How to care for Olive Trees in pots
Whether you want to add an Olive Trees to your plot for its lovely silver foliage or want it as a feature inside your home, it makes sense to grow it in a pot. Olives are not fully hardy in the UK (they don't like it below -10°C (14°F) ) so having it in a pot means that you can move it to a sheltered spot, or even inside, if the temperature is set to dip.
As one of the oldest recorded trees, there are quite a few different varieties of Olive Tree. Some are more compact than others and make a great choice if you are growing in pots. So be sure to check the expected final height for that variety before you buy. Remember you will probably have to move is as a full grown tree!
Where to position your Olive Tree
Being a Mediterranean plant it should be placed in the sunniest most sheltered part of your garden with no more than partial shade. Try to put it where it will be protected from constant north or east winds. Beside a sunny wall would be ideal.
Can Olive Trees live indoors?
Olives aren't really indoor plants and your olive tree needs natural light and air to thrive. So it will do best if you can place it where there is air movement rather than in a corner. If you can, place your plant near an open window so it can get a bit of fresh air too.
To keep it really happy you can take it outside every few months for an airing. Take the opportunity to wash it down thoroughly, including the undersides of the leaves to rid it of pests.
Best Soil Type for Olive Trees
Olive trees are quite robust and will tolerate either acid or alkaline soils. But whatever the type, good drainage is extremely important. Just think of the seemingly arid conditions they grow in in their native land. To replicate this, use a loam based compost such as John Innes No 3 with about 20% grit added.
Best Container for an Olive Tree
Most people grow Olive Trees in terracotta or wood containers being more breathable to help with drainage. Plastic pots are lighter and therefore easier to move though. But. their walls are thinner and don't provide much insulation so should be lined with bubble wrap before planting to prevent the roots freezing.
Whatever pot you use, add plenty of crocks in the bottom and raise it up onto little pot feet to help with drainage.
Potting on Olive Trees
Chances are that your Olive Tree came in a pot to start with. To move it to a new pot, select one just slightly larger than the one it is in each time. Don't be tempted to put it straight into the massive pot you envisage it ending up in. It will cope a lot better with a gradual transition, giving it a year to grow into its new space. Doing this every Spring allows you to give it new compost too to ensure it continues to nourish the plant.
When moving it, very, very gently tease the roots free of soil and spread them a little. This will help it establish.
Caring for Olive Trees
Water your indoor tree regularly particularly in its first year. This should be weekly or when you find that the top 5cm (2") of soil feeling dry. If it is outdoor you will need to play this by ear and take into account rainfall.
After the tree is fully established, drop this to once a month but take it outside and give it a good drenching so that water runs out of the bottom of the pot. This will get rid of built-up salts and chemicals in the pot at the same time.
Established trees should not require any feeding or watering in the winter. Young and container-grown trees can be watered less frequently from September to March.
Make sure the pot is kept weed free.
Feeding Olive Trees
Feed from early spring to mid-August with liquid seaweed extract, fish, blood or bonemeal to keep your tree healthy. In the first year this can be done fortnightly dropping to monthly in subsequent years. Whatever the age, top-dress it with a slow release fertiliser 2 or 3 times during the growing season too.
Pruning Olive Trees
Prune your tree occasionally to keep it’s shape. As they are slow growing they don’t require severe pruning. Just remove any dead branches in late spring, and thin out dense branches to allow light in.
Finally pinch out the tips of young shoots to encourage a branching shape but remember that fruit is produced at the tips of the previous year’s growth, so don’t over prune if you want fruit.
Trees should begin producing fruit at about three to five years old.
Olive trees are self-fertile but are wind pollinated so should to be outdoors whilst in flower if you’re hoping to grow fruit. Shaking the branches during flowering will help release the pollen and may improve fruiting. Increased humidity at flowering time also helps fruit to set too.
It should be noted that, like many plants, Olive Trees need a fluctuation between day and night time temperatures and a 2 month period of temperatures below 10°C (50 °F) to produce flowers and fruit. This makes it unlikely that indoor plants will ever flower but are still extremely decorative.
Olives are harvested in mid-winter from November onwards. They can be harvested green but will turn black and drop off when ripe.
You will probably want to cure your olives before eating to get them, like shop-bought ones. Otherwise they will be too bitter.
Olive Tree Pests & Diseases
Extreme cold will be an issue, especially for younger trees. So, consider bringing your plant inside during prolonged cold spells. A shed, unheated greenhouse, conservatory or porch all work.
If it is too big to move inside, then using one or more Fleece Jackets to wrap it will help to keep it well. These have the advantage that they can be taken off during the day and popped back on at night to acclimatise the plant as the weather warms. You can also use bubble wrap but as this is not breathable and a bit of a faff to take on and off so it isn't as good as fleece. Whatever you do remember it does need a period of cool temperatures (see Fruiting above) so don't be over protective.
Scale inescts and red spider mite can cause a lot of damage to your tree and inhibit the tree's growth. so watch out for signs and pinch them off as soon as you spot them.
Spittlebug are also attracted to them. The insect itself will not do too much damage but may introduce a bacterial infection that the tree will not recover from.
Leaf Drop - trees naturally begin to drop leaves in Spring to prepare for new season growth. If it drop[s leaves at another time then it could be dehydrated.
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