Landscape Design with Olive Trees


Landscape Design with Olive Trees

A Guide for Designing Olive Trees

Landscaping with olive trees can create a beautiful visual impact as well as enhance surroundings for a lasting impression. But how do you know where to place the trees? How many would look best in your landscape? And what criteria should you consider in planning your landscape design with olive trees?

What Are Your Landscape Goals?

Your first step is determining what you are going to achieve with your new landscape. Are you hoping to craft a grand entrance to your property with placement of olive trees flanking your driveway or walkway leading up to the home?

Are you envisioning making a single olive tree the focal point of a courtyard, with all other landscape materials distributed around the tree to create focus? Are you hoping to create a specific mood evoking ancient Greece or Italy?

Is your landscape going to be themed with a focus on peace (extending the proverbially olive branch)? Or is your landscape’s focus food grown in the Mediterranean?

Given their long lives (up to 1,000s of years), olive trees can represent prosperity, durability, persistence, longevity and even fertility when producing fruit. What statement do you want to make with your olive tree?

Newly planted olive orchard

A newly planted olive orchard we were contracted to install for a client

Ancient Olive Trees

Feature ancient olive trees, flanking a home

Visual Impact

The Visual Impact of Olive Trees

Olive trees have a unique appearance that makes them stand out in any landscape:

  • TRUNK SHAPE & SURFACE Olive trees sport a distinct, gnarly trunk shape that often looks knotted. This becomes more and more pronounced with age as seen in many ancient olive trees.
  • LEAF SHAPE Unique, elliptical leaf shape is easily recognizable as belonging to the olea family of trees.
Ancient olive tree trunk

Knotty and gnarly trunk of an ancient olive tree

Frantoio leaf close up

Leaf closeup of Frantoio cultivar olive tree

  • COLOR It’s so distinct, it’s called “olive green”! But that green can range of gray-green to dark green foliage. If you are attempting to match or contrast foliage color with the surroundings, be sure you select the appropriate cultivar to achieve this goal.
  • TEXTURE Different cultivars provide a variety of textural impressions, from rough to smoothe. The density of foliage can also convey a more or less solid to wispy texture to the tree.
Coratina fieldgrown

A Coratina olive tree, which grows in an inverse conical shape

Pendolino 15 gallon

Pendolino has a weepy branch formation

  • SHAPE & SIZE Coratina grows in the shape of an inverted cone (see above), which is somewhat the opposite of most cultivars. Pendolino is known for its wispy, weeping branch shape, reminiscent of weeping willows. Little Ollie remains small and compact, perfect for shrubs or container accents.
  • SIZE OVER TIME An important distinction when planting olives in your landscape is understanding their speed of growth and ultimate, mature size. Are you content to wait for a young specimen to mature over X number of years? Or do you seek a fully mature specimen now? What is your preference? (And know that younger trees will be less expensive than mature ones.)
small and large olive trees

Olive trees can be planted and grown from any size tree. What size do you want to start with?

Little Ollie shrub

Little Ollie is a non-fruiting, low-growing, dwarf olive tree shrub, making it ideal for containers and low hedges.

The Role of the Surrounding Landscaping

Are you adding an olive tree to an existing landscape? Designing a landscape around one or more olive trees? Or are you designing in a specific style: Mediterranean? Modern? Japanese Zen? Formal Italian? Or whimsical English garden? Your choices for the surrounding landscape can either enhance and draw focus to your olive tree(s), or, make the tree(s) seem out of place. Choose wisely!

Installing olive centerpiece

Our installation crew installs a mature olive tree at a private home as a centerpiece to their landscape

Modern pruned olive tree

The mature olive tree has been pruned into a box shape, providing a modern approach to the landscape’s impact.

Principles of Landscape Design

Apply the Principles of Landscape Design to Your Olive Trees

Landscape designers may list a number of principles they use to guide their design development. They may include:

  • Balance
  • Color
  • Contrast
  • Emphasis
  • Focus
  • Form
  • Line
  • Order
  • Proportion
  • Repetition
  • Rhythm
  • Scale
  • Sequence
  • Simplicity
  • Texture
  • Unity
  • Variety

How do they work? And how can you put them to best use? Much depends upon your unique design challenges. In general, you won’t have to worry about all of these principles because the majority of them will take care of themselves within any given design.

Here are a few tips about incorporating these principles when landscaping with olive trees:

Click the ” + ” below to expand the selection.


…in the right locations, with the correct specimens size for its location. An out-of-balance design may generate the feedback: “This side feels very sparse in comparison to that side.” If planting two olive trees flanking an entryway, you’ll want to ensure they balance one another in size, shape, color and so on. Balance works hand-in-hand with proportion. (See below.)

Avenue of olive trees

A balanced allee of olive trees


On the other hand, you may wish to contrast your color scheme to make the olive tree(s) stand out from other plantings.


And depending upon the scale and proportion desired, the eye can be tricked to think a path or driveway lined in olive trees is longer or shorter. That depends upon whether or not you plant the trees more closely together and whether you vary the proportion of each tree.

olive tree line on road
Olive trees line gravel road
Line of olive trees


Think back to your childhood visit to the “It’s a Small World” ride at Disneyland: all the landscape elements surrounding the ride are unusually small. But it gives the impression of a much larger landscape because everything has been scaled down in size. In a small landscape, you can give the impression of a much larger area by tricking the eye: group plants closer together with low, small plants in front, rapidly shifting to larger scale plants and trees at the back. And remember, an olive tree sapling will look dwarfed if planted near or below a mature oak tree. Choose planting locations appropriately!


For example, in wine country it’s not unusual to see an alternating pattern of olive trees and lavender bushes. Their colors are complimentary, and the textures, shapes, and sizes, provide great contrast.


However, olive trees are not native to Japan! But you can apply the principle of simplicity to any garden type. For many homeowners, the olive tree is the sole element in their landscape design, putting full focus on a centralized tree.

Solo Ancient Olive in Grass Lawn

Not a Zen garden, but the simplicity of the single olive tree evokes the serenity of a Japanese garden.

Row of Potted Olive Trees

Massing olive trees together, whether in containers or planted in-ground, creates maximum impact.


Is your goal to mimic the look of an olive orchard? Conversely, olive trees can unify a landscape design by positioning all elements around a central olive tree.


Show off a wide variety of cultivar characteristics in your landscape design by grouping like varieties, or contrasting varieties, throughout your design.

Design Limitations

Olive Tree Landscape Design Limitations

Now that your imagination is running wild, here are a few criteria that may help hone your idea down to fit your exact needs:

Growing Conditions

Be sure to familiarize yourself with your chosen cultivar’s needs for sunlight, water, temperature, soil and wind. Find our cultivars’ growing conditions needs on each of their detail pages.

Hardscape Conditions

Do you wish its branches to grow into an arch formation over the walkway? Will you have to frequently trim branches if the tree is planted too closely to the pathway? If near a building, will the tree(s) receive adequate sunlight (6-8 hours) where it’s positioned?

Tips for Olive Tree Landscape Design

Challenges abound in ensuring your olive tree is given an optimal life in your landscape, but there are numerous tricks you can employ to ensure success.


They must be large enough to provide the roots room to spread out. Container olive trees require more water since the soil dries out faster. You can move them around to capture more sunlight or to protect them from harsh growing conditions. And you can transplant potted trees to the ground when ready.

Raised Beds

Depending upon your design, the rim of the raised bed may provide a seating bench for visitors to the garden. And if pruned to provide shade, the area may provide a welcome resting area for visitors.

Olive Trees in Pots

Olive trees do well in containers with lots of bright sunshine.

Tabletop Olive Tree in pot

Started when young, olive trees make excellent tabletop decor, which you can transfer to larger pots as they grow.

Pools, Allees, Walkways…

…but you’ll be mortified once it begins to drop fruit in the pool and on the deck. When selecting cultivars for planting in high trafficked areas such as pools, decks and walkways, consider non-fruiting cultivars to reduce the mess and the potential slip-on-drupe hazard.


uplighting of olive trees can provide a beautiful way to show off your landscape during the dark hours.


If your intent is to provide shade, be sure your annual pruning strategy lays out exactly how to achieve this look.


This takes this tree from a traditional “ancient world” look to a modern, boxy appearance, depending upon your desires.

Single or Multi-trunk

Pruning for either version should begin within a few years of planting to reduce shock to the tree, and to aid nutrient take up to the parts of the tree you wish to see mature.

Shrubs, Topiary & Other Uses

This cultivar is ideal when you’re seeking to look and feel of the olive tree without its full tree size. As you can see in the image above with an olive pruned into a box shape, the tree adapts to a wide variety of pruning techniques. The trick is maintaining the shape desired. Often olive trees will grow faster than expected if a constricted pruning shape is desired. Many make excellent hedges. Larger trees can provide shade for smaller plants that cannot tolerate direct sun. Ensure the cultivars you choose match the outcomes you desire.

Olives Unlimited Nursery

Our nursery of olive trees, with an ancient olive in foreground with many young olive trees in background

The most common comment we hear is, “I didn’t know there were so many cultivars with such a wide array of growing characteristics!” The best news we can hear is that the olive specimen is growing well, exactly as expected in its new home.

If you would like assistance in designing, installing or maintaining your olive trees, please ask us for assistance. Our services for olive trees are…unlimited!

How can we help you?

Call our Mobile Now

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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