Olive Trees Grow Best: Ideal Climate and Soil Requirements

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Not all regions are equally suited for growing olive trees and understanding the ideal growing conditions can mean the difference between a healthy, productive tree and a struggling one.

Olive trees require specific climatic conditions, such as mild winters, hot and dry summers, and moderate humidity. Different cultivars have different requirements, and selecting the right one for a specific region can greatly enhance the success of the tree. Moreover, factors such as soil type, topography, and elevation can also affect the growth and production of olive trees.

In this article, I will discuss the geographic regions where olive trees grow best, the factors that affect olive tree growth, and the importance of selecting a suitable cultivar for a specific location. Let’s start!

where do olive trees grow best

I. Best Climate and Weather Conditions for Olive Trees

Olive tree growers can choose their trees’ best location and growing conditions by understanding the climate and soil requirements discussed below.

1. Mediterranean Climate: Best Climate for Olive Trees

Olive trees grow best in subtropical, Mediterranean-like climates: they do well in warm temperatures, tolerate drought, and are highly sensitive to frost. Let me share some insights into why the Mediterranean climate is perfect for olive tree growth.

  • Warm and dry summers: Olive trees love the sun and will get plenty of it in a typical Mediterranean summer. The warm temperatures and ample sunlight help the trees produce a healthy crop of olives. Additionally, the dry conditions during this season minimize the risk of fungal diseases, which can wreak havoc on olive tree health.
  • Cool and wet winters: While olive trees adore the sun, they also need a period of cool temperatures to enter dormancy and rejuvenate. Mediterranean winters offer the perfect blend of cooler temperatures and increased rainfall. This combination gives the trees the necessary rest and hydration to gear up for another productive growing season.
  • Mild frost tolerance: Olive trees are surprisingly hardy when tolerating mild frosts. Although they prefer warmer temperatures, they can withstand occasional cold snaps, common in the Mediterranean region. However, it’s essential to note that prolonged periods of freezing temperatures can damage the trees, so some protection may be required during unusually cold winters.
  • Coastal influence: Many olive tree varieties thrive in coastal environments, where the gentle sea breezes help regulate temperatures and humidity. This coastal influence is common in Mediterranean regions and contributes to the overall success of olive tree cultivation in these areas.
  • Well-drained soil: Olive trees do best in well-draining soil, often found in Mediterranean landscapes. This soil type helps prevent root rot and other issues caused by excessive moisture. The presence of rocky or sandy soils in the Mediterranean region is another factor that makes it ideal for olive tree growth.

Olive trees thrive in temperatures between 60ºF to 90ºF (16ºC to 32ºC) degrees but tolerate the high temperatures experienced in regions like California, where temperatures can climb over 100ºF (38ºC) degrees.

This is why Olive trees are best suited to the Mediterranean countries or the hardiness zones 9 to 10 of the United States. In addition to California, U.S. olives grow in Texas, Georgia, Florida, Arizona, Oregon, Alabama, and Hawaii (on the island of Maui). 

While olive trees can live in less than optimal conditions, olive fruit production is affected. For example, olive trees must be helped with water and heat to ensure a full harvest in regions such as California and Florida.

olive tree groves in kalamata 1
Olive Trees grow best in subtropical zones where the summers are warm and dry and the winters are mild.

2. Temperature Ranges and Considerations

Olive trees are known for their ability to thrive in warm, dry climates with mild winters, making them an ideal crop for regions with Mediterranean climates. However, specific temperature and rainfall requirements are necessary for optimal growth and fruit production.

Olive trees prefer temperatures between 60 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit (16 and 32 Celcius) during the growing season, with a minimum of 28°F (-2°C) during winter. This temperature range allows for optimal photosynthesis and fruit development.

These trees are pretty hardy, too! If your area experiences the occasional cold snap, don’t worry – olive trees can handle short periods of temperatures as low as 20°F (-7°C), depending on the olive cultivar.

On the other end of the spectrum, excessive heat can also stress olive trees. While they love basking in the sun, temperatures consistently above 95°F (35°C) may lead to heat stress, causing leaf scorch and reduced fruit production. To help your trees cope with the heat, ensure they receive adequate water and consider shading them during the hottest parts of the day.

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Average minimum and maximum temperatures in the Mediterranean climate: Kalamata, Greece; popular cultivars: Kalamata, Koroneiki (in F and C degrees); source.

When planting olive trees, also consider microclimates in your garden or orchard. Slightly warmer pockets can make a big difference in the health and productivity of your olive trees. Choose a location with good sun exposure, protection from cold winds, and access to well-drained soil.

It’s worth noting that olive trees can be sensitive to sudden temperature changes. Rapid fluctuations between hot and cold can stress the trees, making them more susceptible to pests and diseases. While you can’t control the weather, it’s crucial to monitor your trees closely during periods of temperature swings and provide extra care as needed.

3. Rainfall Patterns and Water Requirements

Olive trees are known for their drought tolerance but still need water to grow and produce those delicious olives we all love. They require a certain amount of water, but too much water can harm their growth:

  • Typically, olive trees require between 20 and 40 inches (50 and 100 cm) of rainfall per year, with most rain falling during winter when the trees are dormant.
  • Olive trees are sustained when the mean annual rainfall is between 35 and 120 inches (88 – 305 cm).
  • For significant olive fruit production, olive trees need 35 in (88 cm) a year; otherwise, irrigation is necessary.
  • The olive tree tolerates one to three consecutive months with less than 1.6 inches (4 cm) of rain, though it grows in the Mediterranean, where dry seasons can last up to 4 months.
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Average rainfall (precipitation) in the Mediterranean region Kalamata, Greece (in inches and millimeters).

However, good to know that olive trees are drought-tolerant and can survive in areas with low rainfall. In these areas, growers must use irrigation to supplement rainfall and ensure the trees have enough water to grow and produce fruit.

The water needs of olive trees depend on factors like age, climate, and soil type. Generally, younger trees require more frequent watering, while established trees can withstand longer periods of drought. During the hot summer months, monitor the soil moisture and provide supplemental irrigation as needed.

Water your olive trees efficiently, ensuring the water reaches their root systems. Drip irrigation is an excellent method for delivering water directly to the roots, minimizing water loss due to evaporation. Be careful not to overwater, as this can cause root rot and other issues. Always allow the soil to dry out slightly between watering sessions.

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Average rainy days in the Mediterranean climate zone Kalamata, Greece
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Average humidity in the Mediterranean climate zone Kalamata, Greece

4. Cold Tolerance

Cold temperatures limit olive trees; below degrees 55ºF (12ºC), the tree becomes inactive.

  • The olive fruit is killed in less than an hour when the temperature drops from 26ºF to 28ºF (-3ºC to -2ºC) degrees.
  • Stems and leaves are killed at temperatures below 22ºF (-5ºC) degrees in a few minutes.
  • The entire olive tree is killed or severely damaged when freezing conditions last days or a hard freeze at temperatures below 15ºF (-10ºC).

The olive tree can fare better or worse at the limits of cold temperatures depending on various factors, such as the age of the fruit, leaves, and branches, dryness of the air, and length of the cold period.

However, you can protect your potted olive trees from freezing temperatures by moving olive tree indoors for winter.

Olive CultivarOriginCold Tolerance
ArbequinaSpain15°F / -9°C
ArbosanaSpain15°F / -9°C
KoroneikiGreece15°F / -9°C
FrantoioItaly15°F / -9°C
LeccinoItaly15°F / -9°C
PicholineFrance10°F / -12°C
MissionSpain10°F / -12°C
ManzanilloSpain10°F / -12°C
PendolinoItaly10°F / -12°C
MaurinoItaly10°F / -12°C
Table1. Cold-tolerant olive tree cultivars

Irrigation and frost-protection measures keep olive trees productive at the limit of their tolerances. Irrigation supplements rainfall; keeping olive trees well-watered and healthy helps them withstand frost.

Planting olive trees at higher elevations where the air is warmer than in low spots minimizes frost damage, and fertilizing and pruning early in the season stimulates growth so the fruit has time to develop before cold weather.

A full canopy has a sheltering effect for the olive fruit in case of freezing temperatures.

II. Sunlight and Spacing Requirements for Olive Trees

In this section, I share my expert know-how on sunlight and proper spacing, setting you up for a fruitful and thriving garden.

1. Optimal Sunlight Exposure

First things first, olive trees love the sun! I can’t emphasize enough the importance of providing them with ample sunlight. The optimal sunlight exposure for olive trees is at least six hours of direct sunlight per day. So, when choosing a spot for your trees, ensure they’ll be basking in plenty of glorious sunshine.

One common mistake I’ve seen growers and gardeners make is planting olive trees in shady spots. While they might survive in partial shade, they won’t thrive or produce as many olives as they would in full sun. Trust me, your olive trees will be much happier soaking up those golden rays.

Here’s a little insider tip: plant your olive trees in a spot where they’ll get plenty of morning sun. This early exposure can help dry off any dew or moisture on the leaves, reducing the risk of fungal diseases. It’s a small detail, but it can make a big difference in keeping your trees healthy.

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Average monthly syn hours in the Mediterranean climate region Kalamata, Greece

2. Proper Tree Spacing for Healthy Growth

I’ve learned from my years of experience that olive trees need space to breathe. Proper tree spacing allows ample sunlight to reach each tree and promotes good air circulation impacting healthy growth. This, in turn, helps prevent the spread of pests and diseases, keeping your trees in tip-top shape.

So, how far apart should you plant your olive trees? Generally, I recommend spacing standard-size trees about 20-30 feet (6-9 meters) apart. This gives them enough room to spread their branches and develop a robust root system. If you’re working with smaller, dwarf varieties, you can plant them a bit closer, around 10-15 feet (3-4.5 meters) apart.

If you’re planting olive trees in rows or an orchard, you’ll want to give them some extra space. In this case, I suggest planting trees about 20-30 feet (6-9 meters) apart within the rows and allowing 30-40 feet (9-12 meters) between the rows. This setup ensures that each tree gets plenty of sun and allows for easy access when it’s time to prune, harvest, or maintain your grove.

III. Soil and Terrain Preferences

1. Soil pH and Texture

Olive trees prefer soil with a pH between 6 and 8, slightly acidic to neutral. Soil that is too alkaline or acidic can limit nutrient uptake and hinder tree growth. So you should regularly test the soil pH and adjust it to ensure optimal growing conditions.

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Furthermore, olive trees thrive in well-drained soil with a loose, friable texture. Too heavy or compacted soil can impede root development and limit water and nutrient uptake.

Adding organic matter, such as compost or well-rotted manure, can improve soil texture and provide the necessary nutrients for healthy olive tree growth. Because organic matter thoroughly incorporated into the soil helps to prevent waterlogging and nutrient imbalances.

In addition to pH and texture, olive trees require specific nutrients, including nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, for optimal growth and fruit production. Soil testing can help identify nutrient deficiencies and allow growers to make necessary amendments to the soil.

Here I’ll share some insider tips and know-how on the ideal soil types for our beloved olive trees:

Loamy Soil

You’re in luck if you’ve got loamy soil in your garden. This balanced mix of sand, silt, and clay is like a dream come true for olive trees. It offers top-notch drainage, just the right amount of moisture retention, and a nutrient-rich environment.

Clay Soil

Got clay soil? Don’t worry! Olive trees can still grow in this heavy, fine-particle soil. The key is giving your trees extra care by amending the soil with organic matter like compost or well-rotted manure. Doing this will help improve drainage and root penetration, setting your trees up for success.

Sandy Soil

While sandy soil drains well, it may not hold enough moisture and nutrients for optimal olive tree growth. Add some organic matter to the soil to give your trees a helping hand. This will boost moisture retention and nutrient availability, ensuring your trees have everything they need to thrive.

Calcareous Soil

Olive trees can even handle calcareous soil rich in calcium carbonate. Although the high pH levels might make some nutrients less available, olive trees are pros at adapting to alkaline conditions. Plus, the excellent drainage and aeration of calcareous soil make it a decent option for growing olive trees.

olive trees grow best environment
Planting olive trees at higher elevations with warmer air than in low spots minimizes frost damage.

2. Drainage and Moisture Retention

Poor drainage can lead to waterlogging, which can be detrimental to the roots and ultimately affect the growth and productivity of the tree. Therefore, olive trees need well-drained and not prone to waterlogging soil. Heavy or compacted soil can cause water to accumulate around the roots, leading to root rot and other issues.

But, that doesn’t mean olive trees don’t need water. Young olive trees, in particular, need consistent moisture to establish their root systems. Once matured, they’re remarkably drought-tolerant, but even then, they still require regular watering during dry periods.

So how do you get this balance right? Well, it’s all about the type of soil and its structure. Loamy soil is the gold standard here as it drains well while retaining just enough moisture. If you’re dealing with clay soil, which retains a lot of water.

In addition, incorporating organic matter into the soil can improve drainage and soil texture. Adding compost or well-rotted manure to the soil can help create channels for water to move through, ensuring that it doesn’t accumulate around the roots.

Choose a planting location with soil that has a natural slope or is elevated to ensure good drainage. Gravity will do the work for you, pulling excess water away from the roots. This is a common practice in many traditional olive growing regions.

Overwatering can lead to waterlogging and root rot, so use irrigation judiciously and monitor soil moisture levels.

And remember, watering deeply and less frequently is better than shallow and frequent watering. This encourages the roots to grow deep into the soil, making the trees more drought-resistant.

In areas with heavy rainfall or poor soil drainage, growers may need to install drainage systems to prevent water from accumulating around the tree’s roots.

Lastly, you can use mulch to help retain moisture in the soil. Spread it around the base of your trees, but be sure to keep it a few inches away from the trunk to prevent moisture-related diseases.

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3. Slope and Elevation Considerations

If you’ve ever taken a drive through olive country, you might notice that olive groves are often located on slopes or hilly terrain. And here is why:

  • Firstly, as I mentioned earlier, olive trees dislike waterlogged roots, and a slope can provide excellent natural drainage. The water simply flows downhill, leaving behind just the right amount of moisture that the trees need.
  • Another advantage of sloping terrain is that it can help protect the trees from frost damage. Cold air, being denser, tends to settle in low-lying areas. So, by planting your trees on a slope, you’re essentially giving them a bit of a ‘cold air shield’. This is particularly important in regions where late spring frosts are a risk.
  • One final point to consider is the aspect or direction your slope is facing. In the northern hemisphere, south-facing slopes get the most sun exposure, and vice versa for the southern hemisphere. Olive trees thrive on sunshine, so consider this when planning your grove.

Now, onto elevation. In general, olive trees prefer lower altitudes. They flourish at elevations between 200 and 1,500 feet (60 and 500 meters) above sea level.

At these elevations, the trees can enjoy milder temperatures, reduced frost risk, and optimal sunlight exposure, which all contribute to their health and productivity. Plus, higher elevations often have better air circulation, reducing humidity-related issues and promoting overall tree health.

Some factors should be considered when planting olive trees at higher elevations:

  • At higher elevations, temperatures tend to be cooler, which can slow down the growth of olive trees.
  • Cooler temperatures may affect the ripening process of the olives, which could impact their flavor and quality.
  • In colder climates, frost can damage olive trees and reduce their productivity. So select olive tree cultivars that are more resistant to frost and protect the trees during periods of cold weather.
CultivarElevation Range (ft)Elevation Range (m)Recommended ClimateRecommended Soil Type
ArbequinaSea level to 1,500 ftSea level to 457 mMild: Moderate temperatures and rainfall throughout the yearWell-drained, loamy
PicualSea level to 3,300 ftSea level to 1,006 mWarm, dry: Hot summers, mild winters, and low rainfallWell-drained, alkaline
KoroneikiSea level to 3,300 ftSea level to 1,006 mWarm, dry: Hot summers, mild winters, and low rainfallWell-drained, alkaline
FrantoioSea level to 2,000 ftSea level to 610 mMediterranean: Mild, rainy winters and hot, dry summersWell-drained, alkaline
KalamataSea level to 2,300 ftSea level to 701 mMediterranean: Mild, rainy winters and hot, dry summersWell-drained, loamy
ManzanilloSea level to 1,500 ftSea level to 457 mMild, Mediterranean: Moderate temperatures and rainfall throughout the year, with mild winters and warm summersWell-drained, loamy
MissionSea level to 2,000 ftSea level to 610 mMediterranean: Mild, rainy winters and hot, dry summersWell-drained, loamy
LeccinoSea level to 1,500 ftSea level to 488 mMediterranean: Mild, rainy winters and hot, dry summersWell-drained, loamy
Table 2. Recommended elevation range for some popular olive cultivars.

Note: These soil type and elevation range recommendations are general guidelines and may vary depending on factors such as climate and other environmental conditions.

If your growing area falls outside the ideal elevation range, just be mindful of your elevation’s unique challenges, such as frost protection, water management, or adjusting your planting and pruning schedule.

As you can see, with some strategic planning, the land’s natural features can be used to your advantage.

IV. Olive Tree Varieties and Hardiness Zones

One of the things I love about olive trees is their incredible diversity. With over 800 different varieties worldwide, there’s a perfect olive tree for everyone, whether you’re growing olives for oil, table olives, or simply for their ornamental beauty. Each variety has its unique characteristics, such as fruit size, flavor, and growth habits, and you can find the one that best suits your needs and your region.

Consider your local climate and hardiness zone to choose the best olive tree variety for your garden. Most olive trees thrive in USDA hardiness zones 8-10, where temperatures typically stay above 15°F in the winter. However, some cold-hardy varieties, like ‘Arbequina’ and ‘Leccino,’ can withstand temperatures down to 10°F or even lower.

VarietyHardiness ZoneUseCharacteristics
Arbequina7b-10Oil, Table olivesSelf-fertile, cold-hardy, early bearing
Leccino7b-10Oil, Table olivesCold-hardy, disease-resistant, needs pollinator
Koroneiki8-10Oil productionSelf-fertile, drought-tolerant, small fruit
Manzanillo8-10Table olivesSelf-fertile, large fruit, vigorous growth
Pendonilo8-10Oil productionNeeds pollinator, good oil quality, adaptable
Frantoio8-10Oil productionHigh yield, disease-resistant, needs pollinator
Picual8-10Oil productionSelf-fertile, high yield, strong flavor
Picholine8-10Table olivesCold-hardy, disease-resistant, needs pollinator
Kalamata 8-10Table olivesSelf-fertile, medium size fruit, popular flavor
Mission8-10Oil, Table olivesSelf-fertile, versatile, adaptable
Table .10 Popular olive tree cultivars and hardiness zone and their use.

As a seasoned grower, I recommend researching the characteristics and hardiness of different varieties to find the best fit for your garden. Some popular choices include ‘Koroneiki’ for oil production, ‘Manzanillo’ for table olives, and ‘Pendolino’ as a pollinator. Keep in mind that some varieties may be self-fertile, while others may require a compatible pollinator nearby.

Read more about self-pollinating and cross-pollinating olive trees.

Olive VarietyIdeal Climate ConditionsNotable Characteristics
ArbequinaVarious climates, from cooler regions to hot onesHighly adaptable, can handle a variety of weather conditions
KoroneikiWarm, sun-soaked climatesResistant to heat and drought
FrantoioCooler, more temperate regionsCan handle a bit of frost, requires plenty of sunshine
LeccinoCooler, more temperate regionsCan handle a bit of frost, requires plenty of sunshine
PicholineWarm climate, but can also handle cooler temperaturesResistant to wind and drought
MissionVarious climates, from cooler regions to hot onesResilient and versatile, can handle heat, drought, and a variety of soil types
ManzanilloWarm, Mediterranean climatesKnown for its fruit, can handle heat, drought, and a variety of soil types
PicualWarm, sun-soaked climatesVery resistant to cold and diseases, produces a high yield of olives
HojiblancaWarm, sun-soaked climatesResistant to drought, used primarily for oil production
KalamataMediterranean climatesFamous for its edible fruit, prefers well-drained soil and plenty of sunlight
Table . Regional adaptability of different olive tree varieties.

This table should give you a quick overview of which olive tree might thrive best in your particular region. Keep in mind that this is a general guideline and actual results can depend on a variety of factors, including specific microclimates and care practices.

V. Best Geographic Regions to Grow Olive Trees

In this section, I’ll share the best geographical regions to grow olive trees with the optimal climate, soil, and environmental conditions to support healthy, productive olive trees. However, initially let’s learn about the olive tree’s origin and its geographical spread over time.

1. Olive Tree Geographical Spread Over Time

Did you know that olive trees have been around for thousands of years? In fact, they’ve been cultivated for over 6,000 years! I’ve always been amazed by their resilience and adaptability. These trees have stood the test of time and are an essential part of our lives today.

It all started in the Mediterranean region, where olive trees have been grown for thousands of years. I’m always in awe of their deep-rooted history in countries like Greece, Italy, and Spain. These ancient civilizations set the stage for olive trees to conquer the world.

Fast forward to the Age of Exploration, and olive trees began crossing the Atlantic. Spanish and Portuguese explorers brought these resilient trees to the Americas, where they found new homes in countries like Argentina, Chile, and even the United States.

As if that wasn’t enough, olive trees continued to expand their reach, finding their way to far-off lands like Australia and South Africa. Thanks to dedicated growers and gardeners like us, olive trees have thrived in these new environments, and their cultivation has contributed to the global community of olive enthusiasts.

As we watch the geographic spread of olive trees over time, it’s truly inspiring to see how they’ve brought people together from all corners of the world.

2. Mediterranean Region

The Mediterranean region is widely known for producing some of the world’s finest olive oil, and it’s no wonder why. The region’s mild climate and fertile soil create the perfect conditions for olive tree growth.

Spain, Italy, Greece, and Turkey are the leading producers of olive oil in this region, with each country boasting its unique varieties and flavor profiles. Here is more about it.

CountryNumber of Olive TreesOlive Oil ProductionLargest Olive Oil Production AreaPopular Cultivars
Spain340 million1,500 million litersAndalusiaPicual, Arbequina
Italy250 million350 million litersPuglia, Sicily, TuscanyFrantoio, Leccino
Greece132 million300 million litersCrete, Kalamata, PeloponneseKoroneiki, Kalamon
Turkey177 million200 million litersAyvalik, EdremitGemlik, Memecik
Table 3. Olive tree cultivation and olive oil production in the top 4 olive-producing countries.

These numbers are approximate and may change yearly due to various factors, such as climate and market fluctuations.

Spain

Spain is known for its diverse landscapes, from sunny beaches to snow-capped mountains. But what many people might not realize is that Spain is the world’s largest producer of olives and olive oil. Its warm, sunny climate, with hot summers and mild winters, creates the perfect environment for olive trees to thrive.

One of the reasons why Spain is such an ideal location for growing olive trees is its wide variety of soil types. From the limestone-rich soils of Andalusia to the volcanic soils of the Canary Islands, Spain offers a diverse range of growing conditions that can accommodate various olive tree cultivars.

In Spain, you’ll find an impressive array of olive tree varieties, each with its unique flavors and uses. Some of the most popular and cherished varieties include the Arbequina, known for its small, flavorful olives used to produce a delicate, fruity oil; the Picual, which produces a more robust, peppery oil; and the Hojiblanca, which offers a balanced, slightly bitter taste that’s perfect for table olives and oil alike.

Italy

Italy, with its picturesque rolling hills, vineyards, and olive groves, is a true paradise for olive tree growers and gardeners. The Italian climate, characterized by hot, dry summers and cool, wet winters, creates the perfect environment for olive trees to flourish. This diverse country boasts a range of microclimates and soil types, making it suitable for cultivating a wide variety of olive tree cultivars.

One of the most fascinating aspects of Italian olive tree cultivation is the sheer number of distinct varieties found throughout the country. From the buttery, mild Taggiasca olives of Liguria to the fruity, pungent Coratina olives of Puglia, Italy is home to an incredible array of flavors, textures, and uses. This wealth of diversity means that there’s an Italian olive tree variety to suit every palate and preference.

Greece

With its turquoise waters, sun-soaked islands, and ancient history, Greece is a dream destination for many travelers. But for olive tree growers and gardeners like us, it’s even more special. The Greek climate, featuring hot, dry summers and mild, wet winters, creates an ideal environment for olive trees to thrive. Greece’s diverse landscape, ranging from rocky coastlines to fertile plains, offers a variety of soil types and growing conditions suitable for many different olive tree cultivars.

Olive trees have been cultivated in Greece for thousands of years and hold a special place in Greek culture and mythology. Some of the most popular Greek olive tree varieties include the Kalamata, famous for its large, juicy table olives, and the Koroneiki, prized for its small, flavorful olives that are used to produce a high-quality, fruity oil.

The Greeks take great pride in their olive tree cultivation, with many growers adhering to traditional practices passed down through generations (by the way, our Oliviada olive oil is the 3rd generation of olive cultivation). This dedication to quality and tradition has led to the production of some truly exceptional olive oils and table olives, which are cherished in Greece and worldwide.

Turkey

Turkey, a country straddling both Europe and Asia, boasts an incredible variety of landscapes, from the sun-soaked Mediterranean coast to the rugged mountains of Anatolia. With its warm summers and mild, wet winters, the Mediterranean climate provides the perfect environment for olive trees to flourish. The Turkish landscape, characterized by diverse soil types and microclimates, allows a wide range of olive tree cultivars to be grown.

One of the most popular Turkish olive tree varieties is the Ayvalık, known for its large, meaty olives and primarily used for oil production. Another well-known variety is the Gemlik, which produces smaller, dark purple olives ideal for table olives and olive oil production.

where olive trees grow best ft
By understanding the geographic regions where olive trees grow best, growers can choose the best location for their olive groves and ensure optimal growing conditions.

3. Middle East

Middle East region has an ideal climate for olive trees, with hot, dry summers and cool, mild winters. This is a climate that olive trees absolutely love. And let’s not forget about that beautiful Mediterranean sun – it’s just what these sun-loving trees need.

The soil in the Middle East is also a perfect match for olive trees. It’s often sandy or chalky, with excellent drainage. Olive trees don’t like wet feet, so this well-draining soil is a significant factor in their success here.

But it’s not just about the soil and climate. The Middle East has a deep cultural connection to olive trees, with a history of cultivation that stretches back thousands of years. This tradition means that local knowledge and expertise in olive cultivation are widespread.

The countries within the Middle East, such as Syria, Lebanon, Israel, and Palestine, each have unique olive tree varieties and cultivation methods.

Syria

With its rich history and diverse terrain, Syria is another country where olive trees are deeply rooted in culture and landscape. In fact, I’ve been amazed at the resilience of these trees in areas like the hilly regions of Idlib and the ancient city of Aleppo.

The most common variety in Syria is the Zaity, which is highly prized for its oil content. Another variety you might come across is Sorani, which is more often used for table olives due to its larger fruit size.

Lebanon

In Lebanon, I’ve seen olive trees almost everywhere, from the coastal areas to the mountainous regions. It’s truly a sight to behold when the olive harvest season comes around. What’s remarkable about Lebanon is the diversity of olive tree varieties.

The Souri variety is widely planted, known for its high oil content and exquisite taste. Additionally, I’ve come across other local varieties, such as Baladi and Ayrouni, which are also quite popular in the region.

Israel

Traveling a bit further south, Israel has a thriving olive oil industry. The Israeli climate, with its hot, dry summers and cool, wet winters, is perfect for olive trees.

Barnea, a variety developed in Israel also known as Koroneiki, is the most common, but other traditional varieties like Souri, Nabali, and Maalot are also popular.

Palestine

Palestine is often referred to as the ‘land of olives.’ Olive trees have been a part of the Palestinian landscape for centuries.

The local olive variety, Nabali, is the star here, producing high-quality oil with a distinct flavor. Other notable varieties in the region include Souri, K18, and Baladi, each with its unique characteristics and uses. It’s not uncommon to find olive trees in Palestine that are hundreds, if not thousands of years old.

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4. California, United States

From my visits and research, I can tell you that California is like a second home to olive trees, outside their native Mediterranean region.

California’s climate is a dream for olive trees. Those hot, dry summers and cool, wet winters mimic the Mediterranean climate so well, it’s no wonder olive trees thrive here. And the diverse geography, from the valleys to the hills, offers a variety of microclimates that can suit different olive varieties.

Regions like the Central Valley, Sonoma, and Napa are particularly well-known for olive cultivation. I’ve seen some of the most beautiful groves in these areas, with trees stretching out as far as the eye can see. It’s truly a sight to behold.

What I love about Californian olive growers is their experimental spirit. Many try different varieties and techniques, contributing to a vibrant and evolving olive oil industry.

Olive VarietyOriginMain UseSpecial Characteristics
MissionNative to CaliforniaTable olives, oilHardy, adaptable to various conditions
ManzanilloSpainTable olivesLarge fruit size, high yield
SevillanoSpainTable olivesLarge, plump fruits perfect for curing
ArbequinaSpainOlive oilAromatic oil with a fruity, buttery flavor
PendolinoItalyOlive oilEnhances productivity of other varieties
FrantoioItalyOlive oilHigh-quality oil with a complex flavor profile
Table . Some of the most famous olive varieties grown in California.

5. Australia

With its diverse climates and landscapes, Australia is a surprisingly great place to grow olive trees. I’ve found that some areas of Australia provide conditions that are just perfect for these trees.

The first region that comes to mind is South Australia, especially the Adelaide Plains and the Barossa Valley. I’ve been amazed at the success of olive cultivation in these areas. They offer a Mediterranean-like climate with hot, dry summers and cool, wet winters that olive trees absolutely love.

Victoria is another state where olive trees do very well. The areas around Melbourne, for example, have a climate similar to that of South Australia. The olive groves I’ve seen in these areas are simply beautiful. The trees flourish, and the olive production is pretty impressive.

Western Australia, too, is catching up fast. The Swan Valley and Margaret River regions, known for their wine, have started to see a boom in olive tree planting. The success stories I’ve heard from these regions are truly inspiring.

Australian olive growers are also known for their dedication to sustainable agriculture and innovative farming practices. They often employ techniques such as drip irrigation, integrated pest management, and minimal pruning to ensure the health and productivity of their olive trees.

Olive VarietyOriginMain UseNotable Traits
KalamataGreeceTable OlivesLarge, black, almond-shaped olives. Often preserved in wine vinegar or olive oil
FrantoioItalyOlive OilHigh-quality oil. Vigorous trees that adapt to different growing conditions
LeccinoItalyOlive OilKnown for its high-quality, delicious flavor. Adaptable to various conditions
PicualSpainOlive OilHardy trees tolerate various soil types. Heavy bearers
ManzanilloSpainTable Olives, Olive OilHardy trees that tolerate various soil types. Heavy bearers
Table . Olive cultivars popular in Australia.

6. Africa

When you think of olive trees, Africa may not be the first place that comes to mind, but let me tell you, it is a continent that’s full of olive-growing potential. Africa’s Mediterranean climate, especially in the Northern regions, provides an ideal environment for flourishing olives. The hot, dry summers and cool, wet winters mimic the olive tree’s native Mediterranean climate perfectly.

Tunisia

Tunisia is the largest producer of olives in North Africa, with a long history of olive cultivation dating back to the Roman era. Tunisian olive oils have diverse flavors – some are sweet and mellow, while others pack a peppery punch that’s just sublime.

Some of the most popular cultivars include Chemlali, Chetoui, and Zalmati. These cultivars are well-adapted to Tunisia’s climate and produce exceptional olives and olive oil.

Morocco and Algeria

Morocco and Algeria are located in North Africa and boast ideal Mediterranean climates for growing olive trees.

Morocco’s most popular cultivars include Picholine Marocaine, Menara, and Haouzia. These cultivars are well-suited to the Moroccan climate and produce delicious olives and high-quality olive oil.

In neighboring Algeria, olive tree cultivation is also a significant part of their agricultural landscape. Some of the popular Algerian olive cultivars you might encounter include Sigoise, Blanquette, and Douce.

Western Cape

Down South, countries like South Africa also offer a suitable environment for olive trees, especially in the Western Cape region. The climate there is similar to the Mediterranean, and they’ve done a fantastic job of making the most of it. From Frantoio to Mission, they’re growing a range of olive varieties and producing some high-quality oils that are gaining international recognition.

Another aspect of the Western Cape that makes it a great region for olive tree cultivation is the support from the local agricultural community. The South African Olive Industry Association (SAOIA) is dedicated to promoting the growth and development of the olive industry in the country. They provide valuable resources and information to olive tree growers and gardeners, helping them to succeed in their endeavors.

5 best olive trees for indoors feature
Check out the 5 best olive tree varieties to grow indoors.

7. South America

While olive trees are not as widespread in South America as in the Mediterranean region, there are still areas with great potential for olive tree growers and gardeners.

Argentina

Let’s take a quick jaunt to Argentina first. This country, known globally for its delicious wines, is also a significant player in the olive oil world. In particular, Mendoza and San Juan provinces have gained a reputation for their olive oils.

You’ll find a mix of European cultivars here such as Arbequina, Frantoio and Manzanilla, but also some local ones like Arauco that have adapted well to the local climate.

Chile

Then, there’s Chile. Chile’s unique geography and climate make it an attractive location for olive tree cultivation. With a Mediterranean climate and fertile soil, some of the key olive-growing areas in Chile include the Maipo Valley, the Aconcagua Valley, and the Colchagua Valley.

The Chilean folks have embraced modern farming techniques, resulting in some of the finest extra virgin olive oil. Arbequina, Frantoio, and Leccino are among the popular varieties you’ll find in Chile.

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VI. Growing Olive Trees Challenges in Non-Optimal Conditions

Growing olive trees in non-optimal conditions can be a bit tricky, but I’m here to share my know-how on how to adapt to colder climates, improve soil quality, and manage irrigation and watering systems, which can make all the difference.

1. Adapting to Colder Climates

Firstly, choose olive tree cultivars that are more cold-hardy than others, making them better suited for colder climates. For example, the Frantoio and Leccino cultivars are known for their ability to withstand colder temperatures.

Another key aspect to consider when growing olive trees in colder climates is site selection. Choose a location that provides optimal sunlight and warmth, such as a south-facing slope, to help the trees retain heat during the colder months. Additionally, it’s vital to protect your trees from strong winds that can exacerbate the effects of cold weather.

Proper tree care is also essential when growing olive trees in chillier conditions. Regular pruning helps to maintain a strong structure, making the trees more resilient against cold temperatures. Be sure to remove any dead or damaged wood to promote overall tree health.

In some cases, it might be necessary to provide extra protection for your olive trees during particularly harsh winters. One option is to cover the trees with frost protection blankets or burlap when temperatures dip below freezing. Alternatively, you can try wrapping the trunk and lower branches with insulating material to help retain heat.

Lastly, don’t be discouraged if your olive trees suffer some cold damage. Olive trees are resilient, and they can often recover with proper care and attention. Be patient and give your trees the time they need to bounce back.

2. Techniques for Improving Soil Quality

Having faced soil challenges myself, I’ve discovered some techniques that can help you create the perfect environment for your olive trees to thrive. Let’s dive into these soil improvement strategies:

  1. Test your soil: The first thing I recommend is to get your soil tested. This will give you an accurate understanding of your soil’s current pH level, nutrient content, and texture. You can then determine the best course of action to create the ideal growing conditions for your olive trees.
  2. Adjust the pH level: Olive trees prefer a pH level between 6.0 and 8.0. If your soil is too acidic or alkaline, you’ll need to adjust it accordingly. To raise the pH level, you can add lime or wood ash. Try incorporating sulfur or peat moss into the soil to lower the pH.
  3. Improve drainage: Olive trees require well-draining soil. If your soil is heavy and prone to waterlogging, you can improve its drainage by adding sand or organic matter, such as compost or aged manure. Planting your trees on mounds or raised beds can also help with drainage.
  4. Boost nutrients: Olive trees don’t require particularly fertile soil, but they do need a balanced supply of nutrients. You can improve soil nutrient content by incorporating organic matter like compost or well-rotted manure. Also, consider using a slow-release fertilizer specifically formulated for olive trees to ensure they get the essential nutrients they need.
  5. Mulching: Applying a layer of organic mulch, such as wood chips or straw, around the base of your olive trees can work wonders for soil quality. Mulch helps to retain moisture, suppress weeds, and add nutrients to the soil as it decomposes.
  6. Rotate crops: If you have the space and the ability to do so, rotating crops in the area where you’re growing your olive trees can help improve soil quality. Planting cover crops like legumes, which fix nitrogen in the soil, can be especially beneficial. Read more about companion plants for olive trees.
  7. Monitor and maintain: Finally, it’s essential to keep an eye on your soil’s health and make adjustments as needed. Regularly test your soil and monitor your trees’ growth to ensure they get the optimal conditions for healthy development.

By implementing these techniques, you can significantly improve the soil quality in non-optimal conditions, giving your olive trees the best chance to flourish. It’s all about trial and error, so don’t be afraid to experiment and adapt your approach as you learn more about your trees and their unique needs.

3. Irrigation and Water Management Strategies

I’ll share some strategies that have worked for me and can help you navigate these obstacles with ease. Let’s explore some of the best approaches to irrigating your olive trees and managing water resources in less-than-ideal environments.

  1. Assess your water needs: First and foremost, try to understand your olive trees’ water requirements. Olive trees are known for their drought tolerance but still need consistent moisture, especially during the critical growth and fruit development stages. Monitor your trees closely and adjust your watering schedule as needed.
  2. Drip irrigation: Drip irrigation is one of the most effective irrigation methods I’ve found for olive trees. This system allows you to deliver water directly to the root zone, minimizing water waste and reducing the risk of fungal diseases caused by wet foliage. It’s also a great way to conserve water in areas with limited resources.
  3. Schedule watering times: To make the most of your water resources, plan your watering schedule wisely. I recommend watering your olive trees early in the morning or late in the evening when temperatures are cooler, and evaporation rates are lower. This will help ensure more water reaches your trees’ root systems.
  4. Monitor soil moisture: Keep a close eye on your soil’s moisture levels to prevent over or under-watering. You can use a soil moisture meter or stick your finger into the soil near the tree’s root zone to gauge the moisture level. If the soil feels dry, it’s time to water. If it’s still damp, hold off for another day or two.
  5. Mulch to conserve water: As I mentioned earlier, mulching is an excellent way to conserve water and improve soil quality. By applying a layer of organic mulch around the base of your olive trees, you’ll help retain moisture in the soil, reducing the frequency at which you need to water.
  6. Harvest rainwater: If you’re growing olive trees in an area with limited water resources, consider harvesting rainwater to supplement your irrigation needs. Installing rain barrels or a rainwater catchment system can provide an additional source of water for your trees during dry spells.
  7. Prune strategically: Pruning your olive trees is great for maintaining their shape and encouraging healthy growth, and it can also help with water management. Removing excess growth and deadwood will allow your trees to direct more water and nutrients to the remaining branches and leaves, improving their overall health.

VII. How to Maintain Optimal Olive Tree Growth

While olive trees are known for their resilience and ability to grow in various conditions, several factors can significantly affect their growth and production. As a grower, you should be aware of these factors and take the necessary steps to ensure the health and productivity of your olive trees.

1. Pruning Techniques

In this section, I’ll share some tried-and-true pruning techniques that can help you keep your olive trees healthy and productive.

  • Time your pruning: When it comes to pruning olive trees, timing is everything. I recommend pruning during late winter or early spring before the new growth begins. This allows your trees to direct their energy into the new growth and helps prevent disease and pests.
  • Start with the basics: Before diving into more complex pruning techniques, always start by removing any dead, diseased, or damaged branches. This helps improve the overall health of your tree and allows for better air circulation, reducing the risk of disease.
  • Open up the canopy: Olive trees need plenty of sunlight to produce a good crop of olives, so ensure an open canopy that allows sunlight to reach the inner branches. To achieve this, I suggest removing any crossing or inward-growing branches and thinning out crowded areas.
  • Encourage fruiting wood: To maximize your olive tree’s fruit production, you’ll want to encourage the growth of fruiting wood. Fruit is produced on the previous year’s growth, so focus on cutting back the previous year’s growth by about a third. This will encourage the development of new, fruit-bearing branches.
  • Maintain the desired shape: When pruning your olive trees, keep in mind the desired shape and size for your specific growing conditions. Some people prefer to keep their trees smaller and more accessible, while others let them grow taller. Whichever shape you prefer, prune accordingly to maintain that form.
  • Skirt pruning: I recommend skirt pruning if you’re growing your olive trees in a region prone to frost or want to make harvesting easier. This involves removing lower branches up to 3-4 feet from the ground, which helps prevent frost damage and makes it easier to access the tree for harvesting and maintenance.
  • Be mindful of your cuts: When pruning, always make clean, sharp cuts at a slight angle just above a bud or branch. This helps prevent the entry of diseases and pests and promotes faster healing.

Read more about pruning olive trees in pots.

2. Pests and Diseases

Here are some common pests and diseases to watch for and what you can do to keep them in check.

  • Olive Fruit Fly: The olive fruit fly is a notorious pest that can significantly impact your olive tree’s fruit production. I recommend using yellow sticky traps to monitor their presence and applying organic bait sprays, like spinosad, to control their population. Timely harvesting and disposal of fallen fruit can also help keep their numbers in check.
  • Scale insects: Scale insects are tiny, sap-sucking pests that can weaken your olive trees and cause leaf drops. To control scale insects, I suggest releasing natural predators like ladybugs and lacewings or applying horticultural oil or insecticidal soap to affected areas. Read more on how to get rid of scale insects from olive trees.
  • Peacock Spot: Peacock spot is a common fungal disease that affects olive tree leaves, causing yellowing, defoliation, and reduced fruit production. To prevent this disease, ensure good air circulation by adequately pruning your trees and applying a copper-based fungicide as a preventive measure during the dormant season.
  • Verticillium Wilt: Verticillium wilt is a soil-borne fungal disease that can cause sudden wilting, yellowing, and death of branches. I recommend planting resistant olive tree varieties, rotating crops, and avoiding over-watering to minimize the risk of verticillium wilt.
  • Olive Knot: Olive knot is a bacterial disease that causes tumor-like growths on branches and twigs. To prevent olive knot, maintain a proper pruning regimen, and sanitize your pruning tools between cuts. If you spot any infected branches, remove them immediately and dispose of them properly.
  • Root Rot: Root rot is caused by fungi that thrive in poorly drained soils, leading to a decline in the overall health of your olive tree. To prevent root rot, ensure proper drainage by planting your trees in well-draining soil or raised beds, and avoid over-watering.

For more about pests and diseases, read my article on problems with olive trees in pots.

3. Irrigation

Here, I’ll share my best practices for olive tree irrigation, so you can help your trees thrive and produce abundant harvests.

  • Know your trees’ needs: Olive trees are drought-tolerant, but they still need water to grow and produce fruit. Young trees typically require more frequent watering than established trees. I suggest watering your new trees every 7 to 10 days, gradually reducing the frequency as they mature.
  • Deep, infrequent watering: To encourage deep root growth and improve the tree’s drought tolerance, I recommend watering your trees deeply and less frequently. This method ensures the water penetrates deep into the soil, allowing roots to grow downward and access moisture reserves. For mature trees, watering every 2 to 4 weeks should suffice, depending on your climate and soil type.
  • Monitor soil moisture: To avoid overwatering, monitor the soil moisture around your trees. I like to use the “finger test” – stick your finger about 2 inches (5 cm) into the soil, and if it’s dry, it’s time to water. Alternatively, you can invest in a soil moisture meter for a more precise reading.
  • Drip irrigation systems: One of the most efficient ways to water your olive trees is by using a drip irrigation system. I’ve found this method allows to deliver water directly to the root zone, reducing evaporation and water waste. It also helps prevent the spread of fungal diseases by keeping the foliage dry.
  • Mulching: To help conserve moisture in the soil and maintain a more consistent temperature, I recommend applying a layer of organic mulch, such as bark chips or straw, around the base of your trees. Keep the mulch a few inches away from the trunk to prevent moisture buildup, which can lead to rot and disease.

Relevant article: watering requirements for olive trees in pots.

4. Fertilization

Let’s dive into my insights about olive tree fertilization:

  • Nutritional needs: Olive trees require a balance of nutrients to thrive, including nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium, and various micronutrients. Provide these nutrients in the right proportions to promote healthy growth, foliage, and fruit production.
  • Test your soil: Before you begin fertilizing, I highly recommend conducting a soil test to determine your soil’s current nutrient levels and pH. This valuable information will help you select your trees’ appropriate fertilizer and application rate.
  • Choose the right fertilizer: Based on your soil test results, select a fertilizer that provides the necessary nutrients. I typically use a balanced fertilizer for olive trees or slow-release granular fertilizer with a balanced N-P-K ratio, which ensures my trees receive the nutrients they need over an extended period.
  • Application timing: I’ve found that the best time to apply fertilizer is in early spring, just as the trees start to break dormancy. This gives the trees essential nutrients to fuel new growth and fruit production. Depending on your trees’ needs, you may consider other applications in late summer or early fall.
  • Proper application: When applying fertilizer, I like to spread it evenly around the drip line of the tree, where the feeder roots are most active. Be careful not to apply fertilizer too close to the trunk, as it can cause damage. After applying, I water the area thoroughly to help the fertilizer penetrate the soil and reach the roots.
  • Monitor and adjust: Keep an eye on your trees throughout the growing season, and adjust your fertilization plan as needed. Signs of nutrient deficiencies or imbalances may include yellowing leaves, poor growth, or reduced fruit production.

Relevant article: best fertilizer for olive trees.

5. Harvesting and Post-Harvesting Care

Over the years, I’ve fine-tuned my techniques, and I’m excited to share my expertise with fellow olive tree growers and gardeners like you. Here are my top tips for harvesting and post-harvest care:

  • Timing is crucial: Knowing when to harvest your olives is critical for achieving the desired flavor and quality. Keep an eye on your olives and look for a mix of green and purple fruit – that’s generally the ideal time to harvest. The optimal harvest window may vary depending on the cultivar and your intended use, so be sure to research your specific variety.
  • Harvesting methods: There are several methods to harvest olives, including hand-picking, using rakes or combs, or even mechanical harvesters for more extensive operations. As a passionate olive tree grower, I enjoy hand-picking my olives, as it allows me to be gentle with the fruit and ensures minimal damage. Whichever method you choose, handle the olives carefully to prevent bruising and reduce the risk of spoilage.
  • Store and transport with care: After harvesting, I recommend placing your olives in shallow, ventilated containers to avoid crushing them. Keep them in a cool, shaded area and process them as soon as possible to preserve freshness and quality.
  • Curing your olives: Curing helps transform your freshly harvested olives into a tasty, edible treat. Several methods are available, such as water curing, brine curing, dry salt curing, or lye curing. I suggest experimenting with different techniques to find the one that best suits your taste preferences.
  • Olive oil extraction: If you plan to make olive oil, process your olives soon after harvesting. The longer you wait, the more the fruit’s quality deteriorates. I advise bringing your olives to a local mill or using a home olive oil press within 24-48 hours after picking.
  • Post-harvest tree care: Don’t forget to care for your trees after the harvest season. Prune them to maintain their shape, promote air circulation, and stimulate new growth. Inspect your trees for any signs of pests or diseases, and apply treatments as needed. Finally, replenish your trees’ nutrients by adding compost or well-rotted manure to the soil.

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VIII. Frequently Asked Questions

Can I grow olive trees in any climate?

No, olive trees have specific climate requirements and do best in regions with hot, dry summers and mild, wet winters.

What type of soil do olive trees grow best in?

Olive trees prefer well-drained soil with a pH level of 6 to 8. Sandy loam or loam soils are ideal, but the trees can also grow in clay soils as long as they are well-drained.

Can olive trees grow in the Philippines?

When comparing the Philipines with the Mediterranean climate, both areas experience higher temperatures. The main difference is that the Mediterranean is far less humid and drier, which are the ideal conditions for olive trees.
Much Mediterranean soil tends to be rocky, and rainfall soaks in quickly. Olives have shallow roots to absorb as much water from the surface before it soaks away. So to keep Olives happy, you need well-draining soil (not so much moist as in the Philippines), and it should be watered well in the summer months. The Philippines has warmer and more humid winter months than the Mediterranean, where olives prefer to be dryer during this time.

Can I grow olive trees in the United Kingdom?

Olive trees can grow in colder and wetter regions such as the UK. The best is to grow hardy olive cultivars in the UK climate, such as Arbequina, Koroneiki and Pendolino. Also, growing olive trees in the UK requires careful consideration of factors such as soil quality, sunlight exposure, and protection from frost and strong winds.

Can I grow olive trees in Canada?

Canada’s climate is generally too cold and harsh for olive trees to thrive, making it difficult to cultivate them successfully. However, you can grow olive trees in pots and bring them indoors or under shelter before cold and freezing weather.

IX. Conclusion

Finally, these ancient trees need a subtropical climate to reach maximum olive tree lifespan. Though, there can be substantial microclimate differences within one olive grove which affects olive tree growth for the better or worse. For instance, small valleys, in particular, can be substantially colder than more open areas and may make a difference between having frost damage or not.

So if you live in a colder climate which is not the best place for olive trees to thrive, you may not succeed with olive grove development, but you can always grow olive trees indoors. Or do it outside and then ensure moving olive trees indoors for winter.

best companion plants for olive trees
Check out Best Companion Plants for olive trees outside or indoors

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