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how do olives grow

How Do Olives Grow (With Pictures & Infographic of Olive Growth Cycle)

Olive trees, decorated with green olive fruits, are very persistent and have been enchanting our gardens for centuries. They are quite easy to grow and are long-lived with a life expectancy of 500 years. Even when chopped to the ground, olive trees easily sprout back.

You may ask: so how do olives grow? In this article, you find a detailed illustrated explanation of how do olives grow, a thoroughly clarified olive tree growth cycle, and many facts about these gorgeous trees.

In addition, we go through planting, pruning, and care practices that will allow you to grow luscious olives and avoid olive tree diseases.

Olive Tree Growth-Related Facts

Firstly, I would like to share a few important olive tree growing related characteristics and facts.

NameOlea europaea, meaning “European olive”
FamilyOleaceae
TypeFruit tree
Fruit Olive
Height20 to 30 feet (6 – 9 meters) mature tree; however, olive trees may reach 26 to 49 feet (8 to 15 meters) depending on a variety
SoilWell-drained; a mix of chalk, clay, loam, and sand; rich minerals
ExposureFull sun
FoliageEvergreen
TrunkTypically crooked and twisted
BranchesMany thin branches with opposite branchlets
LeavesFeather-shaped or elliptic; 4 – 10 cm long and 1 – 3 cm wide
Flowering May to July
HarvestNovember to February
Health BenefitsCheck out our extensive article on Health Benefits of Olive Oil
Table: Key olive tree growing related specifics

olive tree growth rate - how fast olive trees grow?
Check out how fast olive tree grows and an olive tree growth rate

For more olive tree knowledge, join the olive tree growers community I have created on FACEBOOK for you to ask questions, share experiences, and post pictures of your olive trees! Click here to join

How do Olives Grow? – Olive Growth Cycle

As with all living organisms, the olive has its own growing cycle – from dormant period to birth (sprout), to infancy (flower buds), to juvenile (fruit), to adult (olive ripe), and finally to death (harvest).  Because olives are renewable, the olive growth cycle begins again every spring.

For the olive life cycle to run full circle, various external and internal conditions must be favorable for the olive tree. For instance, the olives require adequate space, water, nutrients, and enough sunlight for their successful growth. Olive trees grow best in subtropical zones.

However, even with great conditions, various stresses such as insects, diseases, weather, and time itself weaken the olive tree and can cause olives or the tree itself to die. Although an olive growth cycle may be stopped at any time for many different reasons, a new growth cycle can begin again next spring.

olive growth cycle
Olive Growth Cycle infographic

So let’s look at each of the stages of the olive growth cycle separately.

1. Dormancy Period

At first, there is a dormancy period for 1 – 3 months in the olive growth cycle. This is the time when olive tree rests after the harvest season-ending January and collects the energy and recourses to start a new olive life cycle.

pruning olive trees after harvest
Heavy pruning of olive trees happens during and after harvest before the spring and new olive cycle starts

2. Sprout Growth

In February, after the olive tree has been pruned, the floral induction begins. As a result, new sprouts begin to grow and covers all the olive tree.

Please bear in mind, the sprout season may start even later, depending on your climate zone. But here is described an olive growth cycle around the Mediterranean coast.

flower bud stage of olive tree
New sprouts and flower buds are coming out in March (image taken early in March 2021 in Kalamata, Greece)

3. Flowering

Later in March, you can spot flower buds appearing on evergreen olive trees (see an image in the infographic below).

olive tree flower buds in spring
Flower buds covers all the young part of the branch (image taken 2nd week of March in Kalamata, Greece)

This is the start of the olive flowering season in May. Thus olives are flowering only around 1 week, it brings small beautiful white blooms.

olive tree flowering in may
Above: Olive tree shows white small flowers – I took this pic on May
olive tree full of flowers in may
Above: olive flowers covered olive tree fully when the flowering season starts in May

4. Fruit Developing

Then, the olive fruit development stage starts in June. It starts with the falling of petals, then with the forming of olive pit and hardening,  and olive fruit growing. Overall, it takes around 3 months to build up an olive fruit.

olive fruits in august
Above: at the beginning of olive development, the fruits are very tiny. Then they are pumped with water and becomes much bigger (i took this pic in August)
olive fruits developing in august
Above: This picture shows how do olive grow in mid- September

5. Olive Ripe

Finally, olives reach their last stage in the growth cycle in October. And the olives start to mature and ripe until they are ready for the harvest in early December up to the end of January. By the way, it’s good to know, that the color of the olive corresponds to how ripe they are when harvested. For example, the green color is unripe young olive. There as the dark purple or black is ripe olive.

olive fruit in october
Above: Beautiful Koroneiki olives looks healthy and getting ready for harvest in Jan next year – I took this pic on 29th of September 2020
Koroneiki olives is used to make Kalamata olive oil
This is image of ripened Koroneiki olives grown in Kalamata region (I took this shot on December 2020)
when to pick olives for oil and brining and how
Find out when to pick olives and how

Planting and re-potting an olive tree

Olives grow on the olive trees planted in the ground in warm temperate climates or indoors in containers or pots in cooler climates. The olive tree adds a beautiful addition to your landscape and yummy olives to your side dishes when grown under ideal conditions.

In case, you are looking forward to growing companion plants for your olive tree, you should think about the large pot for your tree to have enough space for a preferable plant combination.

Planting Olive Trees in the Ground

Timing

Olive trees need time to acclimate to their new surroundings. You can plant an olive tree in fall or in spring before the heavy summer heat. Early spring is the perfect time for olive tree planting and growing as the frees have the entire spring and summer to establish themselves in the soil with warm weather at their disposal. Find a sunny, south-facing area of your garden or house which has no grass. Ground cover tends to steal nutrients and soil moisture away from olive trees, which compromises their growing and fruiting prospects.

  • The olive tree can be planted directly in the ground only in regions where it doesn’t freeze in winter.
  • If you are planting in spring, provide for regular watering over the first year after planting.

Soil Preparation

Your soil must be well-draining and fertile. The best soil includes a balanced mixture of organic matter (manure or seaweed), sand and clay. A smart way to determine if your soil structure is healthy for olive trees is by adding water. 1 inch (2.5 cm) of standing water on the soil’s surface should absorb into the ground after one hour. If the water stays on the surface, you need to amend the soil with sand to loosen the compacted soil. You can work in nutrient-rich soil to improve the quality before planting.

BOTTOM LINE:

When considering soil requirements, the most important factor is olive trees can typically grow in a variety of soil types, but they don’t tolerate saturated soil.

Tools required to plant an olive tree

Indeed, you don’t need any fancy gardening tools for olive tree planting or re-potting in your garden. The most important is to have a showel and soil tester to check soil quality prior to planting. Thus, the rest of the garden appliances you can mix and match with what you already have in place.

As to make it faster and easier for you, I added some best references to Amazon in case you are interested to get one of those:

Last update on 2021-03-20 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Last update on 2021-03-20 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Steps on how to plant an olive tree in the ground

Let’s go through the olive tree planting process step by step:

  • Dig a planting hole 2 to 3 times wider the diameter of the olive tree’s root ball you are transferring. This large hole offers a comfortable area for new roots to acclimate and spread into the surrounding soil.
  • Break up the soil that was dug out. Check that odd bits and pieces have been removed, such as rocks or wood.
  • Add planting soil mix and an organic soil conditioner such as manure and seaweed. If your soil is heavy clay, you can also add sand to loosen the compacted soil.
  • You may let the olive tree’s root ball sit in a bucket of water for a few minutes to rehydrate the soil and roots of the olive tree.
  • If the root ball has any dead or damaged roots, cut them off of the tree. You can also straighten roots that seem to curl around themselves to help them grow better once planted in the ground.
  • Place your olive tree in the center of the hole, carefully spreading the roots out along the bottom.
  • The top of the root ball should stay 1 inch (2.5 cm) above the topsoil since it settles down into the ground once established. If you plant the olive tree root ball on an even level with the surrounding soil, the tree eventually sinks down into the ground.
  • Fungus or mold or mushroom becomes a major issue as moist soil touches the trunk directly above the root ball.
  • Planting the olive tree with consideration of the root ball’s position prevents diseases in the future.
  • Fill the hole in with the prepared soil mix.
  • Do not add fertilizer to the hole when planting, because it can burn the olive tree roots.
  • Lightly press the soil down.
  • Provide for regular, abundant watering over the first year after planting.
olive trees growing in Kalamata region
These beautiful olive trees are growing in Kalamata region (image taken on December 2020)

Planting Olive Trees in Pots

In areas where you have cold winters, you must plant your olive tree in a large garden box or pot. Before the first freeze, you should be moving olive trees indoors for winter and placed them in a very bright room, where the temperature does not drop below 43°F ( 6° C) in winter.

Early spring, you can bring it out for it to spend the rest of the year outdoors.

Last update on 2021-03-20 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

how grow olives indoors

Re-potting olive trees

When planting or re-potting, favor a blend of soil mix and plant-based soil without any chalk, one part each.

Re-potting is preferably done in spring, after the fruit harvest or at the end of summer after flowering. Read more on how to repot olive trees here

buying an olive tree
Tips on how to choose and buy an olive tree

Watering and fertilizing olive trees

Consistent and deep watering of your new olive tree ensures it has enough moisture for healthy growth. If the olive tree is planted in a pot, it tends to dry off much faster, so the watering of the olive tree is very important.

  • In general, the first 5 to 6 inches (13 to 15 cm) of soil should be moist, but not soggy.
  • Olive trees dislike having too much water.
what is the best fertilizer for olive trees in pots
Read more about olive tree fertilizing process
  • Consistent watering that keeps the soil moist without being saturated is ideal for tree growth.
  • Favor watering in the evening so that water isn’t lost through evaporation so fast.
  • It is good practice to fertilize the olive tree during its growing season after the planting process.
  • Fertilizers formulated for olive trees, with high nitrogen levels, supplement the tree’s nutrient needs for flourishing growth and fruiting.
  • As an example, here are recommended Amazon links for automatic plant watering or adjustable garden watering system
5 Tips On Water Requirements For Olive Trees in Pots
5 Tips on water requirements for olive tree

Pruning and caring for an olive tree

Fruits only grow on new growth, so you must prune after the harvest depending on the variety of olive tree, during the month of February and April.  Intense sunlight can cause sunscald or bark rot on cut areas if you prune after May.

  • Pruning broken or damaged branches help your tree stay healthy.
  • You may also want to prune to control the size of the tree or to open up the canopy to let in more light. Remove branches that cross over each other, too.
  • Too much pruning can reduce your olive crop.
  • Prune lightly.

To learn more about how to prune olive trees follow 7 step guidelines.

growing olives harvest

Harvesting the finest olives fruit

Olive fruit generally ripens in six to eight months, but that can vary based on the climate. December – January is often the prime harvesting time for olive fruit. You want to leave the olives on the tree until they’re ripe, as they won’t ripen once you pick them.

kalamata olives harvesting 1
This is a standard way to harvest olives in Kalamata, where you cover the ground with net and drop olives into it by using a specific tools or with bear hands (image taken on December 2020)

Olives for eating are harvested either green or when they are fully black (ripe). You can make an olive oil or table olives for your own use.

how to make olive oil at home
Read on how to make olive oil

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Diseases and parasites that frequently attack olive trees prevention

The greatest initial defense against pests and diseases is to keep olive trees fertilized and sufficiently watered. It helps to grow strong olive trees that enable to withstand attack and less likely to suffer long-term harm.

Once pests are identified, check your garden center for the suitable control products. Cure of pests and diseases are always more successful when done in the earliest stage of development.

how to remove scale insects on olive trees in pots guide
Scale insects are the most common infestation for olive trees growing indoors – read more
  • To keep olives free of diseases prune on a yearly basis end of the winter to keep the crown open. By limiting the height it is easier to spot problems, prevent the disease from spreading and pick the olive fruit.
  • The olive tree growers must harvest the entire crop, collect all the olive fruits and bin any excess as birds eat the fruit and the seeds may germinate some distance away.
  • The biggest curse of the olive tree has always been an olive fruit fly. If you notice the signs of the olive fruit fly, remove fruit as soon as possible once it is ripe to prevent the maggots from leaving the fruit and entering the soil to pupate. Collect fallen olives from the ground and remove as much fruit as possible from trees during the harvest process to prevent the spread of this parasite.

Here you can find recommended links to sticky gnat traps for Indoor/Outdoor flying plant-insect like Fungus Gnats, Whiteflies, Aphids, Leaf Miners, Thrips, and other flying plant insects and bio 12 months tree protect and feed concentrate:

Last update on 2021-03-20 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Conclusion

In summary, if the olive tree was planted in great conditions to grow and taken care of properly, then you can expect the olive fruits to be successfully ripe. If an olive tree reached its maturity for harvest, it takes around 1 year for olive fruit to mature and be ready to harvest.

After the harvest, you can bring the olives home and add great taste to your table! Thereafter, olive is very rich in nutrients and full of vitamins. So don’t forget to include Kalamata olives in your diet, learn how to prepare and marinate them to keep your meals more interesting and flavorful!

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2 thoughts on “How Do Olives Grow (With Pictures & Infographic of Olive Growth Cycle)”

  1. It looks like I finally found an informative website. I have a small and young olive grove in Nigel, South Africa with Mission and Frantoio trees. The first year has passed and I lost 25% of the trees. Still trying to find out what went wrong.

  2. Hi Alex, thank you for the nice words! May I ask what was the temperature during wintertime? Any extreme conditions? We have cases of olive grove dies (90% of trees or more) located in the mountain in the mainland of Greece due to extreme cold weather with ice cubes for only a few days. Another thing maybe olive tree diseases. Unfortunately, anything extreme can harm and damage olive trees.

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