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There's something about an olive tree . . . the promise of our own delicious olive crops, the appeal of "extending an olive branch" during divisive times and the long history of olive trees' association with health and peace. And just the bushy appeal of these little silver leaf trees. Whatever sparks your interest, here's how to care for your olive tree.
Choose a site in full sun. In warm regions, zones 8-10, feel free to plant outdoors. Consider that your mature olive may well grow to 12 feet tall and about 10 feet across, although the tree may be trimmed to about half this size. Select a site with sufficient space.
If you're growing your olive tree indoors, choose a full sun window; your tree needs 8+ hours of sun daily. These trees originated in sunny Spain and love lots of light.
Outdoors, look for a site with soil that drains well. If there are still puddles several hours after a rain, scout out another site. Loosen the soil to a depth of 12-15", turn in a few generous handfuls of compost and mix well. If you are planting your olive in a large pot, use any good commercial potting mix. It's ideal to give your olive some outdoor time in the summer; if this is part of your plan, consider weight as you select a container.
Plant anytime during the growing season. As with most plants, an olive tree planted outdoors will need regular watering for the first several months as it settles in. This is especially true if planted during summer's heat. Indoors, your tree will need a bit less moisture. Strive to keep the soil very lightly moist, not wet. Consistently wet soil encourages root rot.
Loosen the soil to 12-15". Plant the tree so the soil level in the pot is even with soil in the planting hole. In other words, avoid raising or sinking the tree. Remove the plastic growers pot and plant as is, leaving the rootball intact. Don't wash off the original soil before planting.
Olives need 1-2" of water a week from rain, irrigation or a combination of the two, during their active growing period from spring through early fall. While olives are drought tolerant once established, they benefit from regular watering when settling in.
For olives planted outdoors, add a winter mulch the first season to help mitigate temperature swings in the soil. Straw or bark chips work well. These should be kept 4-6" away from the tree trunk to avoid having moisture trapped by the mulch held against the tree.
In most parts of the country, olive trees go through a light dormancy period in winter, where growth slows and a few leaves may be shed. During this period, reduce watering to very little, as the plant needs less when it is resting. With spring warmth and longer days, fresh foliage will develop and your tree will begin to actively grow again.
For potted trees grown indoors, reduce water in winter while growth is minimal. Look for tiny new growth in spring to indicate that your olive is beginning to actively grow again. This is a cue to begin to provide a bit more water. If there's an opportunity for your tree to spend some time outdoors during the warm part of the year - on a deck, patio or in the yard - this tends to be good for the tree's health.
Light: Full sun
Soil: Average soil; enrich with compost
Depth: Plant container level with garden soil
Water: Average moisture
Uses: Delicious olives and olive oil
Tip: Home cured olives rival store-bought, anyday
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