Growing Olive Trees In Pots
“Good things happen to those who wait” is an age-old adage that you will definitely appreciate when it comes to growing olive trees in containers.
Olive trees take a very long time to grow into maturity, and you will have to wait for 5 years to see this happen. If you buy a small tree in your local nursery, you will still have to wait for 2 years for your trees to develop.
What Olive Trees should grow in pots?
Not all olive trees are suitable for container growing as some varieties can grow up to 60 feet high however there are some cultivars that are perfect for container gardening. A famous olive is Picholine, a highly prized olive by connoisseurs that grows to around 10 feet tall. The Arbequina olive tree is another cultivar that will respond well to container gardening as it can be pruned to size. This tree produces fruits that can be harvested either green or black.
If you wish to have your own olive oil, then Manzanillo or Frantoio can also be good varieties for growing in containers.
It is best to start your cultivation when the soil temperature is stable at around 77 degrees Fahrenheit. Even though olive trees are hardy and reasonably frost tolerant, they cannot take temperatures of below 13 degrees Fahrenheit. Optimal soil temperatures are in the range of 41-77 degrees Fahrenheit. It would be best to find a location that has at least 6 hours of full sun.
If you live in Zone 8, you can start growing olive trees in pots indoors during the winter season. If this will be the case, then a south-facing window that gets at least 6 hours of sun will be ideal. Do not place it too near a glass window as the glass can intensify the heat of the sun and can literally fry the leaves.
What pot should I use to grow an Olive Tree in?
For growing olive trees in containers, you may want to get the largest pot that you can lay your hands on. You have the option of choosing between any types of pot that you want with the exception of ceramic pots as they usually do not have adequate drainage holes.
Drainage holes are needed as it can be very easy to drown olive trees when in containers. Terracotta pots have that earthy look in them, but they can also leach out moisture from the soil, making it necessary to increase the frequency of watering.
There will be a need to re-pot your plant after one year to prevent it from getting root bound, so choose a pot that does not taper at the top. Layer the bottom with pea pebbles or small pieces of broken terracotta pots to aid drainage and prevent the soil from eroding through the drainage holes. Some use charcoal for this, and find that it work well.
How to grow an Olive tree in a pot
Growing olives in pots require a soil that is light and drains well with a pH of up to 8.5. Do not consider using that garden soil that you have in your backyard as it can be a host to a multitude of microbial pathogens that can cause disease in your olives.
Purchase a good loam-based potting soil, and it would be better if you do not buy the cheap ones. Potting soil is made up with pasteurized soil, compost, organic matter, peat, and perlite or vermiculite for better moisture and water retention.
Cheap potting soil will drain well at the first few weeks, but will eventually clump together and retain water. This can suffocate the roots of your trees and will cause drowning, or at worse, root rot.
You can also buy seeds to get busy growing olive trees in containers. Prepare a small, shallow tray of up to 3 inches in depth and place in compost. Place the seed on top of the container and moisten the seed and growing medium with a fine-mist sprayer. Cover to help create a humid environment and always keep your seeds moist, but not wet.
Germination usually shows after several weeks, so be patient. Once your seedling has formed 2 pairs of true leaves, transplant to a bigger container.
For those who do not have the patience in long the long years of growing olive trees in containers, transplants will be the best. Fill the container to almost half-way with potting soil, layer a good amount of compost and moisten.
Place the olive transplant on the container and see if its top soil is 2 inches below the rim. Adjust by adding or removing soil or compost to make sure that the level is just right. Once you get the proper level, remove the transplant from its container, put it inside your prepared pot and place in soil at the sides, tamping as you go. Afterwards, water well until it runs through the drainage holes and apply fertilizer.
Care for your trees very well and you may be lucky enough to get some fruits out of it within 5 years if you started from seeds for growing olive trees in containers. Transplants usually bear fruit after 2 years. Pruning is done after the spring bloom by cutting off the tips of the branches. This will encourage foliar growth, giving you a bushier tree.
Prune according to your preference, always making sure that you leave at least 6 inches in each branch that you prune.
Problems with growing Olive trees in pots
Growing olive trees in pots can also have problems when it comes to pests. Sap suckers such as scale can be a problem, but can be solved with a spray of neem oil or insecticidal soap. Water your trees when two inches of potting soil feels dry. Stick your fingers through the soil, and if it feels dry up to 2 knuckles down, it is time to water them.
During the winter, you must bring your plants indoors to prevent the damaging effects of frost. Watering during the winter season will only be done when the soil is dry 4 inches down.
Top-dressing is a must for growing olive trees in containers as frequent watering can wash out nutrients from the soil. A slow-release 17-6-10 fertilizer during the growing season will be good. If blooms start to form, use a fertilizer that weaker nitrogen content but higher phosphorus amount until you get the right number of blooms that you need. Go back to your regular fertilizer that is done in a weaker preparation afterwards, especially during the winter.