Instruction

How to Plant an Olive Tree

Instruction

How to Plant an Olive Tree

The basics are no different than planting other trees and plants: Dig a hole; remove your tree from its container; put tree in the hole; and add soil and tamp down. Add support stakes if needed; water the tree and admire your handiwork.

The specifics of olive tree planting can be more complex, particularly if you are planning and planting an orchard for commercial production of cured olives or olive oil. For purposes of conciseness, this article will focus on planting and not long-term care of your olive trees.

Location

Olive trees are among the hardiest plants on earth, tolerating a wide range of growing temperatures, soil conditions and even some drought. But for greatest success and the healthiest of fruiting or non-fruiting olive trees, take these factors into consideration in your planning and planting of your trees.

Sunlight

Olive trees are sun worshippers. Full sun for at least six hours per day is ideal. Indoor sun exposure, while possible, rarely produces anything but an unhappy olive tree. Over time, an indoor olive tree will drop leaves and gradually die very slowly.

If you are planting in a courtyard or against a wall, note the amount of sunlight available during various times of the year and at what point the wall begins to block direct sunlight.

When planting orchards it is ideal to orient rows for north-south tractor access. In this manner the leaves receive the greatest amount of sunlight as it passes daily east to west.

Climate

Olive trees are extremely tolerant of extreme temperatures down to freezing and up to very hot temps…when established. During their first year after planting they are the most vulnerable to not tolerating those extremes.

When in doubt about your own climate’s effect on your olive tree planting, opt to plant in spring, giving your trees the growing season to establish their root system and adjust to your climate before the winter season.

Water

Olive trees require well-drained soil. If your orchard or planting area is susceptible to flooding or contains layers of clay soil which reduce draining, you may wish to rethink tree location or plan for better drainage systems.

We do not recommend installation of perforated French drains or ditches with gravel directly underneath rootballs. Tree roots will inevitably clog these systems and pull them apart in their search for water underground.

Discuss your drainage needs and conditions with an expert before pursuing your planting project.

During the first year after planting your olive trees will likely require daily water to establish themselves. While established olive trees are very drought tolerant, they are not desert plants and will weaken and die if left without water for long periods.

Planting Your Olive Tree

Planting Hole

Dig a hole only slightly larger than the size of the container you will be transferring your tree from. The top of your tree’s rootball should be nearly level or slightly higher than the ground adjacent to it.

Olive Tree in planting hole

Tree Prep

Remove the tree from its container gently. Untangle or cut any roots that are growing in circles together on the outer parts of the rootballs. Loosen some of the main roots around the outside of the rootball. If any roots appear moldy or rotted, you may wish to return the specimen for a healthier one.

For large, mature trees, this may be a far more laborious activity. Ancient olives are dug up from the ground, examined for their health, and wrapped in burlap or other appropriate cloth for transportation and replanting. It may be planted as is, with the cloth around it, which the rootball will easily grow through over time.

Rootball wrapped in burlap

Soil

Ideally your olive tree’s soil pH should be between 5.5 and 6.5. Testing kits are available at local nurseries and garden supply stores.

When planting, do not add any fertilizers, manure, gravel, etc., to the planting hole.

Maneuver your olive tree for branches to extend in the desired direction for display within the hole. Ensure your tree is appropriately level within the hole and your tree is plumb as you add in filler soil to the planting area.

Create a small berm approximately 24-36” away from the tree trunk, above surface level. This area will serve as an area to collect water – a veritable mini-moat without the permanent water feature. Tamp down soil surface without overly compacting the soil.

Crane positioning of olive tree planting

Staking Support

When possible do not stake. Many believe staking leaves trees slightly weakened and dependent upon the stakes for support. If necessary, staking can be installed either via a single stake immediate adjacent the tree trunk, or via two stakes mounted on opposites sides of the trunk. If your tree droops without staking, it likely isn’t yet strong enough and requires staking, particularly in windy locations.

See the Olive Oil Source’s recommendations on staking for excellent tips.

Olive orchard w/staked trees, good distance

Irrigation

Long established, mature olive trees may not require irrigation having long ago found their necessary water sources. All newly planted olive trees within a year or two of planting require daily watering, particularly in dry geographic areas.

If planting your trees in the spring, position an irrigation emitter directly against the tree trunk to send water directly to the rootball as the tree establishes itself. If planting in the autumn, position two emitters, one on each side of the tree, approx. 24” apart, away from the trunk itself when establishing the planning during the dormant months.

If you began with one emitter per tree in their first year, move the emitter and add a second one on the opposite side of the tree trunk for its second growing year.

For orchard plantings, use this guide:

  • Each tree requires approx. 4” of water, the equivalent of 2 feet down.
  • If using sprinklers and note emitters, they average 0.10 – 0.20 inches of water per hour.
  • Therefore, each tree may require 20 – 40 hours of sprinkler water to achieve the needed 4” of water per week.
  • Ultimately, you’ll need to measure how much water appears necessary for your climate conditions. Adjust accordingly as you observe your trees’ growth.

Remember, if your trees were in containers for a long period and somewhat dormant in growth, they will spend most of their energy extending their roots and not in shoots and branches above ground for many months. On the other hand, if they were showing signs of steady growth while still in their nursery containers, expect that growth to continue steadily once these trees are planted.

Mulch

In most circumstances, no mulch is required or recommended for olive trees. Wood chips particularly can hold too much water, depending upon climate conditions. If mulch is desired, we recommend using pine needles in most circumstances, or pea gravel.

Container Planting

Olive trees grown in containers make highly attractive focal points in the garden or landscape. The greatest differences between in-ground planting and container planting is that the tree will likely require re-planting within a few years. Much depends upon local conditions and the size of the container.

Unlike planting in the ground, your container should be considerably larger than your rootball to give the tree room to grow.

You may wish to include a thin layer of pea gravel at the bottom of your container for good drainage. Ensure your pot has one or more drainage holes in its bottom. In fact, you may wish to run an irrigation line up through a hole in the bottom of the pot to provide daily waterings.

Plant the tree in your container following the steps above, again, excluding fertilizers and other soil enhancers. (You will wish to fertilize your trees in the future.)

Container-planted olive trees require more water than those planted in the ground. Plan for more frequent watering.

Olive tree planted in raised box

Summary

Olive trees are relatively easy to plant. Be sure, however, to consult or hire an expert to transport and install large, mature olive trees. We regularly use our crane, back hoe and even our bulldozer to manage planting fully-grown trees with specialized attachments for installing trees.

Olive trees can live for centuries and even millennia under the right growing conditions. They require a great start and keen observation of their progress in new plantings.

We’re happy to advise on best practices for olive tree planting and care. Just give us a call!

2 Ancient olive trees flanking entrance

All images shown are Olives Unlimited’s olive trees and client installation projects, from small orchards to planting mature, ancient olive trees.

How can we help you?

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Let us help you find your olive tree solution quickly and efficiently. Whether or not you need help selecting the right tree, diagnosing a problem with an existing olive tree, or arranging a tree installation throughout California, we’re happy to help you out.

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