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How to Plant Olive Trees

Updated on January 11, 2017
Farmers Co-operative.
Farmers Co-operative. | Source

How to Prepare for Planting Olive Trees

Whether you are planning to plant a few for garden ornamentation, or several hundred for olive oil production, I was advised by my local farming friends here in Tuscany 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 of...

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

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

2-Year-Old Olive Trees at the Garden Center
2-Year-Old Olive Trees at the Garden Center | Source

What Type of Olive Trees to Plant

How wide the foliage will grow affects 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.

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 suits all, everyone agrees, 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

Chose 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 bio dynamic or organic or not,
  • whether there is local labor for this type of work,
  • and how expensive that labor is.

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

Olive Trees in a Secular Grove Planted Six Meters Apart
Olive Trees in a Secular Grove Planted Six Meters Apart | Source

Ground Preparation

Olive trees should be two years old and be planted in:

  • autumn or spring, when the chances of extreme hot or cold weather are less likely
  • in well drained, non-congealing soil (a clay soil is no good, though a little clay mixed with sand is alright)
  • 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)
  • south-west facing is most suitable.

Ground Preparation:

  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 a 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. Laying 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 | Source

Planting

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

  • The roots of the sapling need to be wet, so wet them in their pots before planting.
  • 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.
  • Make sure the roots of the tree are not meshed up. If they are, tease them apart with your hands gently.
  • 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.
  • Stake the small trees with chestnut wooden stakes to encourage them to grow straight, also to keep them upright in the winds.
  • Tie the tree to the stake with a rubber thread so it doesn't cut the tree.
  • Water if it doesn't rain before the end of the month.

The trees will start producing olives in between 3 to 5 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 | Source

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 meter 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 euro 1,000 and euro 5,000.

Albiatti Garden Center Team in Tuscany Planting a 100 Year Olive Tree
Albiatti Garden Center Team in Tuscany Planting a 100 Year Olive Tree | Source
3,000 Year-Old Olive Tree in Tuscany
3,000 Year-Old Olive Tree in Tuscany | Source

© 2012 Penelope Hart

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    • theraggededge profile image

      Bev 4 years ago from Wales

      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.

    • Natashalh profile image

      Natasha 4 years ago from Hawaii

      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.

    • Brainy Bunny profile image

      Brainy Bunny 4 years ago from Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania

      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.

    • Turtlewoman profile image

      Kim Lam 4 years ago from California

      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?

    • GoodLady profile image
      Author

      Penelope Hart 4 years ago from Rome, Italy

      theragededge,

      Nashashalh,

      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).

    • Judi Bee profile image

      Judith Hancock 4 years ago from UK

      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

    • GoodLady profile image
      Author

      Penelope Hart 4 years ago from Rome, Italy

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

    • brianschwarz profile image

      Brian Schwarz 4 years ago from Washington, DC

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

    • GoodLady profile image
      Author

      Penelope Hart 4 years ago from Rome, Italy

      Glad you liked Hub, thanks.

    • jimmythejock profile image

      James Paterson 4 years ago from Scotland

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

    • GoodLady profile image
      Author

      Penelope Hart 4 years ago from Rome, Italy

      Glad it works for you, thanks.

    • seh1101 profile image

      Sean Hemmer 4 years ago from Wisconsin, USA

      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.

    • GoodLady profile image
      Author

      Penelope Hart 4 years ago from Rome, Italy

      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.

    • profile image

      abrand 4 years ago

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

    • GoodLady profile image
      Author

      Penelope Hart 4 years ago from Rome, Italy

      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.

    • profile image

      tang 4 years ago

      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?

    • GoodLady profile image
      Author

      Penelope Hart 4 years ago from Rome, Italy

      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

    • Just Ask Susan profile image

      Susan Zutautas 4 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      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.

    • GoodLady profile image
      Author

      Penelope Hart 4 years ago from Rome, Italy

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

    • Joan Calvin profile image

      Joan Calvin 4 years ago

      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!

    • GoodLady profile image
      Author

      Penelope Hart 4 years ago from Rome, Italy

      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.

    • rbm profile image

      rbm 4 years ago

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

    • Janis Goad profile image

      Janis Goad 4 years ago

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

    • GoodLady profile image
      Author

      Penelope Hart 4 years ago from Rome, Italy

      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.

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