Olive Tree Dropping Leaves: Reasons | Cures | Prevention

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The olive tree is a lovely addition to any landscape or home decor all year round. However, sometimes there may be some problems with olive leaves, and you notice your olive tree dropping leaves. There are many reasons why this can occur, some of which are unavoidable and others that relate to the level of care provided by tree growers.

The most common reason for olive trees dropping leaves is related to watering. If the roots are too soaked or dry, it can cause a leaf drop. Seasonal changes can also lead to leaf shedding, especially before the winter slowdown. Over-fertilization, pests, and infections can cause a massive drop in olive leaves.

In this article, I will explore some of the specific causes of olive tree dropping leaves, as well as strategies for preventing and addressing this issue.

olive tree dropping leaves

I. Olive Tree Dropping Leaves Reasons & Cures

Olive trees tend naturally to drop some leaves during the growth or dormant winter season, but they should not drop most of their leaves during that time. However, if you notice excessive or sudden leaf drop, it may indicate a problem. Reduced light, improper watering, overfertilizing, and cold damage are common environmental conditions that may lead to olive tree dropping leaves massively.

In this table, I summarise the possible reasons for olive tree leaf drop and some suggested solutions to prevent or fix the issue:

Olive Tree Leaf Drop ReasonsSuggested Solutions
Overwatering or Poor DrainageAllow the soil to dry out between watering, and ensure proper drainage
UnderwateringWater the tree regularly and use a deep watering method
Nutrient DisbalanceUse fertilizers specific to olive trees, ensure proper soil pH and nutrient balance; repot if overfertilized
Frost or Cold Weather DamageProtect the tree from extremely cold temperatures
High Winds or Physical DamageStake the tree for support, prune damaged branches
Heat Stress or DroughtProvide shade or supplemental irrigation as needed
Transition StressPut olive tree to the sunniest location; adaptation moving indoors
Transplant ShockEnsure proper planting techniques and watering
Rotten RootsRegular watering and drainage system in place; replace soil
Pest Infestation & DiseaseIdentify the pest or disease and treat it accordingly. Contact local arborist. Proper pruning, watering and fertilizing

Olive tree may have several issues and may require specific solutions based on individual needs.

1. Overwatering

The olive leaves may turn yellow and fall if there’s too much water. This is because watering excessively can suffocate your olive tree, and it won’t be able to take in nutrients from the soil.

If your tree is overwatered once, there is no big deal. However, constant overwatering causes serious issues. It can cause root rot and potentially be deadly for your tree.

Water olive tree 1
Olive trees are accustomed to a lot of rainfall, but it is still possible to overwater them depending on the climate where you live.

How to Fix It?

When you notice your olive tree is overwatered, the quickest solution is to repot it; usually, the tree fully recovers very soon. Otherwise, stop watering it until the soil is thoroughly dried.

Depending on weather conditions, olive trees require deep watering once or twice a week. Water the tree slowly and deeply, allowing the water to penetrate the root system. During the summer months, it may be necessary to water more frequently.

Olive trees thrive in soils that are well-draining and packed with nutrients. Sandy loam soils are a great choice, allowing for excellent drainage and air circulation around the roots. However, don’t worry if you have clay or rocky soils, as olive trees can still grow well in these soil types as long as they are well-draining and nutrient-rich.

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For Olive Trees in Pots

Potted olive trees can be overwatered much easier than those planted in the ground. This is because the soil in a pot or container is more compact and might lack enough drainage holes.

If you believe your potted olive tree is holding too much water, try only watering when the soil gets dry. If the soil is not drying after several days, I highly recommend repotting it with fresh soil.

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

For Olive Trees in Ground

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 must always be wet 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.

Several irrigation methods are available for olive trees, including drip, flood, and sprinkler irrigation. Drip irrigation is the most efficient method, as it delivers water directly to the roots and minimizes water waste. Flood irrigation can lead to water runoff and erosion, while sprinkler irrigation can waste water and cause leaf burn.

More about benefits and methods of irrigation, read in my recent article: cultivating olive trees: irrigation.

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2. Underwatering

Not giving enough water is a problem too, since water is necessary for transporting nutrients throughout the olive tree. Due to the lack of moisture in the soil, the olive leaves will dry, become brown, and drop. It is a surviving mechanism to conserve water. Such scenarios happen when there’s an issue with 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).

olive tree underwatered 2 1
This olive tree suffers from underwatering, where leaves become dry & crispy, followed by dropping.

How to Fix It?

You should monitor the soil moisture levels and adjust your watering schedule accordingly. For potted olive trees, the quick way to tell if an olive tree is over or underwatered is to use a finger. Insert the finger to feel the first 2 inches (5 cm) of soil and note the moisture. Do it before you water your olive trees.

  • If the soil of your olive tree is sopping wet, it’s likely overwatered. Then leave off watering for a few days before rechecking it. Generally, the soil should dry before you water your dwarf olive trees.
  • Opposite, if the soil is very dry, it’s time for deep watering. Water your tree immediately to bring moisture back into the soil and the olive tree.

Finally, you can choose a more scientific approach and use a moisture meter to measure the soil – it’s fast, easy, and reliable. If you prefer this option, check out my article on using a moisture meter for olive trees.

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For olive trees in the ground, you can water them using various methods, including drip irrigation, soaker hoses, or by hand. Watering deeply and infrequently, rather than shallowly and frequently, encourages deep-root growth.

Relevant article:

How often and how much water does an olive tree need

Olive tree overwatering signs

3. Transition Shock and Inadequate Light

olive tree sunlight 1
Olive tree needs plenty of sunshine to grow flowers and olive fruits

If you move your potted olive tree away from a window into a darker place, it 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 indicate your tree is getting less than optimal light. Keep it in your sunniest location to comply with natural olive tree needs.

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

olive tree watering issues underwatered 1
If your olive tree suffers from reduced light after moving indoors, place it in the sunniest location.

Another common reason for olive trees suddenly dropping leaves is caused by the shock of transition indoors. Because leaves grew to maturity in a specific environment, it’s more or less set as to how efficient it will be at utilizing light. Let’s say 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.

Leave-dropping issues generally 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 drops.

olive leaves dropping transision shock 1
This is a standard case when a potted olive tree drops leaves because of reduced light in the room.

How to Fix It?

Whether your olive tree receives too much or too little sun, the fix is simple. Adjust your tree’s sunlight schedule to ensure it’s getting enough sun for growth but not too much that it’s burning your olive tree to a crisp. You can either select a brand-new permanent location for your olive tree or move it around your home at specific times of the day.

It’s also beneficial to regularly prune your tree to ensure that sunlight can reach all parts of the tree. In some cases, neighboring trees or structures may be blocking the sunlight. If this is the case, consider removing or trimming the obstruction to allow more sunlight to reach your olive tree.

Don’t forget to acclimate the olive tree before moving indoors to avoid leaf drops. For more information and tips on moving your olive trees indoors, check out my recent post: 10 Steps of Moving Olive Trees Indoors.

4. Nutrients Disbalance

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 or killing the tree.

Nutrient DeficiencySymptomsHow it Results in Leaf Drop
NitrogenYellowing or pale leavesLack of nitrogen can cause the leaves to turn yellow and eventually drop off
PhosphorusDark green leaves with purple veinsPhosphorus deficiency can cause leaves to turn dark green with purple veins, which can eventually lead to leaf drop
PotassiumLeaf edges turning brown or yellow, wilted leavesPotassium deficiency can cause leaf edges to turn brown or yellow and the leaves to become wilted and eventually drop off
MagnesiumYellowing between leaf veins, leaves may curl or cupMagnesium deficiency can cause yellowing between leaf veins, and leaves may curl or cup before dropping off
CalciumYellowing or browning of leaves, tips of leaves may dieCalcium deficiency can cause the yellowing or browning of leaves, and the tips of leaves may die before they drop off
IronYellowing of new leaves while older leaves remain greenIron deficiency can cause the yellowing of new leaves while older leaves remain green, which can eventually lead to leaf drop
Note: Other factors can also cause these symptoms, so first, you should correctly diagnose the issue before treating the tree.
olive tree underfertilized lack of nitrogen 1
This olive tree lacks nutrients (nitrogen mainly); some leaves change color into green-yellow and drop.

You can test the amount of nutrients the soil of your olive tree has with a testing kit. Learning what your tree’s soil is lacking and then balancing out the nutrients with olive food can make a huge difference. Usually, it’s important to give your olive trees a fertilizer with high nitrogen levels. NPK ratio of 30-10-10 will provide the best results, and your olive tree will thrive.

Provide olive food once per month throughout the active growing season. Use the fertilizer following instructions to prevent burning the tree and wasting effort.

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How to Fix 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 quickly leech through the soil, especially if the olive tree is planted. However, if your olive tree is potted, you’ll likely need to repot it to save it.

If your olive tree lacks nutrition, search for a balanced olive fertilizer and follow a regular feeding schedule. Make sure to follow the fertilizer’s instructions.

The pH level is also essential, and olive trees prefer slightly alkaline soils with pH between 6 and 8. If the pH level is too low, the tree won’t be able to absorb the most beneficial nutrients it needs, which can lead to leaf drop and other issues. On the other hand, if the pH level is too high, the tree can also struggle to absorb certain nutrients, which can cause stunted growth and other problems. That’s why it’s crucial to regularly test the soil pH and adjust as needed to keep your olive tree healthy and happy.

When planting your olive tree, it’s a good idea to amend the soil with organic matter like compost or aged manure to improve soil structure and fertility. But be careful not to over-fertilize, as this can lead to nutrient imbalances and other issues. A balanced fertilizer specially formulated for olive trees can help maintain the proper nutrient levels your tree needs to thrive.

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5. Natural Causes

There are many different reasons why olive trees may drop their leaves. The most common causes include seasonal changes and aging. Let’s take a closer look at each of these factors.

Olive tree leaves falling due to seasonal changes
Olive tree leaves fall due to seasonal changes, and it is absolutely fine to see some leaves falling off in winter.

Seasonal Changes

Seasonal changes can cause olive trees to drop their leaves. As temperatures cool and daylight hours shorten, olive trees will naturally shed their leaves in the fall in preparation for winter dormancy. This typical and healthy process should not be a cause for concern.

However, other factors may be at play if your olive tree drops leaves outside of the fall season. For example, your olive tree may drop leaves to conserve water and energy if the weather is particularly dry or windy.

Suppose you notice your olive tree dropping leaves outside of the fall season. In that case, promptly investigate and address other potential causes to prevent further leaf drops and promote healthy growth.

Aging

As olive trees age, they naturally drop leaves. This normal process occurs as the tree diverts energy to new growth and fruit production.

As the tree ages, its leaves become less efficient at photosynthesis, which causes them to drop. Typically, older leaves at the bottom of the tree will fall first, followed by newer leaves higher up.

Note that while leaf drop due to aging is a natural process, it can be accelerated by other factors such as disease or nutrient deficiencies.

How to Fix It?

To ensure that seasonal changes and aging don’t lead to excessive leaf drop, you should provide your olive tree with the care it needs throughout the year. This includes watering it regularly, providing adequate sunlight, and ensuring the soil has the appropriate nutrient levels. Regular pruning can also help to remove older, less productive branches and promote new growth.

Monitor the health of your olive trees and address any issues promptly to ensure optimal growth and fruit production.

6. Extreme Temperature

olive tree freezing temp 1
Extreme weather may damage olive tree leaves, branches, and even roots.

When it comes to growing healthy and productive olive trees, one of the most important factors to consider is the climate and temperature of your growing region. Olive trees are a Mediterranean species and thrive in warm, sunny climates with mild winters and hot, dry summers. However, they can also tolerate cooler temperatures and some varieties are even suited to more temperate climates.

Olive trees generally prefer temperatures between 60ºF to 90ºF (15ºC to 32ºC) during the growing season. The olive tree may become stressed if the temperature is higher than this range for a long time. And temperatures above 100°F (38°C) can damage the tree’s growth and yield. If the temperature is lower, then it may go dormant. Extreme cold can also be a problem, as temperatures below 20°F (-7°C) can cause damage or even kill the tree.

So if you’re thinking about growing olive trees, choosing a location with a suitable climate and temperature conditions for your specific variety is beneficial. And if you’re in a cooler climate zone, don’t worry – plenty of olive tree varieties can thrive in your area with proper care and attention.

Olive CultivarOriginCharacteristics
ArbequinaSpainHardy and able to withstand colder temperatures. Famous for small-scale olive oil production.
KoroneikiGreeceTolerant to cold temperatures. Small fruit with high oil content.
LeccinoItalyAble to withstand frost and cold temperatures. Famous for both oil and table olives.
FrantoioItalyHigh-quality oil and the ability to tolerate colder temperatures. Popular in both Italy and California.
PendolinoItalyHigh oil content and ability to tolerate cold temperatures. Famous for both oil and table olives.
Table 3. Cold-tolerant olive tree cultivars

How to Fix It?

You can use shade cloth or other shade forms to protect your tree from extreme heat, and you can cover your tree with a frost cloth to protect it from frost damage.

Ensure your olive tree is planted in well-draining soil, as waterlogged soil can exacerbate temperature-related leaf drop. By protecting your tree from extreme temperatures and providing it with the proper growing conditions, you can help prevent leaf drops and keep your olive tree healthy.

7. Transplanting Stress

Additionally, olive trees can become stressed after transplanting, especially if their roots are damaged.

One of the first symptoms of stress on olive trees is the loss of fruit and flowers, followed by leaves.

How to Fix It?

If your olive tree is stressed and it’s not fully recovering, ensure it’s receiving the proper sunlight, water, and nutrients (see above for more information on these).

If all these needs are met, 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.

8. Rotten Roots

olive tree root bound 1 1
The root-bound olive tree has similar symptoms as an underwatered tree. It may wilt quickly and drop leaves.

Inconsistent and incorrect watering can lead to overwatering issues and cause rotten roots, followed by olive trees 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.

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

How to Fix It?

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

9. Pest Infestation and Disease

More complex cases are when the olive tree leaves change color and dropping because of pest infestation or disease. Early identification and treatment of these issues are crucial for the tree’s health and yield.

Here is a closer look at some common pests and diseases that can cause olive trees to drop their leaves

Pests & DiseasesSymptomsControl Measures
Olive Fruit FlyLeaf drop, maggots feeding on fruitTraps, baits, harvest fruit when ripe
Olive Lace BugYellowing and curling of leaves, leaf dropInsecticides, pruning of affected leaves
Scale InsectsYellowing and stunting of growth, oval-shaped insects on bark or leavesInsecticides, pruning of affected branches
Olive KnotGalls on branches and trunk, leaf drop, decreased yieldsPruning of affected branches, copper-based fungicides
Verticillium WiltYellowing and wilting of leaves, branch dieback, leaf drop, decreased yieldsPruning of affected branches, fungicides
AnthracnoseBlack spots on leaves and fruit, leaf drop, decreased yieldsPruning of affected branches, fungicides
* Leaf drops can be a symptom of many different issues affecting olive trees, so, first, properly diagnose the cause before taking action

a. Pests

Scale Insects

Scale insects are common pests that suck sap from olive trees’ leaves, stems, and branches, leading to yellowing, wilting, and defoliation, followed by the leaf drop. They are small and immobile, making them difficult to detect, and they can blend in with the bark. The insects produce honeydew, a sticky substance that attracts other pests, further damaging the tree. Physical removal and applying horticultural oil or insecticide can effectively control them.

Olive Fruit Fly

The olive fruit fly is a common pest that feeds on the fruit of the olive tree. The female fly lays eggs inside the olive, and the larvae feed on the fruit, causing it to drop. The damage can cause leaves to turn yellow and fall. To control the olive fruit fly, using baits or traps and applying insecticides is practical.

Olive Psyllid

The olive psyllid is a tiny insect that feeds on the sap of the leaves and shoots of the olive tree. It can cause defoliation, stunting, and dieback of twigs and branches. The adults lay eggs on the leaves, and the nymphs feed on the sap. The damage can cause leaves to turn yellow and fall prematurely. Pesticides like insecticidal soaps or neem oil can be effective to control the olive psyllid.

b. Diseases

Peacock Spot

Peacock spot fungal disease affects olive trees worldwide. It affects leaves (see picture below) and can cause enormous losses in olive yield. If you suspect your olive tree may suffer from this fungus, I have an extended article on protecting and treating your tree from peacock yellow with black spots disease.

olive tree dropping leaves peacock disease 1
Peacock spot olive disease affects olive leaves and can be fatal if not treated.

Verticillium Wilt

Verticillium wilt is a soil-borne fungal disease that can affect olive trees, causing them to drop leaves. The fungus attacks the tree’s root system, blocking water uptake and nutrients. The tree leaves will turn yellow, and the tree will begin to defoliate. To control verticillium wilt, fungicides are often recommended, along with proper pruning and management of the tree.

olive tree disease brown leaves 2 1
Verticilium wilt fungus disease causes olive leaves to become brown and drop.

Koroneiki Olive FGT 600x600 7dcf8734 de95 42e3 8f80 6b02e4fbb3c3

Olive Knot

Another cause of the leaves dropping from the olive tree is a bacterial infection known as the olive knot. It usually 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 photosynthesizing impossible.

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.

Anthracnose

Anthracnose is a fungal disease affecting the olive tree’s leaves, twigs, and fruit. The condition can cause defoliation, stunted growth, and yield loss. The tree leaves will develop yellow spots, and the twigs will become black and die. To control anthracnose, using fungicides is effective, along with proper sanitation practices and pruning.

How to Fix It?

Monitoring your trees regularly for signs of pests and diseases is crucial. Early detection and treatment can prevent severe damage to your trees and keep them healthy. Proper pruning, irrigation, and fertilization can also help keep your trees strong and less susceptible to pests and diseases.

To treat infected olive trees, remove infected branches of the tree and spray with a bactericide or fungicide application to prevent them from returning. Integrated pest management strategies, including cultural, biological, and chemical controls, can be used to manage pests and diseases in olive trees.

If you are unsure of the disease your olive tree has, contact your local arborist and arrange a visit to observe your olive tree.

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II. Symptoms of Olive Tree Dropping Leaves

Olive trees are known for their durability and longevity but are not immune to problems that can cause leaf drops. To identify and address these issues, you should know the symptoms of olive tree-dropping leaves.

Here’s a table that outlines both the early symptoms and advanced signs associated with typical reasons for olive tree dropping leaves:

Reason for Olive Tree Dropping LeavesEarly SymptomsAdvanced Signs
Watering IssuesYellowing or browning of leaves, wilting, premature leaf dropExcessive leaf drop, stunted growth, dieback of branches
Root RotWilting, yellowing, or browning of leaves, stunted growthSoft, mushy roots, foul odor from soil, dieback of branches
Pests (e.g., olive fruit flies, scale insects)Tiny holes in leaves, sticky residue on leaves, defoliationSignificant defoliation, dieback of branches, presence of pests and/or their larvae
Fungal Diseases (e.g., verticillium wilt, anthracnose)Brown or black spots on leaves, yellowing or browning of leaves, defoliationComplete defoliation, dieback of branches, presence of fungal growth on leaves or bark
Nutrient Deficiencies (e.g., nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium)Yellowing of leaves, stunted growthWeak and brittle branches, leaf drop, dieback of branches
Extreme Temperatures (e.g., frost, heat stress)Wilting, yellowing or browning of leaves, defoliationComplete defoliation, dieback of branches, bark damage

Note that there may be additional reasons and symptoms of olive tree-dropping leaves that are not listed here. You should diagnose the underlying issue before taking action to prevent or manage leaf drop.

1. Early Signs

As olive tree growers and gardeners, you should identify the early signs of an olive tree losing leaves. The earlier you can detect any issues, the easier it is to address them before they become more significant problems.

  • One of the early signs of olive tree-dropping leaves is a discoloration of the leaves. The leaves may start to yellow, curl, or develop brown spots.
  • Another early sign is a thinning of the canopy, where the leaves become sparse, and the branches start to show through.

If you notice any of these early signs, it is vital to investigate further to determine the underlying cause. This may involve examining the soil, checking the watering schedule, or inspecting the tree for pests or diseases.

2. Advanced Signs

As the olive tree continues to deteriorate, more severe symptoms can arise.

  • One of the advanced signs of olive tree dropping leaves is the appearance of wilting branches or limbs. The leaves on these affected branches are often yellow, then brown, and eventually drop off.
  • Another advanced sign is the development of leaf spots, which may appear as dark lesions or irregularly shaped spots on the leaves. These spots can be caused by fungi or bacteria and can eventually lead to the defoliation of the tree.
  • The olive tree may also show signs of cankers or lesions on the trunk or branches. This can indicate a fungal or bacterial infection, spreading rapidly throughout the tree and causing significant damage.

Closely monitor your olive trees and promptly identify any advanced signs of leaf drop. If you notice these symptoms, immediately prevent further damage and potentially save your tree.

3. How to Identify Signs?

To identify the signs of olive tree-dropping leaves, regularly monitor your trees and look for any changes or abnormalities. This can include inspecting the leaves, branches, and trunk for signs of damage, discoloration, or pests. By catching the early signs of leaf drop, you can take steps to address the problem before it becomes more serious.

Also, keep accurate records of your cultural practices and environmental conditions, as this information can help you identify potential problems and make informed decisions about management strategies.

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III. Steps to Save Olive Tree Losing Leaves

If you are not sure why your olive tree losing leaves and how to diagnose the problem, follow my guidelines step-by-step below, act accordingly, and your olive tree will stop shedding leaves.

1. Take a Close Look at the Underground

Seeing what is happening with the struggling roots of your olive tree helps diagnose the problem. Of course, this is easier with potted olive trees than in-ground trees, but there is no substitute for an up-close look below.

Take the olive tree out of its pot by turning it on the side and gently pulling it by its base. Most potted trees come out quickly. If yours sticks, gently work it loose. Don’t be concerned about hurting your olive tree; professional growers frequently take this same step.

For an in-ground olive tree, only dig up part of the tree. Focus on a single area instead. Start with a spot between the olive tree’s trunk and the outermost edge of its canopy. Then dig a hole 5 to 14 inches (15 to 35 cm) deep to see what’s happening in the soil. Dig more than one hole for more giant olive trees to see if any problems look widespread.

olive tree grove oliviada observing roots 1
Observing the roots of the olive tree shedding leaves is the first step in saving the tree.

2. Examine Soil and Drainage

Olive tree roots need air and nutrients, whether in pots or the ground, and they should never grow in water. Drowning roots shut down and rot in soggy soil, and new roots can’t develop. Without healthy roots that absorb water and nutrients, olive leaves tips turn brown from thirst, get dry and crispy, and eventually drop.

When you pull an olive tree from a pot or container, the soil around the roots should not be soaked and hold its shape. If the soil is excessively wet, check for blocked drainage holes and clean them to be sure water runs through. Then, adjust your olive tree watering routine to ensure you’re not overwatering.

Olive trees don’t get enough water if the soil crumbles, feels hard, or is dry to the touch. Soil can create a hard crust or stay away from the pot’s sides. As a result, olive roots may miss pouring water. To maintain water flowing for the roots, break up any crust and firmly press the soil against the side of the container.

These same principles apply to in-ground olive trees. For example, if the soil is excessively moist throughout the planting area, the olive tree is overwatered, or the soil needs better drainage. On the other hand, if the soil is tough, crispy, or dry, it’s underwatered or drains too quickly.

If you need to check the drainage of olive tree in-ground, follow the below:

  • Dig a deep hole 10 inches (25 cm) and fill it with water.
  • Let it drain completely, then instantly fill it with 10 inches (25 cm) of water again.
  • Measure the depth of the water every 15 minutes to learn how much water drains per hour. The soil stays too wet if less than 1 inch (2.5 cm) drains per hour. 1 to 6 inches (2.5 to 15 cm) per hour is fine, but more than 6 inches in an hour implies water slips away too quickly before your olive trees get everything they need.

Soil testing can help determine if your olive tree planting area needs soil amendments to lighten compacted clay soils and improve water absorption or earthworm castings to increase organic matter and increase the soil’s ability to retain water and nutrients. Before planting an olive tree, testing the soil is always a good idea.

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3. Observe Roots

Olive tree roots reveal information about their health and their surroundings. With a few colorful exceptions, healthy roots are white, firm, and smell fresh and earthy. On the other hand, gray or brown roots typically smell like rot because they are dead or dying from too much water. Once roots grow soft and rot, you can’t revive them. Instead, new roots need to take over. 

For potted olive trees, remove rotten roots before repotting the tree with a fresh start. For in-ground olive trees, roots may need expert assistance who can advise you on the best action.

Roots that curve on or around themselves are a terrible sign for landscape or potted olive trees. These rotating or wrapping roots form a condition known as “root bound”. It frequently happens in containers where olive trees outgrow or must be larger at planting time.

Established roots of olive trees in pots should extend to the soil’s edge in the pot but never wrap around extensively inside. If pots become root-bound, the remaining soil will need more water to store the demand. Instead, repot root-bound olive trees into larger containers after gently loosening the roots with your hand. In this manner, roots might spread into fresh soil.

Landscape olive trees only have binding roots if the issue existed during planting or the soil composition prevents normal growth. This issue may be avoided with soil testing, suitable amendments, and a firm hand to release any binding roots before planting.

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4. Check for Signs of Fertilizer Residue or Salt Buildup

When olive trees are exposed to too much fertilizer, the edges of leaves turn brown and drop due to a condition known as fertilizer burn. The same occurs in landscape olive trees due to excess fertilizer or other elements like pet urine or winter deicing salts. Soluble salts accumulate in the soil depriving plant roots of hydration and causing an unnatural drought. Olive tree leaves that aren’t getting enough water eventually turn brown and fall off.

Salt buildup in olive trees in pots limits water absorption and affects olive leaves. It shows up as a white crust on the soil or saucers and the sides of porous pots. Heavy watering flushes out salts and restores the soil’s usual balance around olive tree roots. Place the pot in the bathtub or sink and water until the soil is well saturated and water runs through. Repeat the process several times to cleanse the soil thoroughly.

If in-ground olive trees are over-fertilized or exposed to road salts or heavy pet use, don’t wait for tips to turn brown and drop. Water olive trees heavily and repeatedly to flush out the soil and prevent leaves from dropping. The heavy watering leaches away built-up salts. If olive trees start to show brown leave tips and drop as soil thaws in spring, they are affected by cold over winter. Heavily water the soil right away.

5. Be Aware of Sunlight Needs

The ability to utilize all available light is one of the unique characteristics of olive trees. You don’t need to protect your olive trees from the summer afternoon sunlight like some other plants need. Instead, keeping your olive trees in a spot where they may get at least six hours of direct sunlight daily would be best.

Keeping your olive trees in the south-facing spots of your home may be even more effective. In the winter or anytime there is insufficient sunlight, you can grow young olive trees under a full spectrum grow lamp. Even if you grow your olive trees under artificial lights, remember that they will still need direct sun to increase vigor.

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6. Ensure Correct Watering Routine

Once your olive trees are back on track to a healthy route, adjust their care, especially the watering routine, to keep them healthy and thrive. Whether olive trees are potted or in the ground, never water automatically. First, test the soil manually by digging your index finger into it. Wait a few days and recheck if it feels moist. If the soil feels dry, it’s time to water. Let the water sit overnight if you use tap water to water your indoor plants. In this case, you can reduce fluoride and other substances that can cause olive leaves to drop.

Most olive trees stay healthiest when watered deeply and infrequently in your home and landscape. First, water potted olive trees until the soil is evenly moist, then let them dry thoroughly before watering again. If the humidity in your house is low, a saucer filled with the pebble at the tree’s base can help keep leaves and moisture in balance.

During active flowering and fruiting periods, olive trees need at least one inch (2.5 cm) of weekly rainfall, including natural precipitation. When watering, this equals about 5 gallons (20 liters) of water per square yard (0.8 square meters).

Check out my article water requirements for potted olive trees for more information about the amount of water potted trees need.

IV. Preventive Measures

One of the biggest concerns for olive tree growers is leaf drop, which can harm the trees and reduce yields. However, several measures can be taken to prevent this issue. This section will discuss the most common preventive measures: proper irrigation, pruning, fertilization, etc.

1. Proper Irrigation

Proper irrigation involves providing your olive trees with the right amount of water to support their growth and prevent leaf drop. Olive trees require moderate water, balancing not enough and too much being the key. Under-watering can cause stress, leading to leaf drop and reduced fruit production, while over-watering can cause root rot, leading to the same results.

To irrigate your olive trees properly, consider several factors, such as soil type, climate, and tree size. For instance, sandy soil requires more frequent watering, while clay soil needs less. Trees may require more frequent watering in hot, dry climates than in cooler, wetter temperatures. Similarly, larger trees require more water than smaller ones.

Tree SizeSoil TypeWeather ConditionsWatering Frequency
SmallSandyHot and DryEvery 3-4 days
Mild and HumidEvery 5-7 days
ClayHot and DryEvery 4-5 days
Mild and HumidEvery 7-10 days
MediumSandyHot and DryEvery 2-3 days
Mild and HumidEvery 4-6 days
ClayHot and DryEvery 3-4 days
Mild and HumidEvery 6-8 days
LargeSandyHot and DryEvery 1-2 days
Mild and HumidEvery 3-5 days
ClayHot and DryEvery 2-3 days
Mild and HumidEvery 5-7 days

Note: The watering frequency may vary depending on several factors such as soil depth, tree age, and irrigation system used. The chart above is just a general guideline and may not be suitable for all situations.

To ensure proper irrigation, monitor the soil moisture level regularly. You can use a soil moisture meter or check the soil by hand. If the soil is dry to the touch, it’s time to water your trees. However, if the soil is still moist, you can wait a few more days before watering.

When watering your olive trees, avoid getting the leaves wet. Wet leaves can increase the risk of fungal diseases and other pests. Therefore, watering your trees at the base is best using a drip irrigation system or a soaker hose. This will ensure that the water reaches the roots without wetting the leaves.

2. Pruning

Proper pruning is one of the most effective ways to prevent issues such as leaf drops. Here is some advice on correctly pruning olive trees, including the best time of year to prune and which branches to remove.

  • Timing: Olive trees should be pruned in the late winter or early spring before the tree starts to grow new leaves. This is the best time to prune as it helps to stimulate new growth and increase fruit production.
  • Pruning tools: you’ll need to use sharp and clean tools to prevent damage and the spread of diseases. Hand pruners or loppers are helpful for smaller branches, while a pruning saw is best for larger ones.
  • Branches to remove: cut off dead, diseased, or damaged branches first. These branches can attract pests and diseases, and they can also hinder the growth of the tree. Also, remove branches that cross or rub against each other, as this can cause damage to the bark and lead to disease. Finally, thin out the tree by removing any branches growing too close together or in the wrong direction.
  • Cutting technique: use clean, sharp pruning shears to make clean cuts. The cuts should be made at a 45-degree angle, just above a bud or lateral branch. Avoid cutting too close to the trunk or leaving a stub, leading to disease and decay.
  • Pruning goals: The main goals of pruning olive trees are to increase fruit production, maintain tree health, and promote tree growth. By removing dead, diseased, or damaged branches, thinning out the tree, and shaping the tree properly, olive tree growers and gardeners can promote the growth and productivity of their trees.

olive tree grove oliviada 1
Proper irrigation, fertilization, and pruning promote growth, and improve olive yield

3. Fertilization

Fertilizing trees can promote healthy growth, improve fruit production, and avoid the dreaded leaf drop. But do it right because too much fertilizer can also cause problems.

First, it’s crucial to test the soil to determine the pH level and nutrient content. You can easily purchase a soil testing kit or send a sample to a local agricultural extension service for analysis. You can determine the type and amount of fertilizer your trees need based on the results.

Olive trees require a balanced fertilizer containing nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and micronutrients such as magnesium, zinc, and iron. Depending on the soil and tree condition, you can apply granular or liquid fertilizer once or twice a year.

Avoid getting fertilizer too close to the trunk or leaves, as this can burn the tree. Instead, spread it around the tree’s drip line, where the roots absorb nutrients. Water the area after applying fertilizer to help it reach the roots.

In addition to fertilizing, you can improve the soil health around your olive trees by using organic mulch, such as compost, shredded leaves, or grass clippings. This will help to retain moisture, suppress weeds, and add nutrients to the soil over time.

Remember, fertilization is just one part of a comprehensive approach to preventing leaf drop. Proper irrigation, pruning, and pest control are fundamental processes for an olive tree. So, take care of your trees and give them the nutrients they need to thrive, and they’ll reward you with a bountiful harvest!

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4. Chemical Control

While proper irrigation, pruning, and fertilization can go a long way in preventing leaf drop, sometimes it’s just not enough. That’s where chemical control comes in! Chemicals like insecticides, fungicides, and herbicides can help control pests, diseases, and weeds that can cause leaf drop.

  • If you’re dealing with pesky insects like olive fruit flies, scale insects, or aphids, insecticides can come to the rescue! These pests can severely damage your leaves and fruit, ultimately reducing yield. Depending on the severity of the infestation, you can use insecticides as a spray or a systemic treatment.
  • Fungal diseases like verticillium wilt can also cause leaf drop and decline in olive trees, but fret not! Fungicides can help prevent and cure these diseases. You can use them preventively or curatively, depending on the type of disease and the stage of the infection.
  • Weeds can also be a major headache for olive trees as they compete for nutrients and water. They can even harbor pests and diseases that can lead to leaf drop! But with herbicides, you can keep those pesky weeds in check. Depending on the type of weed and what effect you’re going for, herbicides can be applied selectively or non-selectively.

When using chemical control, follow the instructions on the label carefully and wear appropriate protective gear. Be mindful of potential environmental and human health risks, and always use the minimum effective dose. Remember, chemical control should only be used as a last resort after other preventive measures have been tried and failed. So make sure to regularly monitor your trees and identify any problems early so that you can take action before leaf drop occurs!

5. Organic Control

Several options are available for those who prefer to grow olive trees using organic pest and disease control methods to prevent leaf drop effectively. These methods include using neem oil, diatomaceous earth, and companion planting.

  • Neem oil, derived from the seeds of the neem tree, is a natural insecticide and fungicide that can be sprayed on olive trees to control pests such as mites, scale insects, and aphids, as well as fungal diseases like powdery mildew. Neem oil disrupts insects’ hormonal systems and inhibits fungi’s growth.

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  • On the other hand, diatomaceous earth is a powder made from fossilized aquatic algae that can be sprinkled around the base of olive trees to control pests like slugs, snails, and ants. The sharp edges of the diatoms cut through the pests’ exoskeletons, causing them to dehydrate and die.
  • Another organic pest control method is companion planting, which involves planting certain plants alongside olive trees to repel pests and attract beneficial insects. Herbs like basil, rosemary, and thyme can repel pests like aphids and whiteflies while attracting pollinators like bees.

While organic control methods are safe and environmentally friendly, they may require more frequent applications and take longer to see results than chemical control methods.

V. Frequently Asked Questions

Do Olive Trees Lose Leaves in Winter?

Yes, Olive trees lose their leaves in the winter, but the extent of leaf loss can vary depending on the climate. Olive trees may only lose some of their leaves in regions with milder winters. While in colder areas, they may lose all their leaves affected by the extreme weather. Though, new growth will appear in the spring.

Do Olive Tree Leaves Grow Back?

Yes, olive tree leaves can grow back. If the tree loses its leaves due to a seasonal cycle, new leaves will grow back naturally in the spring. However, the tree may take longer to regrow its leaves if the leaves were lost due to a problem such as pests, disease, or environmental stress. It is crucial to address the underlying issues, provide proper care and ensure your olive tree has enough direct sunlight, adequate watering, and nutrients.

Do Olive Trees Lose All Their Leaves?

Olive trees do not typically lose all their leaves at once. Instead, they lose their leaves gradually, with some falling off throughout the year and most falling off in the fall or winter. However, if an Olive tree loses all its leaves at once, it may indicate a severe problem such as pest infestation, disease, or exposure to extreme environmental conditions.

What Are Indications That Olive Tree Leaves Will Start to Fall Off?

Indications that olive tree leaves will start to fall off include yellowing leaves, brown leaves, wilting leaves, and pests or diseases. You should address these issues promptly to prevent further leaf loss and keep the tree healthy.

Can You Revive Olive Tree if All Leaves are Lost?

Yes, reviving an olive tree is possible, even if all its leaves are lost. To revive the tree, you need to identify the cause of leaf loss, prune it, and provide proper care, including the right amount of water, nutrients, sunlight, and patience, as it may take several weeks or months for the tree to recover fully.

Why are my olive tree leaves turning yellow and falling off?

There could be several reasons your olive tree leaves are turning yellow and falling off. It could be due to environmental stress, such as drought or extreme temperatures, or pests or diseases could cause it. You should identify the underlying cause and take appropriate measures to address it.

Can olive tree dropping leaves be cured?

The best approach to managing olive tree dropping leaves is early detection and prevention. Once significant damage has been done, it may be challenging to reverse the effects. However, olive trees can recover and produce healthy leaves and fruit with proper care and management.

VI. Conclusion

When the olive tree dropping leaves look alarming, you better immediately check 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 more 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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19 thoughts on “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.

  5. Hi, I live on the south coast in the UK. I have 3 large established olive trees. Everyone comments on them. This year we have had 90 mph winds and they have lost most of there lower leaves with some still on the top. What is the best steps to take. Do I prune them back hard and wait for them to start again or leave them alone and just feed them.

  6. Hi, I live on the south coast in the UK. I have 3 large established olive trees. Everyone comments on them. This year we have had 90 mph winds and they have lost most of there lower leaves with some still on the top. What is the best steps to take. Do I prune them back hard and wait for them to start again or leave them alone and just feed them.

  7. Hi Penny, fertilize the trees and leave them to recover, ensuring it has good drainage and water supplies. Only prune off the dead branches if any. Bear in mind it takes time for olive trees to grow leaves, so be patient.

  8. Feroz Gafoor

    My olive tree has dried off and falling rapidly. We are in UAE dubai and its in a semi shaded balcony. It’s been happening all of a sudden. Please advice

  9. Hi Feroz, if olive tree has dried the first response is falling leaves. Try to water regularly and fertilize. Be patient, it takes long for the olive tree to recover and to start new growth.

  10. I hope I haven’t kill it. it was about 20 feet wide and maybe a little taller. I have reduced the size by about half. Also cut off all the tangle in it. So there are now no twigs only the big branches and no leaves at all. I am in South England. Will it start to regrow soon, or have I killed it ?

  11. My potted olive tree looks healthy but all the branches are flopping over. Is this normal.

  12. Hi Wendy, hard pruning doesn’t kill olive trees, though affects flowering and olive production. Your olive tree will start to show signs of new life and regrow eventually, but it may take some time (most probably next growth season in spring).

  13. Hi Edis, normally olive tree branches grow vertically. Probably your olive tree branches are long and weak, for this reason, they start to flop over. Trim it and focus on strengthening the core branches (do not waste energy on the length of the branches). Also, it may be that your olive tree branches are leaning towards the sunlight, if this is the case, turn around the pot.

  14. Tracy Butler

    Hi, we live in the Midlands UK. We have two large Olive Trees in pots, they have been in the pots for at least 3 years ina good sunny position. This year they both got black spot and I treated them with anti fungal spray. The leaves on the outside of the plant are now looking healthy, however the centre of the plant has lost all the leaves. Can you please advise us.

  15. Hi may Oliver tree all the leaves have gone brown and dry is it still alive

    Jay

  16. Hi Tracy, new leaves will start growing next growth cycle, next spring. The most you can do for now is to take very good care of your olive trees: lots of sun, feed well, and water based on the need.

  17. Hi Jay, perform a scratch test directly on a trunk. Just use your nail or a small knife to remove a portion of your olive tree’s bark. If the olive tree is alive, you should notice the layer immediately under the bark is green. For more information you can read my article how to revive olive tree.

  18. Hello. We are quite unique in that we have an olive grove in the U.K. of trees that are approx 200/300 years old. 25 to be precise. Originally from Italy and planted here some 8 years ago. They’ve always looked so green full of life but this year all of their leaves are falling with exception of the tips. The leaves falling are green and healthy no sign of disease. Some smaller branches/twigs are dead but the main branches are green with life when checked. Any advice would be welcome as we’ve met with a number of arboriculturists who are also stumped. Any advice would be gratefully received.

  19. Hi Katherine, It’s fascinating that you have an olive grove in the UK with such old trees! While I’m not able to assess the trees in person, I can provide some potential factors that could cause this phenomenon:
    1. Environmental stress: Unusual weather patterns or temperature fluctuations can cause stress to the trees, leading to leaf drops while the tips might hold on to their leaves longer due to their more vigorous growth. Olive trees are more accustomed to Mediterranean climates, and the UK’s climate may be causing stress, affecting the older leaves first.
    2. Mechanical damage: Strong winds or storms can cause leaves to break off the trees. In this case, the more flexible and younger leaves at the tips might be better at withstanding the force, while the older leaves fall off.
    3. Water stress: Overwatering or underwatering could cause leaves to drop, while the tips, being the last to be affected, still retain their leaves. Ensure the olive tree has the appropriate amount of water and well-draining soil.
    4. Nutrient deficiency: The tree may shed leaves to conserve resources if it lacks specific nutrients. Leaves near the tips may be the last to fall because they are the youngest and most essential for growth.
    5. Transpiration rate differences: The tips, being the site of the most active growth, tend to have a higher transpiration rate, which helps maintain turgor pressure in the leaves. This can make the leaves at the tips more resistant to falling off.
    6. Root stress: Root damage, compaction, or stress can lead to leaf drop as the tree struggles to take up water and nutrients. Younger leaves at the tips may remain unaffected because they are more vigorous and less likely to be immediately affected by root stress.

    To address this issue, I recommend considering the following steps:
    1. Inspect for root issues: Check the soil drainage and the roots for damage or stress. Ensure the trees are not overwatered or suffering from waterlogged soil.
    2. Soil analysis: Conduct a soil test to ensure the trees have the necessary nutrients and pH levels for optimal growth.
    3. Provide support: If strong winds or storms are causing leaf drops, consider installing windbreaks or barriers to minimize the impact on your trees.
    If the problem persists, contact horticultural experts with olive tree experience in non-Mediterranean climates. They might be able to provide more specific advice tailored to your unique situation.
    In the meantime, continue closely monitoring your trees, documenting any changes, and maintaining proper care to promote their overall health.

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