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How To Care For An Olive Tree

If you’re looking for something hardy, beautiful, and evocative of warmer climes, you can’t go far wrong with an olive tree. These popular Mediterranean plants do surprisingly well in the UK, and look fantastic on a patio, around a doorway, or even as a central point in your garden. 

Available in a range of shapes and sizes, there are several varieties of olive tree, but the most commonly grown in the UK is the standard genus Olea europaea, or European Olive. These have the instantly recognisable long silvery-grey leaves and will produce mid-size olives that will start green and eventually ripen to a delicious black. 

In this article, we’ll explain how to care for olive trees, including where to place them so that they flourish into fruit-bearing trees. 

Do olive trees do well in the UK?

Whilst most of us grow olive trees for their handsome shapes and stunning foliage, it is still possible to grow olives themselves. To grow and ripen the fruits, you’ll need to place the tree in a sunny, south facing and sheltered spot, where it can soak up direct sunlight for most of the year. 

To ensure flowers, you’ll need a grafted tree that’s watered regularly throughout the summer months, to help those young white flowers set into fruits.

Where should I put my olive tree? 

Unless you live in a very cold or exposed area of the UK, olive trees will usually be happiest outside, where they can enjoy the sunshine.

Can I leave my olive tree in a pot? 

There’s no denying that olive trees look great in large pots on a patio. However, if this is the route you go down with your olive tree, remember that their roots grow reasonably quickly, so they’ll need repottingat least every couple of years, with frequent watering and occasional feeding too.

Can I put my olive tree indoors?

Olive trees will withstand up to -5C comfortably, but if we do have a particularly cold winter, or if you live further north with an exposed garden, you can always bring them into a cool room for the harshest months. A bright cool sunroom or conservatory is ideal, but they will also do fine near a patio door, providing that they’re not too near a radiator or underfloor heating.

Can I plant my olive tree in the ground?

Larger olive trees can really thrive when planted directly into the garden, where their roots can grow comfortably. However, this does come with a caveat; you must make sure that they have free draining soil. 

Olives are used to the stony hillsides of the Mediterranean, so it figures that heavy or waterlogged soil isn’t good news for your tree. In fact, a particularly wet winter is a recipe for killing your roots. If you’re concerned that your soil might not be the most appealing home for your olive tree, you can always add extra stones and pebbles to aid drainage, or plant them into raised beds so that the excess water can drain away. 

How often should I water my olive tree?

This will vary a lot and depends on several things, including the size of your olive tree and its pot, whether your olive tree is indoors or outdoors and what the weather is doing that week. When your olive tree is young and in a small pot, water it regularly particularly in the growing season.  This might be as often as daily, in the warmth of summer, reducing to once or twice weekly in the winter indoors or on a patio if the weather is sunny and dry.

In the UK we do get a lot of rain, so don’t be tempted to water if the top of the soil is already wet. We see more trees killed by over watering than underwatering so always make sure trees outside are positioned so that the excess water can drain away in a heavy downpour and that you always choose pots with drainage holes when repotting. 

Pot feet are your friend on a patio, or you can place your tree on a gravel bed to ensure the roots never sit in stagnant water.

In midsummer a mist or splash of water daily in the morning or evening will also help to encourage more of the flowers to set into young fruits. Also bear in mind that although grafted trees are self-fertile, having more than one olive tree in close proximity will help with cross pollination, and encourage a larger harvest.

Can I pick olives from my olive tree?

It’s very satisfying to find that your olive tree is producing fruits - but when should you pick them? Olives won’t taste nice at all if you try and eat them straight from the tree, so practice patience with your crop. Pick your olives when they’re green, and just starting to soften, or when they have started to turn black, then soak them in brine (very salty water) for 2 weeks to soften the fruits. This gives them their characteristic taste. 

Traditionally, olives were soaked in seawater, but the quality of UK sea water can’t be relied upon, so we would instead recommend using a tablespoon of sea salt per litre of water at home. 

Why is my olive tree losing leaves?

If you suddenly notice that your olive tree is shedding leaves, it’s likely that it’s thirsty; it’s surprising how much water they need in the summer, particularly within pots. Give it a good drink until the water runs right out of the bottom of the pot, and then be patient while it grows back some new leaves.

Why are my olive tree’s leaves turning yellow?

If the leaves are turning yellow and dropping slowly over several months, particularly if it’s happening in the winter, then it’s likely the roots are waterlogged. If your plant is in a pot on a patio, try raising the pot off the ground with pot feet, or add a layer of gravel to allow the roots to breath and the water to drain away. 

If we have several weeks of rain, consider moving your tree somewhere sheltered, either up against the house or in a covered doorway to reduce the amount of rain that your tree is exposed to.

What should I do if my olive tree isn’t growing?

If your olive tree is struggling to put on fresh growth, then consider repotting in the spring into just a slightly larger pot with a mixture of good quality topsoil, and some broken crocks or grit in the bottom.

Do olive trees need feeding?

A spring dose of general-purpose plant feed can be beneficial to your olive tree, but because they typically grow in poor soil, they don’t tend to need as many extra nutrients as many other garden plants. 

Find olive trees online 

At Plants4Presents, we’re proud to bring a touch of the Mediterranean to your garden, or that of a loved one, with both small and large olive trees available to buy online. If your olive tree is for someone special, we’ll pop your message in a card, so that a strong, elegant tree makes it to their door with love. We even sell them in pairs!

To support their ongoing care, all of our plants come with instructions put together by our experts – find them in the ‘care instructions’ tab on all of our products.