Protecting Your Olive Trees in Winter: 8 Steps for Success

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If you have a gorgeous landscape set up with olive trees in pots at your front door or backyard and you would like to keep it outdoors through the winter, then you must ensure to protect your olive trees in winter.

Though your olive trees in pots winter care can be challenging due to many winter freeze factors. But following our guidelines in this article, you will enjoy growing olive trees in pots or an in-ground rewarding experience.

olive trees in pots winter care

Can Olive Trees Grow in Cold Climates?

The simple answer is yes! The coldest climate areas where mature olive trees can survive are with temperatures down to 15° F (- 9°C) for a limited time during winter. However, the air must be dry with a cold hit gradually.

Therefore, a sustained freeze below 15° F (- 9°C) for olive trees can be fatal, and you should think about moving olive trees indoors.

olive tree freezing temp 1
Olive trees can grow in a colder climate, however continuous freezing weather may be fatal.

Olive Tree Cold Resistance

The main reason an olive tree may not overwinter in a container or pot is lower root resistance to frost. Roots are partially protected when planted in the ground but often freeze when planted in a container.

Frost resistance of the surface roots, old roots, and young roots can vary significantly. For example:

  • Perennial branches and stems of an olive tree can be resistant up to 5° F (- 15°C)
  • Old roots up to 15° F (- 9°C)
  • Young roots only 23° F (- 5°C)

After planting the olive tree in a container, the young roots are usually near the wall of the container and may freeze very quickly. So it is better to plant an olive tree in a container as early as possible, not just before winter so that its roots can establish and prepare for winter.

Also, the roots of the olive tree can be damaged if the walls of the container are highly conductive to heat, the container is overwatered or over-dried, and so on.

olive tree freezing tempreture 1
The mature olive tree’s roots are resistant to 15° F (- 9°C) and can survive in a colder climate.

How to Protect Olive Trees in Winter Outdoors?

So firstly, your outdoor conditions need to fulfill a few mandatory requirements for you to keep potted olive trees outside:

  • The temperature cannot fall below the surviving level, i.e., 15° F (- 9°C)
  • The tree gets enough sun throughout the winter, ideally a minimum of 6 hours of sunlight per day
  • You regularly maintain and care for your olive tree in a container or pot
olive tree winter care 1
Regular care and maintenance are required for your potted olive tree in winter outdoors

To learn how to care for olive trees in pots in winter, I have brought together helpful tips based on my own gardener’s and farmer’s experience:

1.     Protect roots by selecting the right place

If there is a possibility you should place olive trees in containers or pots on the soil instead of tiles or pavement made from concrete or wood. This provides better insulation and prevents significant temperature fluctuations during the day-night cycle, and better protects roots in containers. For instance, the winter sun can warm pavement during the day, setting the roots up for substantial damage when temperatures drop below freezing at night.

olive tree protection for winter 1
Tip: a spare tire can not only keep a potted tree stable but be an excellent protection for the olive tree’s roots against the winter cold

Group potted plants together

You can push the containers of outdoor plants you have into one location where they are sheltered by the wall. Lace the hardiest plants on the outside and cover the outer containers with bark mulch in order to keep thermal insulation properties.

Otherwise, individual containers can be insulated using wire mesh and any thermal insulation materials before winter (a gap of 2 – 4 inches (= 5 -10 cm) is made between the mesh and the container, which is filled with thermal insulation material).



2.     Choosing as large containers as possible

A capacity of tens of liters of the container will always be better than a few liters since larger containers hold more soil, and more soil takes longer to freeze. Otherwise, a potted olive tree in a small container dries faster and freezes quickly. Also, choose containers with thick walls (at least 1.2 in (= 3 cm) wide) for extra protection.

Before planting an olive tree into a rectangular container, it can be insulated from the inside by inserting foam sheets against the walls and bottom. But it is necessary to make drainage at the bottom.

olive tree preparation for winter 1
Tip: protect olive tree’s roots from the cold by adding straws, hay, mulch, or dried leaves inside the wooden cage

Container material suited for overwintering

Sudden temperature changes can damage the container itself, causing it to crack. Wooden, concrete, and metal containers are suitable for use during winter. Plastic containers are not durable and can crumble after a few winters. Drainage should be provided at the bottom of the container to prevent the soil from getting wet and freezing in ice during the winter.

It is advisable not to choose ceramic or other porous-walled containers for overwintering outdoors since they tend to crack when absorbed water freezes. But if you choose them, they must be glazed or otherwise protected from water entering the pores of the walls.

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3.     Prepare for extreme weather

After forecasting extremely low temperatures, the olive trees in the containers can be wrapped in winter garden cover, plant cover, or bubble wrap, which should be removed when the temperature rises in order to stop the early swelling of the buds. This is an excellent option for overwintering and protecting olive trees from deep freezes. 

Also, you can mulch potted olive trees with at least 2 inches (=5 cm) of straw, bark chips, or dry leaves before extreme weather. Ensure the bark is not too soggy, as it is more susceptible to freezing.

protect olive tree in winter 1
Wrap up your olive tree in a garden cover before extreme weather to save its foliage, branches, and roots.

Make a warm cage

Use chicken wire or any other garden fencing and encircle your potted olive tree like you’re building a fence around it. Make this cage tall enough to enclose the entire olive tree. Then, drop in the mulch, hay, or dried leaves, covering the olive tree from the ground to the top of the container. Finally, wrap outside the cage with burlap or garden cover and secure it with twine.

This insulation should protect the olive tree’s roots from winter’s coldest freeze, which is the most vulnerable part of the tree. Then spring arrives, unwrap the olive tree gradually.

Just make sure the mulch or straw you are using is not damp because excessive moisture may cause tissue rot in the roots of your olive tree.

Use fleece/ bubble wrap

When freezing weather is predicted, horticultural fleece offers a quick and easy option to provide olive trees with limited winter protection. Fleeces can be wrapped around a plant and tied with string around the stem. Or they can be laid over the soil and nailed down. For instance, this is a wonderful option when a late frost is predicted, and you want to protect the blossom on small olive trees. Fleece is an excellent temporary protective solution because it is simple to apply and remove.

Instead of using fleece, bubble wrap offers a little bit more insulation. But since it will keep air from reaching the olive tree, you should put it on your small trees for short periods (e.g., overnight).

Plant your olive tree temporary

If you live in a cold climate and have a space in your backyard, you can dig a hole and bury the entire pot. Then, spread mulch or leaves on top for extra insulation. And if you are planning to plant a new tree in spring, you can re-use the hole you already dug!

olive tree winter wrap up 1
Tip: wrap up your olive tree in a cover and move into a shelter prior to severe cold

4.     Water to protect the roots from damage

Outdoor olive trees in pots with regular watering help to protect the roots. Because moisture insulates the roots and will not harm or damage the roots.

Absolutely, a healthy and strong olive tree is better prepared to deal with cold winter conditions than a dry, water-stressed plant.

5.     Feed mature olive tree if older foliage starts to discolor

If older foliage begins to lighten in a color that means your potted olive tree lacks nitrogen. For this reason, the best solution is to use a balanced olive tree fertilizer with micronutrients. Otherwise, you should not heavily fertilize your olive tree with a fast-release nitrogen product as long as the leaves remain bright medium-green.

As well, do not feed outdoor olive trees under 2 years old during the winter months. Because young trees are more vulnerable to cold damage from foliage flushes than older specimens are.

If you live in a cold climate zone, we recommend moving olive trees indoors for winter

If you live in a cold climate zone, we recommend moving olive trees indoors for winter

6.     Do not prune your potted olive tree in winter

This is a very common mistake by beginner gardeners. They try to clip winter-damaged vegetation and harm the tree even more due to frost affecting the cuts. To avoid it, put off intense pruning until after the last predicted frost for your area.

Pruning stimulates tender new growth that is more susceptible to damage. Better is to plan pruning in early spring, just before new growth comes out. In that case, you will be able to assess frost damage to your olive tree and what needs to be pruned off more accurately.

7.     Watch your olive tree for any pests or diseases

Pests such as scale or aphids may attack outdoor olive trees in pots’ foliage during the winter. The easiest way to get rid of them is to knock them off with a strong spray from the garden hose. Or you can treat the olive tree with insecticidal soap as needed. For repeat applications follow the packaging instructions and our in-depth guidelines on scale insect removal.

8.     String outdoor holiday lights throughout the olive tree’s branches

olive tree winter cover 1
Absolutely lovely piece of art and a way to protect the olive tree’s roots from the winter cold

This is another good piece of advice for your olive trees in pots winter care. Absolutely, outdoor holiday lights not only give a charm to your landscape in the backyard but as well keep your tree warm before the frost hits.

Q&A – Olive Trees in Pots Winter Care

In addition, let’s look at are the most common questions I receive with regards to olive trees in pots winter care:

Should You Cover Olive Tree in Winter?

If you live in an area that can be harshly hit by the frost, always wrap the trunk of your potted olive tree in several layers of cardboard to insulate it against frost. Cover the trunk from just below the main limbs and a pot together. You can secure the cardboard with duct tape. Leave the cover in place until the last frost will pass your region.

Do Olive Trees Lose Their Leaves in Winter?

No, olive trees are evergreen trees. However, you may notice olive trees dropping more leaves in winter than in other seasons. Especially, after the first hard frost, the olive tree may lose a bunch of leaves that help the process for winter protection. As well,  most leaves are dropping because the olive trees are renewing their leaves prior to new growth in the spring.

How Often Should You Water Potted Olive Trees in Winter?

For the winter season, give young olive trees about 1 inch (= 2.5 cm) of water weekly from November through February in the absence of rainfall. Bear in mind the potted olive trees must be watered more often than in-ground trees.
Supply more mature trees 1 to 2 inches (= 2.5 – 5 cm) weekly from September through February if there is no rain.
However, if your area is constantly hit by the rainfall, skip the watering routine up until the olive tree gets dryer. You can check the soil moisture with a moisture meter which gives a good indication of when to water a potted tree.

Follow our detailed guidelines on how to use and read a moisture meter for olive trees.

Things You Will Need for Winter Care

Certainly, you don’t need any fancy gardening tools to have to take care of your olive tree over the winter. However, if you have the following customer highly rated items, available on Amazon, you can be sure your olive tree gets all the maintenance it needs in terms of watering, feeding, and pest control.

Last update on 2024-02-02 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Last update on 2024-02-02 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Final Thoughts

Small potted olive trees can be easily moved indoors or into a cool garage or greenhouse. Protecting large olive trees is a bigger challenge but I can be done.

In case you grow herb plants or small flowers next to your olive tree in a pot, don’t forget to look after these companion plants for your olive tree. If it is an annual plant, just cut it off until the roots and let it stay through winter dormant.

Otherwise, you should follow our guidelines above and ensure proper olive trees in pots winter care if you want to grow potted olive trees in your background or at the front door during winter. Following the steps in this article, you will save time and energy to look after your trees and won’t need to recover affected olive trees by the winter frost.

If in doubt whether the olive tree is sufficiently resistant to frost – it is best to remove it from the pot or container, prepare the soil, and plant it in the ground before the winter.

Have you had success growing an olive tree outdoors in winter? Comment us with your results and share your best tips with us on olive trees in pots winter care. Happy winter growing!

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18 thoughts on “Protecting Your Olive Trees in Winter: 8 Steps for Success”

  1. Hi I have a potted olive tree that stood out in the garden even in the cold winter. Last year l followed your directions and had repotted to the extent we had lots of small olives for the first time! Last winter for the first time l covered it wrongly ( a light material bag over the limbs but nothing over the trunk or pot. Today the tree looks dead, the olives have all shrivelled and the tree looks dry with no leaves. I dont want to throw it out and know a frost many years ago in Italy took the trees two years to recover so am optimistic. It is sitting in the sun (when we get it) and will give it a bit of time. Nonetheless l want to thank you for the advise as it was very exciting to have olives appear up here int he north

  2. Hi Annette, sorry to hear about your tree. Olive trees are very hardy trees, just keep it in the sunniest location, feed it and it should eventually recover. If the branches are dead, prune them off. Other than that, be patient and give time to start showing a sign of life! Wish your tree a speed recovery!

  3. Hi,
    I have an Olive tree that has been living outside for 15 years in my NC backyard. I am so proud of my tree, however it produced about 2 olives 10 years ago and nothing since. My husband and I cover the branches in the winter because of the frost, and I don’t want to lose the tree. Should I wrap the trunk of the tree? and Do you have any suggestions on what we can do to help our olive tree out ? Some of the tree branches are between 8-9 ft. tall. Thanks!

  4. Hi Carmen, olive trees can withstand calm easy winters, however, you should cover them all before freezing temperatures (especially before long-lasting frosts). As for fruiting, if your olive tree is blooming in spring, maybe it is a matter of pollinator. I have articles written about cross-pollination and reasons why olive tree is not fruiting – you can find them via the search box on my website.

  5. Suzanne Pyman

    Hi Vangelis. I hope you can advise. We have just purchased 2 olive trees that are approx. 5ft high, lollipop shape, currently in the 12inch deep x 15inch diameter plastic black nursery pots that they came in. Their trunks are about 9cm across. We want to put them into larger containers, but should we wait until the spring to do this? We are worried that they wont over winter outside if left in their original black nursery pots. We currently have them positioned on the soil against a warm wall. Should we wrap the black nursery pots in bubble wrap, to help? It would be easier if we can plant them up into their large containers in the spring as we are waiting until then to have some major design work done on our garden. We live in Derbyshire, UK.

  6. Hi Suzanne, plastic nursery pots are not the best solution to overwinter in extreme temperatures, and I guess the olive tree is potbound so the roots can be easier damaged during the freeze. The bubble wrap definitely will help, bear in mind, olive trees can’t withstand long-lasting freezing temperatures, but they are fine in a mild cold. You can also cover olive trees with burlap, sheets, or other fabric prior to extreme weather. But if you decide to repot them into large containers now, just let them settle down until the first freezing temp comes and monitor the weather forecast to know when to cover the trees. Another option would be to plant trees into the soil to overwinter, but it’s better to arrange it earlier, at least several months before winter.

  7. Hi J Lynch, it is absolutely fine, especially before freezing temperature.

  8. Hi. Help needed please . .
    In September I purchased 2 olive trees. One mature 6/7 years which has been planted in the ground, and the other is approximately 3 year’s and this one has been planted in a very large cretian terracotta pot.
    It’s the 2nd one that worries me. It was planted in my absence and against my wishes it was completely filled with soil (I had left some sizeable chunks of polystyrene to be used, to ensure the pot was not too heavy). However that’s what I’m left dealing with. The pot is standing flat on a paving stone, no feet used and is totally unmovable.
    Priory to the start of our freezing temperatures, I had both trees covered in giant fleese bags. At this stage both plants looked healthy.
    I live in Gloucestershire.
    I covered the exterior of the pot with an old rough blanket and mulched the exposed soil on the top. I’m now thinking bubble wrap might be better, as the blanket may get wet and hold water against the pot.
    I have not watered the potted olive since the fleese has been on, mid. October time. I’ve just left it to rainfall as I’m worried it will get too wet.
    My garden is small, no grass, paving and gravel but does have a few large shrubs and a couple of trees along the fence line, so I wouldnt say its exposed, but it is on a corner. This area gets the morning sun up till around 1pm, and returns, in the summer around 4pm.
    There’s no way I can move this tree to a more sheltered area.
    My question is, have I done the right/wrong thing? In terms of getting the potted olive tree through the winter.
    I was told the pot was frost-resistant, Hmmm . . I dont know if this is the case, but anyway.
    Obviously, for the sake of the tree/s themselves and my considerable expenditure, I’d like to give them the best possible chance of getting them through to next spring. Is there anything else I should be doing?
    Thank you.

  9. Hi J Lynch, during freezing temperatures it is recommended to keep potted olive tree inside; a greenhouse is a good option also. However, the olive tree needs to stay dormant over the winter (lower temperatures and cold for at least 2 months are required to improve flower and fruit production).

  10. Hi Nancy, if your tree is not self-pollinating and there are no growing other olive trees around then you can pollinate it manually. More about it read our article “Self-pollinating & Cross-pollinating olive trees”

  11. Hi I have a two year old olive tree (olea Europea) that is in a 12” terracotta pot. Last winter I brought it indoors to a sunny window and it barely survived due to a scale infestation. 🥲
    We have an unheated garage, and a heated basement, but both are fairly dark with small windows. My question is which location would give the olive the best chance of survival?
    The unheated garage, the heated basement, the sunny window, or wrapped and placed in a sheltered outdoor location? We live in Philadelphia PA, zone 6-7. Thank you so much!

  12. I have the roots of my one year old olive protected by several layers of those mailing bags with air pockets, but the branches are not covered. Our temps are 40 to 28 and we have very little sun in winter (Seattle). I plan to bring inside if it gets much lower than that. What else should I do?

  13. Hi Catherine, all options are good as long as you create livable conditions. For instance, you can place an olive tree in a dark garage or basement but take it outside to catch sunlight for a few hours, otherwise, olive tree may start losing their leaves (sunlight is one of the “must-have” conditions for olive trees). If it is a heated place, make sure you water your olive tree more frequently as the soil dries faster and your olive tree gets hungry easier. A sheltered outdoor location sounds great just make sure to prepare for extreme weather and protect the olive tree’s roots.

  14. Hi Katherine, also cover branches if you get extreme weather, otherwise, your olive tree may lose its leaves, even branches. For indoors, place at the sunniest window, increase a humidity level and give plenty of water if heating is turned on, improve air circulation.

  15. Have planted a young olive tree in the ground, we get frosts over winter but only down to -6 have put cover over, but can I take cover off during the day?

  16. Vangelis Kleft

    Hey Andy! So awesome you planted an olive tree! 🌿 To tackle those frosty nights (down to -6°C), keep the cover on at night for extra warmth. But during the day, go ahead and let your tree soak up that sunshine – take the cover off. Just peek at the weather forecast to be sure, and your olive buddy should be good to grow. And a cozy layer of mulch at the base could be like a warm blanket for its roots. Enjoy watching your little tree thrive! 🌞🫒

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