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Planting an olive tree: here’s how

Three clay pots with small olive trees are standing in a row.
Small olive trees are also suitable as attractive decorations in your home or garden.

Green or black, olives are delicious. They are considered a delicacy and contain many nutrients.
At home, they usually come from a jar. They grow on gnarled, ancient trees, many of them centuries old, in the Mediterranean region.
Yet olive trees are easy to grow and do well in colder regions as well. With proper care, you will eventually be able to harvest your own olives. We’ll show you how it’s done.

Buying a tree or planting a pit

Several olive pits and a trowel are lying on a table.
You need special seeds to plant an olive tree.

Do you want to harvest your own olives some day? If so, you do of course have the option of buying an olive tree, rather than growing your own. You are sure to find one in a garden centre, nursery or now even online. The smallest trees start at around 20 euros.
Just make sure that the trees come from the country where you live. Imported trees are often accustomed to entirely different temperatures.

If you consider yourself an experienced hobby gardener, you may want to grow a tree from an olive pit. Spring is the ideal time to start growing plants.

Choosing the right seed is the first step. Simply taking the pit from a supermarket olive is not going to work. Due to processing, those pits are not capable of germination.
You therefore need to purchase your olive tree seed from a specialist shop or online. Alternatively, you can bring fresh, fully ripe (black) olives home from your holidays.

Before planting, you should complete the following steps: First, remove all the flesh from the pit – ideally under running lukewarm water. Then put the pit into lukewarm water for 24 hours (change the water occasionally). Careful scoring and roughing speeds up germination.

Now you can plant the pretreated pit with the tip facing up in potting soil that has a high humus content. Cover it with about 1 cm of soil. Then, put the planter in a well lit, protected and warm place in your home – 20 to 25 degrees is perfect.

Caring for the olive tree

A small olive tree stands on a dresser.
An olive tree grows very slowly. That makes it a great house plant.

Olive trees are relatively easy to care for. In particular, they need very little water. Make sure the soil stays damp but does not get waterlogged. A layer of pebbles at the bottom of the planter helps prevent that. Put your potting soil on top.

Make sure your planter is not too big, otherwise excessive roots will form. You can repot your tree as soon as the first roots emrge from the soil. Either move it to a bigger planter or, for the summer, to a protected, half-shaded spot in the garden. You will need a suitable location at 5 to 10 degrees for your olive tree to spend the winter, as it will not withstand frost.

Patience is one of the most important aspects when caring for an olive tree. Germination can take four to 12 weeks. You should also wait about four months before the first fertilisation. Be sure to exercise restraint, especially at the outset.
Only after your tree is two years old can you add some liquid organic fertiliser to the water during the summer months. Every two weeks is entirely sufficient.

Olive trees flower between April and June. It may however take six years before your tree flowers for the first time since they grow very slowly.
If your tree grows to a considerable size over time, regularly pruning the branches is important. Aside from minor year-round pruning, this is mainly done in the spring. You should shorten overlong shoots, and if two shoots cross over each other, cut the weaker one. This keeps your tree in shape and ensures that all leaves get enough sun.

Harvesting and marinating olives

Several black olives are hanging on an olive tree.
The darker the olive, the milder its aroma.

After you put in the time (around seven to eight years) and consistently take good care of your tree, you will be able to harvest the first fruits. There is no specific timeline for this. Harvest time is always determined by local light and temperature conditions.

The more patient you are with harvesting, the darker and milder in aroma the olives are going to be. As long as the olives are very green and firm, they will be quite bitter. The best time to harvest the fruits is when they are softer and a bit more yellow, or later when they become reddish-purple. This is easily done by picking the fruits from the tree by hand.

Be aware that green olives in particular should not be eaten straight away, since they are not very palatable. Dehydrating and marinating the fruits is recommended. To do so, score all good olives on the side and submerge them in a bowl of water for four weeks, making sure they are covered. Then soak them in brine for a week (with about seven tablespoons of salt).

After brining, you can store the olives in a ceramic jar. Pickling them with various herbs such as rosemary or thyme is recommended.
Store the jar in a cool, dark place. The preserved olives will keep for four to five months.

You should expect your first harvest to be scant. Olive trees normally deliver their maximum yield only after they are 50 to 100 years old. Until then, you have a great gardening project and an attractive, decorative tree.

Interested in other exotic items? Here we explain how you can also grow your own avocado or pineapple.