they say in Tuscany. The tree must get used to the earth it's in.
  5. Stake the small trees with chestnut wooden stakes to encourage them to grow straight, also to keep them upright in the winds.
  6. Tie the tree to the stake with a rubber thread so it doesn't cut the tree.
  7. Water if it doesn't rain before the end of the month.

When Will They Start Producing Olives?

The trees will start producing olives in between three to five years after planting, and each year they will produce more and more, progressively. In 50 years, each plant will annually be producing approximately 70 kilos of olives for olive oil.

Newly Planted Olive Tree

Newly Planted Olive Tree

Ornamental Olive Tree Planting

Garden olive trees are decorative since there are no olives. They are massive, historically emotional natural sculptures that look the most dramatic when they are between 80 to 100 years old (that is, when they are between one to two meters high) and at their most magnificent.

The well-drained, weed-free, ideally southwest-facing hole should be 1 to 1.20 meters deep and 2 x 2 meters wide. It will take several people to help and special garden center equipment. Again, the soil will not need to be fertilized since the roots, even at this age, must find their own way.

The value of the plant is between 1,000 and 5,000 euros.

Albiatti Garden Center Team in Tuscany Planting a 100 Year Olive Tree

Albiatti Garden Center Team in Tuscany Planting a 100 Year Olive Tree

3,000 Year-Old Olive Tree in Tuscany

3,000 Year-Old Olive Tree in Tuscany

Further Reading

  • How to Care for Olive Trees
    How to care for olive trees in Tuscany through the seasons. An an annual cycle-chart shows in which months the work gets done.
  • How to Prune Olive Trees
    Franco from Tuscany shows how to prune olive trees for light, air, and healthy growth.

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.

© 2012 Penelope Hart


Penelope Hart (author) from Rome, Italy on October 04, 2012:

Thanks Janis. Olive trees contain history don't they? They are calming to look at and quite incredible when they are 3,000 years old.

Janis Goad on October 04, 2012:

I love the pictures. Olives don't grow where I love, but it is interesting to learn about them.

rbm on October 04, 2012:

What an interesting hub wow. I had no idea olive trees can get that old!

Penelope Hart (author) from Rome, Italy on October 03, 2012:

Joan Calvin. If you have a spare field which has well drained soil, then why not plant your olive orchard? Glad you were inspired and many thanks for your comment so full of verve.

Joan Calvin on October 03, 2012:

Goodlady, this is one of the most interesting hubs I have read. The pictures are so vibrant and inviting. Even though I'm not much of a gardener, it makes me want to start planting an olive vineyard!

Penelope Hart (author) from Rome, Italy on October 03, 2012:

Thanks Just ask Susan! It is the most beautiful amazing tree - and there are several of them here. Amazing and they still produce olives.

Susan Zutautas from Ontario, Canada on October 03, 2012:

I remember reading this hub before but I never did leave a comment. I do love olives and found your really interesting even though I won't be planting any olive trees here. I like the picture of that 3000 year old olive tree.

Penelope Hart (author) from Rome, Italy on May 25, 2012:

tang, i don't know what your soil is like, but there's not much you can do to insist the other pots sprout. (is there enough grit or sand in your soil mixture..there must be much clay, nothing to retain water). You can't alter the soil now anyway can you? you mustn't water too much because this makes leaves yellow. good luck

tang on May 24, 2012:

hi Goodlady,

i need a tip or two on growing olive from seeds. hope you could help me. i live in malaysia.

i planted 15 olive seeds in 3 different pots with 5 seeds in each pot.

one pot has 4 sprouts and the other two pots have none. it has been 2 weeks and still counting, for the other two pots to sprout.

do you have a solution?

one more thing, the young sprouts, three of them have a light to pale green-this worries me. how to green them?

is the colour natural?

what is the colour of new leaves of young sprouts?

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

Not seen it done that way here where I live, but surely it is a question of pruning them when they are 2 years into a shape that takes the back branches away, leaving just side branches. I bet they look lovely in a decorative way.

abrand on May 10, 2012:

Do you have ant tips on espaliering olive trees. I have seen them growing this way against a sunny wall and they look sensational.

Penelope Hart (author) from Rome, Italy on May 09, 2012:

They're nice in pots! The same soil is important. If you want to fertilize it, do that in the spring, after it has been potted, before it flowers.

Thanks for comment.

Sean Hemmer from Wisconsin, USA on May 09, 2012:

Very interesting! Upvote! Unfortunately, I cannot grow an olive tree in my region, but could I grow one in a container? Then I would be able to move it inside during the winter.

You mentioned a very good tip about using the soil dug from the hole to back-fill after the tree is put into the hole. I've witnessed quite a few trees with girdled roots due to settling of soil that wasn't native to the site.

Penelope Hart (author) from Rome, Italy on May 07, 2012:

Glad it works for you, thanks.

Jimmy the jock from Scotland on May 07, 2012:

Thanks Goodlady for sharing this a simple to follow and useful guide.....jimmy

Penelope Hart (author) from Rome, Italy on May 07, 2012:

Glad you liked Hub, thanks.

Brian Schwarz from Washington, DC on May 07, 2012:

How interesting! I wish I had some land to plan olive trees. Great hub, and I love the pictures.

Penelope Hart (author) from Rome, Italy on May 07, 2012:

Thanks for your Judi and so pleased you liked the photos.

Judi Brown from UK on May 07, 2012:

I don't have any plans for planting an olive tree, but found this hub a pleasure to read and look at anyway. Great information and wonderful photos (as usual!)

Voted up etc

Penelope Hart (author) from Rome, Italy on May 07, 2012:



Brainy Bunny,

Turtlewoman thanks for liking the pictures and Hub. I wrote you all separate comments but they all went away! Sorry. So pleased you liked the photos. It's such a photogenic tree. (You could probably Bonsai an olive, or simply buy a 10 year old tree, which wouldn't be so big).

Kim Lam from California on May 06, 2012:

Hi- I didn't know there was such thing as an ornamental olive tree that doesn't produce olives. Your hub is awesome, great photos. Do they come in dwarf size?

Brainy Bunny from Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania on May 06, 2012:

Beautiful photos, and very interesting information! I've always wanted an olive tree, but I have a brown thumb and would surely kill it as soon as I took possession.

Natasha from Hawaii on May 06, 2012:

Wow - awesome stuff. Those pictures are yours? That's so cool! I'm going to go ahead and not try to plant any, though. The original English colonists to Charles Towne (as it was called them) attempted to plant olives for profit. They actually do grow here, unless we have a cold winter. The same is true for many other awesome trees, such as citrus trees, in South Carolina. They will grow alright for a while, and then up and die in a cold winter. I'll just wait until I live somewhere warmer, but awesome hub, just the same.

Bev G from Wales, UK on May 06, 2012:

That is one awesome tree! I'm not planning on planting any olive trees in this corner of cold, wet and windy Wales yet but if I were, then this would be a good place to start.

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