Why Olive Tree Dropping Leaves? Reasons | Cures | Prevention

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Olive tree is an excellent plant to be around all year round in your landscape or as a decor accessory inside the house. Thus, sometimes there may be some problems with olive leaves, and as a consequence you notice your olive tree dropping leaves. Sadly, even by taking good care of your trees, it’s not always possible to retain their healthy growth and stop our olive tree leaves from changing color or losing leaves altogether.

But why does it happen, why is your olive tree dropping leaves? There are many reasons why olive tree dropping leaves with some being unavoidable, and others down to the level of care that tree growers provide. The most common problem of olive trees dropping leaves is related to watering when the roots of the olive tree are too soaked or too dry. Another reason is seasonality changes where is normal for an olive tree to shed some leaves especially prior to the winter slowdown. Finally, there are always threat by overfertilization, pests, and infections that lead to a massive drop in olive leaves. 

This olive tree dropping leaves issue may occur from time to time and it doesn’t mean you are not taking good care of it, but rather that you may just not fulfilling the requirements for keeping the tree in balance and healthy. For this reason, let’s look into each reason separately and the way how to cure or prevent it.

olive tree dropping leaves

Olive Tree Dropping Leaves Reasons & Prevention

Olive trees tend naturally to drop some leaves during the growth or dormant winter season, but they should not drop the majority of their leaves during that time. Therefore, reduced light, improper watering, overfertilizing, cold damage are common environmental conditions that may lead to olive tree dropping leaves massively. If you notice your olive tree shedding leaves more than usual, don’t panic, it can be easily fixed in most cases. 

So let’s start with a table where I listed the main reasons and the tips on prevention mechanisms:

Olive Tree Dropping Leaves ReasonHow to Fix It?
1. Watering Issues Soil is either too dry or too wet – water with care; fix drainage issues; deep watering method
2. Reduced Light & Transition ShockPut your olive tree back to the sunniest location; adaptation moving indoors
3. Improper NutrientsFertilize if lack of nutrients; repot if overfertilized
4. Extreme Temperature or Transplanting StressProtect your tree with a shade during extremely high temperatures; ensure watering, nutrients needs
5. Rotten RootsRegular watering and drainage system in place
6. Fungal InfectionProper pruning, watering, and fertilizing; contact a local arborist
7. Bacteria InfestationContact local arborist; use bactericides
Table 1. Olive tree dropping leaves reasons & solutions

1. Watering Issues

When the olive tree leaves fall off all of a sudden, it means that the soil is either too dry or too wet for its comfort (cause by underwatering or overwatering).

Overwatering

The leaves will turn yellow and fail if there’s too much water. If your tree is overwatered once, there is no big deal. However constant overwatering causes serious issues.

When you notice your olive tree is overwatered, the quickest solution is to repot it, and normally the tree makes a full recovery very soon.

Furthermore, potted olive trees can be overwatered much easier than planted in the ground. This is because the soil in a pot or container is more compact and might lack enough drainage holes. So if you believe your potted olive tree is holding too much water, first try only watering when the soil gets dry. If the soil is not drying after several days, I highly recommend to repot it with fresh soil.

If you’d like to learn what soil to use for your olive tree, make sure to check out my recent post: best soil for olive trees in pots.

If your olive tree is planted, consider transplanting it to a more elevated ground (such as sandy soil) to let gravity assist the draining process. Olive trees are fruit-bearing, and they need to have moisture in the soil to keep them healthy. But it doesn’t mean that the earth has to be wet all the time or it will rot the roots and the tree will die. The best thing to do is to try to ensure that there is a drainage system to prevent the roots from being soaked.

olive tree overwatering symptoms
Read more about olive tree overwatering symptoms & how to fix it

Underwatering

On the other hand, the olive leaves will dry, become brown, and drop due to a lack of moisture in the soil. It will cause those scenarios to happen when there’s an issue about the frequency and amount of water.

Olive trees naturally benefit from the deep watering method because it mimics the natural rainfall (see my video 1 attached).

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Potted Olive Tree Deep Watering Method

For potted olive trees, the quick way to tell if an olive tree is over or underwatered is to use a finger to feel the first 2 inches (5 cm) of soil. If the soil of your olive tree is sopping wet at least 2 hours after watering, then it’s likely overwatered. Opposite, if the soil is very dry, it likely needs more water. Also, you can choose a more scientific approach and use a moisture meter to measure the soil – it’s fast, easy, and reliable.

olive tree dropping leaves because of reduced light
This is a standard case when a potted olive tree dropping leaves because of reduced light in the room

2. Reduced Light & Transition Shock

If you moved your potted olive tree away from a window into a darker place, then the tree may start dropping leaves drastically because of its response to reduced light. Olive trees react slowly to drastic changes in their environment. So falling olive leaves is a clear indication of your tree getting less than optimal light. To comply with natural olive tree needs, keep it in your sunniest location.

For instance, if you have just purchased your olive tree and it was kelp in a greenhouse full of light, so it is normal that your tree is shedding some old leaves while adapting to your home environment. Don’t worry too much, it will grow new on top very fast.

Another common reason for olive trees suddenly dropping leaves is caused by the shock of transition indoors. Because leaves grew to maturity in a certain environment, it’s more or less set as to how efficient it will be at utilizing light. Let’s say if leaves in the full sun get 10 on a scale of 10, but inside they get less than 5 (out of 10), so it’s an absolute shock to the olive tree or any other plant. Leaves do not tolerate so much reduced light and, as a result, start dropping leaves.

In general, leave dropping issues arise from an inconsistency between temperature and light, which messes with the tree’s transpiration. I assume it’s always good to try to acclimate the olive tree before moving indoors to avoid leaf drop.

For more information and tips on how to move your olive trees indoors, make sure to check out my recent post: 10 Steps of Moving Olive Trees Indoors.

Olive tree leaves falling due to seasonal changes
Olive tree leaves falling due to seasonal changes and it is absolutely fine to see some leaves falling off in the winter season

3. Improper Nutrients

Another reason why olive trees can lose their leaves is due to over or under fertilization (an abundance of nutrients). Too few nutrients and the olive tree can’t get what it needs to grow, especially the potted trees. Too many nutrients and the olive tree’s roots can become chemically burned, damaging the tree or killing it.

If your olive tree has too much fertilizer or nutrients, provide fresh soil and plenty of water to dilute the nutrients. The nutrients should leech through the soil fairly quickly, especially if the olive tree is planted. On the other hand, if your olive tree is potted, you’ll likely need to repot it to save it.

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4. Extreme Temperature or Transplanting Stress

Olive trees generally prefer temperatures between 80ºF to 90ºF (26ºC to 32ºC). If the temperature is over or under this range for a long time, then the olive tree may become stressed (if higher temperature) and go dormant (if lower temperature). Additionally, olive trees can become stressed after transplanting, especially if their roots were damaged in the process.

One of the first symptoms of stress on olive trees is the loss of fruit and flowers, followed by leaves. If your olive tree is stressed and it’s not making a full recovery, make sure it’s receiving the proper sunlight, water, and nutrients (see above for more information on these).

If all of these needs are met, then your olive tree should improve. Though, be patient – you still might need to give it at least several months before you see any process in recovery.

5. Rotten Roots

Inconsistent and incorrect watering can lead to overwatering issues and cause rotten roots following by olive tree losing leaves. It can occur if the soil is too wet and there is no proper drainage for the water to come out. The roots of the olive tree can get soaked in water for extended periods causing it to rot and not feed the plant anymore.

To check if the root is rotting, remove the soil at the top portion. If the roots are already brown or black, that means that it’s already dead. Cut them off.

You can avoid rotten roots by making a drainage system for water to drain once the soil is moisturized and establish good watering habits.

6. Fungal Infection

A more difficult case when an olive tree leaves turning brown and dropping because of a fungal infection. Verticillium wilt is a soil-borne fungus and sometimes it can affect the olive tree. The fungus can be absorbed by the roots and will affect the whole tree. It can make the new growth to wither and the branches to rot.

Unfortunately, this fungal disease is not possible to cure. Once the olive tree gets affected, the tree will die if this disease is not managed. As well, fruiting can also be affected since the tree is no longer fit to bear them. The best way to control it to prolong the life of the tree is proper pruning, watering, and fertilizing.

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7. Bacteria Infestation

Another cause of the leaves to drop from the olive tree is a bacterial infection known as the olive knot. Normally it spreads through water and can affect the olive tree fast. It will go through the cuts and wounds of the tree. Once it’s concerned, a thick gall will appear on woody parts of the olive tree including twigs, branches, limbs, trunks, roots, and leaves.

The gall can restrict the nourishment of the olive tree. It will no longer absorb water, and the leaves will fall out, making it impossible to photosynthesize. To treat infected olive trees, you should remove easily visible knots from infected parts of the tree and spray with bactericide applications to prevent them from coming back.

Olive knot galls bacterial disease on olive tree twigs
Olive knot galls bacterial disease on olive tree twigs – the best option is to remove those affected branches and twigs
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Grab Essentials for Your Olive Tree

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Generic FAQs

Do Olive Trees Lose Leaves in Winter?

No, olive trees are evergreen. But the olive leaves are dropping more often prior to the winter dormant season but never drops off all of them at once. The heaviest olive leaves fall is in winter during harsh weather and in spring during new growth.

Do Olive Tree Leaves Grow Back?

Yes, if you provide regular care and ensure your olive tree has enough direct sunlight, proper watering, and nutrients, the tree will be thriving and producing new branches and leaves.

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Conclusion: Why Olive Tree Dropping Leaves?

When the olive tree dropping leaves looks alarming, better check right away what’s causing it. Some conditions are still treatable, but prevention is always better than cure.

For instance, olive trees need to have plenty of moisture. But avoid overwatering them, or you may have a problem like the unstoppable dropping of leaves. It’s not good for the olive tree to lose so many leaves since it’s essential for photosynthesis. So if you can ensure a drainage system before planting them, that will be an excellent idea. It will avoid many plant issues, and your olive tree can survive for a long time.

With good care, the olive tree gets, the more olive fruits for you to enjoy. Take good care of it so you can have more olive fruits to harvest.

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4 thoughts on “Why Olive Tree Dropping Leaves? Reasons | Cures | Prevention”

  1. we have an olive tree since five yearsThis year we had a lot of snow for one week and the leaves fell off. The tree is about 6-8 ft tall but it showed no signs of leaves .The roots ate strong but there are no leaves. Is it still alive or dead?

  2. Hi Salma, sorry to hear about your olive tree. It seems it was hit by harsh weather, but your tree is alive as long as roots are strong and not damaged. Firstly observe branches and scratch the bark with a knife or nail and check if there is a sign of life. If some of the branches are dead, prune them off. If not, leave it and patiently wait, eventually, your tree will recover. Also, you should fertilize it to boost growth.

  3. My olive tree has little black growths that look similar to the olive knotts but they are black smooth and smaller. Is this the olive knott problem? Thank you!

  4. Hi Jan, if your olive branches, twigs, trunks are affected by the olive knots, carefully prune them out with sanitized shreds in order not to spread infection. In general, olive knots are difficult to control and if they spread across the tree, check out in your garden center for bactericide applications. However, if you are not sure it is olive knots, better to ask a local arborist to apply the correct treatment.

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