Grow Your Own Olive Tree

Woolworths is currently selling olive trees, which we think is a fabulous idea. We thought maybe it would be an idea to get some advice on what to do with the tree once you get it home as some people might not know. So we contacted De Fynne Nursery which supplies the Mission olive trees to Woolworths in the lovely little terracotta pots. They in turn put us in touch with The Olive Branch Nursery which supplies the olive trees and stocks all things related to olives, olive trees and olive oil.

Woolworths olive tree

Jean of The Olive Branch Nursery recommends the following if you have bought a small olive plant:

To Keep It Small

If you are wanting the plant for decorative purposes or to make a small topiary out of the plant, you can re-pot it using a potting soil mix and place it in a warm sunny position outside. Remember that terracotta pots are porous and dry out quickly, so keep the plant watered, but well drained. Olive plants do not like to have their roots in wet soil, so it is a good idea to let it dry out before watering. Let it grow to the height that you want it, and then clip as for any other topiary plant. The plant will bush out in time – and you can help it along with a feed of Nitrosol or Kelpak every month.

To Grow It Big

If you are planning to grow it on as a tree, then I would still suggest that you keep it in a pot for the next year or so (as above, but without clipping) and once it has reached a height of 1 metre it can be taken out of the pot and planted out in a sunny spot in the garden.

The best time to plant the tree out is either in autumn or spring.

Make a large hole ( the bigger, the better) and half fill the hole with well rotted compost (not manure!) and a handful of bonemeal or superphosphate. It won’t hurt to include a handful of calcitic lime, depending on the pH of your soil as this will help the plant with the uptake of nutrients. Another excellent addition to the planting hole would be to add mycorrhizal fungi (Biocult or Mycoroot) – an organic microbial fertilizer that enhances soil health and plant root function. Plant the tree in the hole, backfill with topsoil and water in well. Place a sturdy wooden stake (+/- 1.2m height) close to the tree without disturbing the roots, and tie the tree securely to the stake. If you plant in spring you will need to water the tree once or twice a week, always letting it dry out between watering.

The tree will benefit from regular foliar feeding and fertiliser, and I would recommend using a handful of Bounce Back pellets around the drip line of the tree every second month, alternating with a foliar feed of Nitrosol or Kelpak every other month.

Long Term

You will not need to prune the tree for the first two or three years, but thereafter you can prune it every second year. Generally speaking, the olive tree needs to be pruned to an “open vase” shape, which means taking out the central stem at a height of +/- 1m and letting the horizontal stems branch outwards to get light and air into the centre of the tree. This way, fruit can develop both on the inside and outside of the tree. Once the tree reaches the height that you want it, you can prune back branches that grow too high. If left unpruned, the olive tree will grow very tall and will be unmanageable when it comes to picking the fruit.

Characteristically, the olive tends to bear heavy and light crops in alternate years.

The trees start flowering in October, setting fruit in November, with harvest from April – July. The tree should start bearing fruit in about the 3 – 4th year, reaching peak production by year 7, when one could expect about 25kgs per tree.

There are many different cultivars of olive, but generally they can be split into three groups: oil, table and dual purpose cultivars. The most frequently planted dual purpose olive in South Africa is the Mission cultivar, and the olives can be used to make table olives or to make olive oil. All cultivars have a different oil content, therefore making some more suitable to making olive oil and others more suitable as table olives.

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