Olive trees in pots: planting, pruning & fertilising potted olive trees

Olive trees in pots: planting, pruning & fertilising potted olive trees

Olive trees in pots can help add a touch of the Mediterranean to your garden or balcony. Here, we will show you how to take care of potted olive trees and what is important for overwintering them.

Olive trees (Olea europea) are used to the dry and warm climate of the Mediterranean. Although they are robust enough to thrive even in temperate climate zones, they suffer in winter due to the cold and wet weather that prevails here. In order for the olive tree to be able to move quickly to its winter quarters, it is best to cultivate it in pots. This way you can react quickly to the cold and wet weather. In addition, as a slow-growing tree, the olive tree is just the right thing for long-term and easy-care potted plant.

Planting olive trees in pots: the right location

When it comes to potted plants, most people first think of the adorable but rather small house plants. Olive trees thrive outside during the warm seasons and like to enjoy the fresh air for as long as possible. Olives don’t grow so well indoors and tend to shed their leaves due to the lack of light. So, the summer motto of potted olive trees is: off to the outside!

For your potted olive tree to flourish as best it can, pick a location in the garden or on the balcony that is not fully in the sun but also not too draughty. The pot should be turned regularly so that all the olive tree branches get enough sunlight. Choose the location carefully, as this will largely determine the future well-being of your olive tree. In winter the olive tree needs winter protection, but it should not overwinter in a place that is too warm. Some exposure to cold is important for the normal development of the olive tree. Another key aspect of a healthy olive tree development is the soil. Olive trees need a permeable substrate rich in structure in the pot.

Growing olive trees in pots: tips for the right care

Particularly with olive trees in tubs, it is important to take care of the plants properly. Otherwise, diseases or pest infestations will occur very quickly. But if you follow these guidelines, you will have years to enjoy your olive tree:

  • Watering: occasional, the substrate can dry out on the surface; avoid waterlogging
  • Fertilising: beginning with year 2, March to August, every 2 weeks with liquid fertiliser in the water; basic fertilisation when repotting with mainly organic granulated fertiliser
  • Soil: well structured, permeable; garden soil mixed with house plant soil, clay granulate and sand
  • Repotting: olive trees should be repotted regularly, young plants at least every 2 years, older ones at least every 5 years; if repotting becomes impossible because of increasing size, the choice of a perfect pot and good fertilisation is all the more important
  • Pruning: in spring, as described below.

To prevent waterlogging, a drainage layer of gravel or broken clay is laid at the bottom of the pot. Without this draining layer, the plant is at high risk of root rot. In addition, only pots with a drainage hole should be used so that all of the excess water can drain away easily. To ensure optimum water drainage, put some stones or sticks in between the pot and the underpot.

Pruning potted olive trees

Olive trees can be pruned in the same way shrubs or trees are cut. Younger plants grow sparse by nature and should therefore be pruned more often. In this way, the plant will branch out more and form a real crown or a dense shrub.

Once the correct shape has been achieved, it should be upheld with maintenance pruning. Here, shoots that are too long are simply shortened or cut off at their base on a stronger branch. In addition, shoots that cross one another or hinder each other’s growth should be cut off. If two branches cross, remove the weaker or less developed one. This is especially true of inside of the shrub, because the olive tree should not grow too densely either.

On a side note: old and large, healthy olive trees can easily be cut back very heavily to be rejuvenated. All in all, you can prune your olive tree at any time. However, spring is the best time for pruning, as the tree is rested after the winter break and has enough energy for a strong new budding.

Repotting olive tree

Olive trees in pots take a long time to grow – especially if they are not repotted regularly. So, if you want your olive tree to grow quickly, you should repot them in high-quality soil every year in the beginning, and later every 2 to 3 years. At the very latest, when the roots grow from the bottom of the tub, it is time for a larger pot. Carefully remove the tree from the planter and move it into slightly larger home with fresh soil. You will find tips and tricks on how to repot an olive tree in this article.

We have to stress the importance of using quality soil for your olive tree. If you save on the right soil, you are more likely to encounter more problems with plant pests, diseases and growth of your olive tree in the pot. The best soil for olive trees in pots is structurally stable, not too nutrient-rich and it should allow water to drain off well. Slightly too acidic soils can be mixed with a little green lime: olive trees like a pH value of 7 to 8.

Note: Olive trees are often in the wrong soil at the time of purchase. Sometimes the pots in which the plants are sold even harbour pests in it. Therefore, it is best to repot newly purchased olive trees right away.

Potted olive tree winter care

Olive trees are only partially hardy. This means that they won’t mind a slightly frosty night. However, longer periods of frosty and wet conditions, and generally prolonged cold weather characteristic for temperate climate winters are too much for these Mediterranean beauties. Worst case scenario, the soil in the pot might freeze through and through, which will cause the untimely demise of your olive tree. In order for your little trees to survive the winter, they need a proper winter protection. Just wrap the pot with some newspaper or bubble wrap and let your pot foil move to a protected, frost-free, but filled with light winter home.

Do not place the tree in a heated room, because olives do not like it too warm in winter either. They need temperatures around freezing point and the associated winter rest to gather strength for budding and development of flowers. In other words: those who overwinter their olive trees in conditions that are too warm are doing so at the expense of abundant flowering in spring. As the plants are dormant, no fertiliser is used in winter and watering should be sparse. The little trees will return outside when there are no longer extended periods of frost to be expected – which is usually around the end of March in moderate climate zones. However, if frost is forecasted, keep a jute bag ready as means of protection against cold.

Buying an olive tree in a pot

Olive trees are becoming more and more popular with gardeners all over the world mainly because of the Mediterranean flair they exude. The range of products on offer in garden centres, DIY stores and online plant shops is correspondingly large. However, the quality can also vary greatly. If you want to be on the safe side, buy your olive tree from a specialist online shop with good reviews or a nursery that specialises in Mediterranean plants. Choose a variety that is as cold-tolerant as possible and comes from the northern part of the Mediterranean. The more resistant the tree is, the less work and risks the local winter will bring.

olive trees in pots
When purchasing a potted olive tree, check the tree for any signs of illnesses or pests [Shutterstock.com/redzen2]

Tip: However, if the olive tree is sold as completely hardy and winter resistant, do not purchase it. The statement cannot be true and makes the seller appear dubious.

Especially in the year after the purchase, make sure that you do not exhaust the typical winter hardiness of the variety and rather play it safe with a good winter protection. Ensure a good supply of potassium in late summer. Frequently, the cheaper olive trees on offer are cultivated in a warm climate and with plenty of fertiliser and, for this reason, are much less hardy than they could or should be.

Are you on a hunt for more exotic potted plants? Two other elegant exotics are the fig tree (Ficus carica) and the crimson bottlebrush (Callistemon citrinus), both of which should also be cultivated in a pot. In summer, they are guaranteed to make you feel like you are on holiday in the Mediterranean, while in winter, they can hibernate together with the potted olive tree.

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