Skip to main content

A guide to growing a thriving olive tree

Olive trees have a long history of cultivation—from ancient Greece, where olive groves were tended with care, to the modern orchards that supply your kitchens with olive oil and tapenades. If you’re looking for the freshest olive tapenade, you might be considering growing an olive tree yourself. In that case, you’ll want to know all the tips and tricks for keeping your olive tree alive and thriving. Here’s everything you need to know about taking your olive tree from seedling to success.

What type of olive tree should you grow?

There are many types of olive trees, and each one has its merits. Which one you choose is ultimately based on what you’d like to use the olives for. To begin, if you want an olive tree but no olives, try a fruitless olive tree variety like Majestic Beauty or Swan Hill.

If your goal is to produce olive oil at home, try an arbequina, mission, frantoio, or koroneiki olive tree. Arbequina and mission trees are both fairly cold tolerant, and both arbequina and koroneiki trees can be grown indoors. Frantoio trees have silvery leaves, which makes them aesthetically pleasing.

On the other hand, if you want the best table olives, you should pick a manzanilla, kalamata, nocellara del belice, or amfissa olive tree. Manzanilla olives are some of the most common brine-cured green olives in the US, frequently stuffed with pimentos, while nocellara del belice olives, although uncommon in the US, are considered high quality table olives.

Many olives are grown for both oil and table eating, so don’t worry if you haven’t decided which you’d prefer or if you’d like a little of both. In fact, nocellara del belice, mission, and frantoio olive varieties are all good choices if you want both oil and table olives.

Aa close up of an olive dripping water
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Soil, light, and water

Olives are native to the Mediterranean, so most varieties love the sun. Full to partial sun is best, especially if you want a substantial harvest. Additionally, olive trees need well-draining soil and cannot tolerate standing water. Test your soil before planting your tree; if your soil is too slow to drain, you may be better off growing it in a container. Olive trees need regular watering in order to grow and produce olives. If you live in a dry climate, your tree may fare better with a drip irrigation system. Olive trees prefer warm weather, but can be grown indoors or in a container in cooler climates.

At a glance, olive trees need:

  • Full to partial sun
  • Well-draining soil
  • Moderate water
  • Warm weather or indoors
Clusters of olives on a branch
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Pruning and fertilizing

Pruning can be useful for shaping your olive tree and controlling its size, but as long as the tree is healthy it isn’t necessary. If you do prune your olive tree, wait until after the harvest, typically in fall. Try not to prune away too much, since olives form on the previous season’s growth and cutting that back can interfere with your harvest size. Avoid pruning at all during the first two years of growth, so that your tree has time to put out healthy growth.

Test your soil before fertilizing your tree, as adding fertilizer to soil that’s already full of nutrients can cause a build up of nutrients. If your soil is lacking, try a balanced slow-release fertilizer or compost. These have the benefit of releasing all the nutrients your plant needs without overwhelming it.

An olive tree by the ocean
Image used with permission by copyright holder

Diseases and pests

One of the primary pests that can damage olive trees is scale, especially black scale. Scale are small, round insects that feed on plants by sucking the juice from them. This leaves small wounds on the plant that are particularly vulnerable to mold. If left untreated, the infection can easily spread through the entire plant. Ants can exacerbate the issue by carrying the mold to other parts of the tree.

Keeping both scale and ants at bay can keep your olive tree healthy. As with all plants, olive trees are most vulnerable when they’re young. An established, mature tree can withstand much more than a seedling. Keep a close eye on your olive tree after planting it, and act quickly if you notice any pest damage.

By following these simple tips, you can have a thriving olive grove in no time. All you need to do is pick an appropriately sunny spot, choose your olive varieties, and start growing. Most olive varieties start producing olives after the second year, but, if you’re in a hurry, you can also find faster growing varieties that are ready to harvest after only the first year. No matter which kind you choose, olive trees live quite a while, so you’ll have fresh olives for years to come.

Editors' Recommendations

Cayla Leonard
Cayla Leonard is a writer from North Carolina who is passionate about plants.  She enjoys reading and writing fiction and…
Scaevola: How to grow these uniquely shaped fan flowers for a stunning summer garden
Spruce up your outdoor space with these cool flowers
White fan flowers

There are many factors that can make a plant appealing. Some have bright colors or interesting patterns, others have odd textures, and some have strong scents or flavors. Whether your garden has a specific design theme or aesthetic or you plant anything that catches your eye, we have a unique flower that you’re sure to love. Scaevola, also called fan flowers, are appealing for their unique shape. Curious about this interesting flower and how you can grow it for yourself? We’ll answer all your fan flower questions in this scaevola care guide.
What are fan flowers?

Fan flowers are tropical plants native to the Polynesian islands and Australia. This gorgeous, low-lying shrub is sometimes also called beach cabbage and sea lettuce, along with the Hawaiian names naupaka, aupaka, and huahekili. There are many species of scaevola to choose from, with varying heights and flower colors (although the most common colors are white and purple), but the main draw of these plants is their fan-shaped flowers.

Read more
Focus on color: Grow these peach-colored flowers to celebrate the Pantone color of the year
The best flowers to add this soft and inviting color to your garden
Light pink gerbera daisy

Colorful flower gardens can brighten your day, support your local wildlife, and even help you celebrate a new year. Pantone, the company best known for the Pantone Matching System that helps people find and create specific colors of paint, has been choosing a color of the year every year since 1999. This year’s color isn’t just great for interior decorating -- it’s also a great choice for your garden! Here’s what you need to know about bringing the color of the year to your home and garden with peach flowers.
What is the 2024 Pantone color of the year?

The 2024 Pantone color of the year is Peach Fuzz. It is a warm shade of pink that, as the name implies, is reminiscent of peaches. This inviting pink is soft, sweet, and luckily, is the color of many flowers. While you can celebrate this color in your garden by planting peach trees, there are also faster growing plants you can choose. If you’re curious about the color of the year, consider reading all about it on Pantone’s website, where you can learn all about the selection process and explore previous colors of the year.
Peach-colored flowers for your garden

Read more
If your yard gets a lot of afternoon light, these are the afternoon sun plants for you
How to choose and grow plants that will thrive with afternoon sun
Sunlit garden path and flowers

There are many challenges regarding the sun when it comes to gardening. There's too much, then there's too little. For example, some fruit trees thrive in shady backyards — except most trees do require full sunlight. This is why pruning is necessary. And then there are those conditions where too much sun can affect our plants.

Afternoon sun is challenging. Direct sunlight between midday and sunset is the most intense exposure. Although some plants are labeled for "full sun," extended exposure in that hot afternoon sun may be too much — not all these are suitable as afternoon sun plants. This is especially so if the sunlight is further intensified by a wall or fence that traps and reflects the sun’s heat during the day, then continues to radiate heat after sundown. These tough areas require tough plants.

Read more