How to Prune Olive Trees in Pots Correctly( 7 Easy Steps)

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If you are growing olive trees indoors or your backyard, you must have many questions about the care and maintenance of olive trees. Without a doubt, regular pruning is a necessary part of caring for olive trees in pots. Because by pruning olive trees in pots correctly, you control not only their height and functionality but as well encourage vigorous growth for better olive fruit production.

So how to prune olive trees in pots correctly? There are some basic olive trees in pots pruning requirements you should know as not to damage their natural growth process. First, you must remove cracked, diseased, or dead branches. Then, clip off root suckers or water shoots. After this, you can start shaping your potted olive trees by eliminating crossing branches and controlling new growths. It is fine to cut off 1/3 branches but most important is to know when to stop. Cause over-pruning olive trees in pots may overstimulate the tree and cause stress.

For this reason, I explained the whole process of how to prune olive trees in pots in this guide and a short video.  Even if you are a beginner grower, you will learn fundamental olive tree pruning skills in no time.

These 7 pruning steps and 5 trimming principles do an amazing job and help to boost your olive tree growth significantly. Well, you must prune regularly by following this guide step by step to achieve the best results.

Reasons of Pruning Your Olive Tree

Pruning is the best preventive measure for olive tree care: a crown of strong structure is formed, the branches are located at the required density, so all parts of the tree would receive enough sunlight, and there is air movement in the crown resulting in less chance of disease spread. 

1. Keep Your Olive Tree Healthy

* Remove dried or dieing branches, damaged mechanically or by diseases, pests, animals or storms.

* Remove branches or parts of branches that touch each other in order to let sunlight and wind breeze inside. Also, protect the tree from diseases. 

* Avoid removing most of the branches of the tree at once, since large wounds may remain and natural shape of the crown of the tree is lost.

2. Plant Care and Landscape Architecture Needs

* Promote the development of flowers and fruits.

* Preserve a dense hedge if olive tree is growing outdoors.

* Maintain the desired shape of the tree.

3. Improving the Apperance of Olive Tree

The apperance of the olive tree is especially impoortant in the landscape. For most landscapes, natural tree crowns are the best. 

Avoid forming olive trees in a strict geometrical shape as this can adversly affect flowering and fruiting. Only change the natural shape of the plant if you have a specific landscape design goal. If the trees are pruned properly, it is hard to notice that they were pruned!

* Control olive tree size

* Form olive tree

* Keep evergreen plants in proportion

* Remove unwanted branches, watershoots, seedlings, and unwanted fruit branches that degrade the appearance of the olive tree.

Best Time to Prune Potted Olive Trees

The best time to prune olive trees in pots is a dormant period. To be more precise, the best time is late winter after olive fruit harvest but before new growth begins. However, the regular maintenance and care of an olive tree should be done on a regular basis:

  • Young olive trees can be pruned very ligthly as often as needed to form a shape
  • Pruning mature olive trees is best after every harvest, early spring
  • Bonsai olive tree pruning is done in spring, ideally early March. Leaves pinching can be done from April to October
  • Pruning neglected olive trees must be done immediately all year round except winter as to avoid the frost damage for cut branches
  • Thus, the root suckers and water shoots should be removed anytime during the growing season
  • Furthermore, deadwood and diseased or damaged branches should be cut on a spot

Overall, pruning begins in the tree nursery, however if the olive tree seedling is not formed during the planting time, only dead, damaged or sick branches are initially removed. Other pruning work is carried out during the nearest dormant period. 

pruning olive trees in pots
It is recommended a light prune each year rather than a heavy pruning every few years.

Prune Olive Trees in Pots in 7 Easy Steps

1.     Disinfect Your Pruning Tools

Before getting started to prune olive trees in pots, you should plan and prepare everything. Collect your pruning tools and gloves.

In order to avoid any transferable tree diseases, it is a good practice to disinfect your pruning tools. For this matter, 10 percent bleach that contains 1 part bleach and 9 parts water is a perfect solution. Leave your tools for 5-10 minutes in a bleach mixture.

  • Bypass pruners labor fine for trimming small olive tree branches less than 1/2 inch = 1.2 cm in diameter
  • Lopping shears prune 1/2- to 1-1/2 inch (1.2 cm to 2.5 cm) diameter branches
  • Pruning saw is a great tool for larger branches of your olive tree

Mainly, bypass pruners are enough to prune olive trees in pots.  Tough, if the olive tree is bigger, lopping shears or pruning saw could be beneficial to use.

Last update on 2023-02-01 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

 2.     Remove root suckers

Before any pruning cuts are made, start with removing any root suckers that grow up from the ground in order to stop them from using your tree nutrients and water.

Cut them with bypass pruners as far down below soil level as possible. For instance, these root suckers can be clipped off at any time throughout the growing season.

3.     Cut off deadwood or diseased branches

Olive tree branches develop throughout the year so make sure you observe your potted olive tree and remove diseased, cracked, or dead branches. The purpose of removing diseased or dead branches is to maintain good olive tree hygiene. As well, to prevent diseases from spreading further and killing the olive tree, or infecting other plants in your house.

For a fact, after pruning diseased branches, always disinfect your pruning tools immediately to avoid spreading disease elsewhere.

How to cut off deadwood or diseased branches?

Simply cut back to at least 6 inches (= 15 cm) inside healthy wood. Importantly, any cuts you make should be at a 45-degree angle in order not to damage the main stalk.

pruning olive tree graphics
Olive tree pruning graphics showing to remove dead and broken branches, water shoots, crossing branches and suckers

4.     Clip off any water shoots

Water shoots known as water sprouts are rapidly growing, vegetative shoots that develop on the larger branches or trunk of the olive tree. They often form just below a pruning cut.

Clip off any water shoots back to the parent branch of your olive tree. Because water shoots are forceful young branches that commonly sprout straight up from stronger branches. In order not to suck nutrients and crowd other healthy and productive branches, it’s better to clip water shoots off.

Since water shoots appear during tree growth throughout the year, so they can be pruned on a spot at any time.

water shoots on olive trees pruning
Normally water shoots grow around pruning cuts – ideally, you should remove them

5.     Eliminate crossing or rubbing branches

In order to encourage healthy olive tree growth with sunlight reaching all the branches and avoid wounds from rubbing into each other, it is beneficial to eliminate any crossing or rubbing branches. As well, crossing branches cutting ensures air circulation which protects from bugs and parasites.

Just cut these branches back to 1/4 inch (= 0.6 cm) above the branch collar. For such olive tree branches, pruning is always good timing late winter, after the tree has finished the fruiting season, but before the new growing season begins.

6.     Clip any long, straight branches

After the first 5 steps done, clip any long, straight branches 1/4 inch (= 0.6 cm) above an outward-facing bud to encourage branching. Basically, a potted olive tree will produce more olive fruits and have a better shape if it has many average length branches versus to a few long, straight branches.

pruning olive tree branches examples
Small branch correct cut location is shown in 1 figure (45 degree cut angle). Though 2, 3, 4 figures are incorrect: 2 – cut is too vertical, 3 – cut next to the bud, 4 – cut is too horizontal.

7.     Control overgrowing branches

In order to shape a potted olive tree, cut back any overgrowing branches to 1/4 inch (= 0.6 cm) above a healthy bud to preserve a uniform shape. Such pruning olive tree for shape type is done in late winter after olive fruit harvest but before new growth begins.

Remember, don’t over prune olive trees in pots! Part of the olive tree pruning process is to know when to stop. For instance, it is absolutely ok to prune 1/3 of your tree branches, but don’t cut more. Because over-pruning can overstimulate your olive tree and cause stress.

prune olive trees in pots example
Above: this is my little potted olive tree and an example of how to prune new growths to shape and keep a crown head. Red stripes show the cut place

Pruning Young Olive Tree in Pot Tips

Pruning of newly planted young olive trees should be limited to the removal of dead or broken branches. All other pruning should be withheld until the second or third year when a potted olive tree has recovered from the stress of transplanting.

However if young trees are not pruned at all, their further care requires more intervention. It can cause larger pruning wounds, difficulty to form strong structures and regular crowns. 

So when pruning young trees, it is important not to remove the dominant central trunk (if the seedling is very elongated with few lateral branches, it can be shortened). But it is almost always necessary to remove or shorten competing branches (and keep one dominant trunk).

The intersecting crossing branches pointing to the center (trunk) of the crown are removed. And as the young tree grows, the lower branches are gradually removed (up to a certain, pre-selected height).

Main branches that have grown too densely from the trunk are also removed (the distance between two adjacent main branches should be at least 15 cm, preferably 30 cm).

Unless you are seeking a bonsai olive tree, then you should start shaping and forming the olive tree as early as possible by getting rid of unnecessary branches and stems. Read more about how to make olive tree into bonsai.

Pruning Mature Olive Tree Tips

It is recommended practice to prune mature olive trees on yearly basis after the harvest. The main reasons for pruning are to remove dead branches, to improve form and fruit yield, and to reduce the risk of disease.

As well, mature olive trees may also be pruned to increase light and air penetration to the inside of the tree’s crown. In most cases, mature trees are pruned to improve fruit yield and to take corrective or preventive measures.

Overall, regular pruning enhances the health of the olive tree and improves growth.

Trimming Fruitless Olive Tree Tips

Trimming fruitless olive trees is similar to pruning fruit-bearing olive trees described above, except there is no goal to increase bud development or fruit harvest.

You can prune fruitless potted trees any time in the dormant season before the buds begin to grow in early spring to improve overall growth. For trimming fruitless olive trees in pots or containers, you can use the detailed 7 steps pruning procedure outlined above.


Pruning Neglected Olive Tree Tips

Neglected olive trees that haven’t been pruned for several years are densely branched, unproductive, and may contain a large number of dead or diseased branches. The olive fruit produced on neglected trees are generally small, poor quality, and lower in nutrients and antioxidants.

Extensive pruning is the first step in the renovation of neglected olive trees in pots or containers. The primary objectives of pruning are to reduce olive tree height and to thin out undesirable branches for better light penetration. Complete renovation of old neglected olive trees may take 2 or 3 years.

Neglected potted olive trees can be rejuvenated by the following pruning processes:

  1. Prune out all dead, diseased, and broken olive tree branches.
  2. Lower the height of the olive tree by cutting back large, upright growing branches. If it’s necessary to remove more top growth of the neglected olive tree, then spread out the pruning over 2 or 3 years.
  3. Remove undesirable inside olive branches.
  4. Prune out the weakest of crossing olive branches and closely growing parallel branches. Also, remove branches growing toward the center, strongly growing upright branches, and water sprouts.
  5. If additional thinning is necessary, remove weak skinny growth. In general, the amount of pruning will be defined by the density of olive branches. Prune sufficiently to permit some light to penetrate the center of the olive tree trunk.
  6. Once rejuvenated, only moderate pruning should be required in the following years. Prune olive trees in winter after the harvest or early spring on an annual basis.

Though olive trees may look old, good quality olive fruit can be obtained by proper pruning and timely spraying.

pruning mature olive trees
Here is an old neglected olive tree which was heavy pruned multiple years in order to increase fruit yield and support new branches growth

How to Shape your Olive Tree?

For instance, there are many varieties of olive trees, thus their look and shape depend on how you prune olive trees in pots. Remember you are the decision-maker how you want your olive tree to look like: wild or topiary tree look, so you choose the best shaping & pruning olive tree option for you. For this reason here are a couple of tips for you on how to shape and prune olive trees in pots.

  • Topiary Tree Look

If you want your olive trees to look like topiary trees (a similar example in the image above),  clip them around through the leaves and shape the tree head as you want. Don’t be fussy about how you prune it and don’t worry too much. Just nip new growths and send all the growth energy inwards to create a dense crown head.

Basically, follow mandatory steps 1-4, then use your creativity and imagination and shape the head of your potted olive tree as you want.

  • Wild Tree Look

If you want to keep your olive tree look wild and open crown head, prune very little, and leave the branches to grow freely.

Follow all 7 pruning steps and keep a shrub-like look.

For more information on how to shape your olive trees and make them look bushier, fuller or wider, check out my recent article: 

shaping olive trees formative pruning bushier olive trees
How to shape olive trees – formative pruning

Things You Need to Prune Potted Olive Tree

Here I picked the great items you may need for pruning your potted olive tree at home based on the best customer reviews, price ad quality: 

  • Bypass pruners
  • Lopping shears
  • Pruning saw
  • Pruning Handtools Kit
  • Illustrated Pruning Guide
  • Bleach

Last update on 2023-02-01 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Final Thoughts on Pruning Olive Trees

Once you’ve followed all the steps, the potted olive tree has just the right amount of leaves and branches. Therefore, each branch has enough room to get thicker and the olive fruits can reach their full potential.

If you grow companion plants under an olive tree, you should take care of them as well, for example, cut off annual plants before the winter.

Without a doubt, regular care and pruning are key for vigor olive trees in pots. You will see great results of your hard work and your olive tree will live happily and decorate your home environment. Then after the successful olive fruit harvest, you can make your own homemade olive oil and serve it proudly at a dining table.

In addition, if you are just enjoying a growing olive tree at home, but do not expect a fruitful year. You can always purchase our Oliviada premium quality Kalamata olive oil and enrich the taste and nutrition of your daily meal:



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Are You Looking to Buy an Olive Tree? 

If you are looking to add more potted trees or other plants to your orchard, or if you like to replace a neglected olive tree, the best places to get them are your local nursery or an online nursery.

One of the most reliable and the world's largest online nurseries is Fast Growing Trees. They deliver fast, neat, and healthy plants backed with a 30-day guarantee.

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18 thoughts on “How to Prune Olive Trees in Pots Correctly( 7 Easy Steps)”

  1. Tomorrow I am having my neglected Olive tree pruned. I live in Townsville and the tree is planted in my front garden in an elevated garden bed. It is getting so big with a lot of dead, woody looking twigs underneath the canopy and it is beginning to affecte surrounding garden and lawn growth.
    Tomorrow, the tree loppers are planning to prune it back to its trunk and leaving no foliage. Is this correct way to deal with pruning it ? I’m worried it will shock the tree and it will die. Many thanks, Lucy.

  2. Hi Lucy, definitely your tree needs some pruning work done and all dead, damaged branches should be trimmed immediately. A good tactic in pruning olive trees is to leave the open center to let the sun and breeze in. If the branches are healthy you should not cut all of them back, at least leave 3 – 4 the most strong side branches which will create a nice canopy eventually. I am not aware of your tree’s overall health, but if it is needed to be pruned back, then don’t worry about it, the olive trees have a tendency to revive just need lots of time!

  3. Kevin Ferguson

    I’ve an 8-10yr kalamata tree growing in a 5-7gal container. It is ~24″ h x 30″w and multi stemmed with long drooping branches, the result of the main trunk dying back due to some sub-20 degree weather.
    I’d like more vertical growth. Should I prune it to try to force one of the branches to be dominant? Or can it grow and produce as multi stem, and gain vertical height?

  4. Hi Kevin, normally the olive tree is pruned to force one of the branches to be dominant and gain all the growing energy. Otherwise, the multi-stem model would divide growth energy to each branch and would slow down the growth rate.

  5. Hi I have a young olive tree which has a large amount of budding olives …should I prune off the olive buds to allow the tree to grow as you do with citrus ?

  6. Hi Karen, no, don’t prune off the olive buds, unless you dont want your olive tree to bear fruits and enjoy your own tree harvest. Olive buds are the part of olive tree cycle which turn into delicious olives in the fall.

  7. I was gifted a small potted olive tree.
    It developed scale. So last week I sat in the yard with my need oil, gloves and rag and wiped down every single leaf and stick. I know I now need to fertilize, but my question is about pruning. I have not pruned since I received it in July. It is tall and lanky looking to me and I am uncertain of how to prune. We are in SW Missouri and I have it in a frost free pot outdoors. Not sure if it would be better to bring it in or keep it outside where it can get optimal sunshine and fresh air since we also currently live in a 5th wheel.
    Any advice and encouragement are welcome as I am new to growing olive trees.

  8. Hi Lesley, you can prune your olive tree lightly in spring, don’t do it in winter in order not to expose pruned areas to the cold. In terms of overwintering, you should bring the potted olive tree inside during freezing temperatures, otherwise, it’s good to grow outside. We also have another article “olive tree in pots winter care” where you will find 8 tips on how to protect an olive tree over winter.

  9. Hi there,
    I have had an olive tree for about 2.5y. I think it was 1 or 2 years old when I got it.
    Most of the banches only leaves in the half end of the branches. Also, the tree looks much fuller on one side of the other.
    I have never pruned it, because I’m concerned that if I prune all the leaves off a brunch it might die? These branches that have leaves only in the end half also have a curve. They start parallel or fingers up, but then they dip before going up again.
    I would love some guidance, please!

  10. Hi Gabriella, your olive tree’s one side is more exposed to the sun than another that’s why it looks fuller. Try to turn the tree in order to give the sun to another half. Also, try to prune the tree early in spring in order to shape the tree, promote growth, and make it look more healthy. Your tree branches look weak, curved and thin since you never pruned it and all the energy goes into the length rather than thickness and strength of the branch. Don’t forget to fertilize it to improve its growth.

  11. Hello,

    Similar to the last comment my Olive tree ….
    “Most of the banches only leaves in the half end of the branches. These branches that have leaves only have in the end half also have a curve. They start parallel or fingers up, but then they dip before going up again.”

    Can I now prune that new growth, even if it means I am cutting off the only leaves on that branch?


  12. Hi Kiri, yes you can prune it off and shape your olive tree as you prefer – there is no harm in pruning weak branches in order to focus and strengthen the main branches. I guess you haven’t been pruning your olive tree for multiple years and the branches became very thin with curves. When you prune these branches, you should leave at least a few buds to be able to grow new leaves. However please bear in mind that you may see new growth only next growth cycle of the olive tree (next year) as it takes a while for the olive tree to recover.

  13. Hello – We have a potted Olive tree at my job – It is approx 5 yrs old – I live in Sourthern NC – The plant lives outside – It does need prunning and possibly repotting – This spring I noticed a mealy bug infestation – The owner srayed it with sevin – I suggested neem – but – It was dropping yellow curled leaves – I noticed possibly webs (mites?) in the curls – She has asked me to help and I am going to repot, spray with astong hose of water and prune – should I prune befor ar after repooting – Seems like a lot of stress for the plant – Thank YOU!

  14. Hi Jill, repot the olive tree now, treat any infestations, and feed it to stimulate growth. It’s unnecessary to prune it now, better to do it after harvest or early in the spring prior to a new growth begins. You are doing a great job – your olive tree will recover soon!

  15. Hello,
    I live in Texas and are temps have been over 100. I have had my tree in a pot for about 3 years. I have just been reading your information on pruning which I haven’t done yet. My concern is the lower leaves on the taller branches are turning yellow and dropping. I try to give it water every night because it is in a clay pot and I think it may be drying out. But maybe I am overwatering it? How much water does it need and when. I do bring it inside during the winter and water it less then. Is that still ok? On a good note, the branches were covered with flowers and I actually have 15 olives on it right now. Thank you!

  16. Hi Nina, it’s worth pruning an olive tree on yearly basis – it helps the tree to thrive! You can prune it lightly after the harvest or wait until the early spring and prune it properly. In terms of yellowing leaves and watering potted olive trees, check out my extensive articles on why olive leaves turning yellow and tips on watering olive trees in pots and how much water indoors olive tree needs. Here you will find loads of valuable info of olive tree care and maintanance.

  17. Hi, I received two olive trees as gifts. I live in southern Oregon and was afraid to plant outside due to cold temps in winter. I planted them in pots but the trees just about reach the ceiling already, so how can I keep their height below the ceiling? Do I prune the tops? I do not know the age of trees, I would also like the trees fuller. Thank you with any help you can give me!

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