Why My Olive Tree is Leggy (and How to Fix It?)

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If your olive tree is leggy that looks like it’s all legs (stems and branches) with stretched-out, spindly growth, and sparse leaves, it’s necessary to act quickly. This can happen when a tree doesn’t get enough sunlight, is not pruned correctly, or is not getting the proper nutrients or water.

While leggy growth may not seem like a big deal initially, it can impact your olive tree’s overall health and productivity. It can also make it harder to harvest the fruit, leading to other issues, such as pest and disease infestations.

In this article, I’ll discuss the common causes of leggy growth in olive trees and provide tips for fixing and preventing the issue. Whether you’re a seasoned olive grower or a beginner gardener, this article will give you the information you need to care for your tree and keep it healthy.

olive tree is leggy how to fix it

I. Why My Olive Tree is Leggy?

Here is a brief overview of most common reasons why olive tree becomes leggy and solutions:

Causes of Leggy Oliev TreesSolutions
Lack of sunlightMove the olive tree to a sunnier location or supplement it with artificial light.
Over-fertilizationUse a balanced fertilizer or compost and reduce the frequency of fertilization.
Improper pruningPrune the olive tree to promote a more compact shape
Crowded root systemRepot the olive tree into a larger container or remove some of the roots
OverwateringAllow the soil to dry out between waterings and adjust the watering schedule accordingly.
Pests and diseasesMonitor for pests and diseases and treat them promptly
Improper soil conditionsCheck the soil pH and adjust it if necessary
Table1. Causes and Solutions for Leggy Olive Trees

1. Lack of Sunlight

If an olive tree has become leggy with long stems and branches, with just a few leaves on the top, your tree probably lacks sunlight while growing.

Sunlight is one of the most critical conditions for an olive tree to thrive, and it needs at least six hours of direct sunlight each day. So if the tree grows in a spot with full sun, it will get all the light it needs and grow normally.

However, if an olive tree doesn’t get enough sun, it will start hunting for more to make enough energy to survive. Reaching in the direction of the available rays, olive branches grow longer and thinner and drop leaves that the olive can’t support with its limited food reserves.

An olive tree assumes it will find more sunlight by growing straight up because that’s where the sun should be. As a result, the olive tree will grow long stems or branches to reach the light. Therefore if an olive tree starts bending over, it’s probably because it is trying to grow toward a window.

If your olive tree grows in a shady area or is surrounded by other plants or structures that block the sun, it may be prone to leggy growth. Then consider moving your tree to a sunnier location or trimming nearby plants or structures blocking the sunlight.

Sometimes, you may need to prune your olive tree to remove any leggy branches and encourage more compact growth discussed below.

leggy olive tree 1
This weak, thin, leggy olive tree tells you you’ve put it in a spot where it can’t get enough light.

2. Overwatering

Another common cause of leggy growth in olive trees is overwatering. While keeping your tree adequately hydrated is vital, too much water can lead to weak and spindly growth.

When an olive tree is overwatered, the soil becomes saturated, which can cause the roots to suffocate and die off. As a result, the tree may not be able to absorb nutrients properly, which can lead to leggy growth.

To avoid overwatering your olive tree, only water it when the soil is dry to the touch. Depending on the climate and season, this may mean watering your tree once or twice a week. Additionally, ensure your tree is planted in well-draining soil to prevent water from pooling around the roots.

If you suspect overwatering is causing your olive tree to become leggy, try reducing the watering frequency and see if this helps improve the tree’s growth.

3. Over-fertilization

Over-fertilization is another factor that can contribute to leggy growth in olive trees. While fertilizers can help provide nutrients to the tree, too much of a good thing can be harmful.

An over-fertilized olive tree can cause excessive vegetative growth, leading to long, weak branches that lack sturdiness. Additionally, over-fertilization can disrupt the tree’s natural balance of nutrients, negatively affecting its overall health and productivity.

To prevent over-fertilization, follow the recommended guidelines for fertilizing your olive tree. Olive trees require moderate fertilizer with a balanced nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium ratio. Apply fertilizer evenly around the tree’s drip line, and avoid getting it on the trunk or leaves.

If you suspect that over-fertilization is causing your olive tree to become leggy, consider reducing the amount of fertilizer you use or switching to a more balanced formula. Doing so can help your tree achieve a healthy balance of nutrients and promote more sturdy, compact growth.

Last update on 2023-12-02 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

4. Crowded Root System

When the olive tree’s roots become tangled or too close, it can hinder its ability to absorb nutrients and water effectively. As a result, the tree may begin to produce long, weak branches as it tries to compensate for these deficiencies.

To avoid it, you should ensure that your olive tree has enough space to grow and develop a healthy root system. If you’re growing your olive tree in a container, consider repotting it into a larger pot every two to three years. If you’re planting your olive tree in the ground, space it at least 20 feet (6 meters) apart from other trees and plants to allow for proper root growth.

Additionally, maintain good soil health to support your olive tree’s root system. This includes ensuring proper drainage to prevent waterlogged soil, adding organic matter to improve soil structure, and avoiding compaction that can restrict root growth.

Last update on 2023-12-02 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

5. Improper Pruning

Another reason olive tree becomes leggy is the need for pruning, particularly those olive trees that grow outdoors and require yearly pruning. Or if pruning is done incorrectly or at the wrong time, it can result in the production of long, weak branches.

For example, if you prune too aggressively or too early in the season, it can stimulate the production of new growth that is thin and weak. This can result in a leggy appearance and a reduction in fruit production.

Proper pruning techniques and pruning at the right time of the year are the leading solutions to avoid this issue. In general, olive trees should be pruned during their dormant period in the winter, after the harvest season.

When pruning, focus on removing any dead or diseased branches, as well as any crossing branches that may be blocking sunlight or hindering air circulation. Avoid removing too much growth at once and maintain a balanced shape that allows for even distribution of growth and fruit production.

Each year olive tree begins a new growth cycle. If you don’t trim it back early in spring or after the harvest (at the end of the last growth cycle), your olive tree will carry on where it left off and grow new leaves on already long branches.

leggy olive tree needs pruning 1
This leggy olive tree requires pruning and proper care: regular watering, fertilizing
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II. Why is Legginess Bad for Olive Tree?

1. Reduced Fruit Production

Leggy olive trees result in reduced fruit production because the branches reaching upwards and away from the trunk are often not strong enough to support the weight of olives. As a result, these branches produce smaller and fewer fruits than the sturdy, lower branches.

Additionally, the lack of sunlight that the lower branches receive due to the shading from the upper branches can also reduce the overall fruit yield.

In severe cases, a leggy olive tree may stop producing fruit altogether, so I highly recommend fixing your olive tree’s legginess issue.

leggy olive trees 2 1
This olive tree is leggy but can be fixed easily by cutting back branches by 1/3 at least and shaping the tree.

2. Increased Risk of Pests and Diseases

A leggy olive tree can also become more susceptible to pests and diseases. The areas of the tree that receive less sunlight due to the upper branches shading them can create a damp and humid environment, attracting various types of fungi and bacteria.

Additionally, pests such as insects or rodents can more easily damage the weaker and thinner branches that develop due to leggy growth. This damage can create entry points for infections, leading to further damage or even death of the tree. Therefore, it is crucial to address leggy olive trees promptly to prevent such risks.

3. Aesthetic Issues

While reduced fruit production and increased risk of pests and diseases are certainly significant effects of leggy olive trees, there are also aesthetic issues to consider.

Leggy trees can have sparse, straggly growth that detracts from the tree’s overall appearance and the surrounding landscape. In addition, the thin, weak branches of leggy trees may be more prone to breaking under the weight of heavy fruit or in strong winds.

Keeping your olive trees adequately pruned and maintaining healthy growth habits can help prevent these aesthetic issues and keep them looking their best.

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III. How Do I Fix Leggy Olive Tree?

Here are the easy steps on how to fix your leggy olive tree:

1. Provide Adequate Light for Growth

It’s effortless to stop an olive tree from becoming leggy or to help it stop creating more leggy growth: first, put the olive somewhere with the right level of sunlight. 

If an olive tree is leggy and grows indoors, move it closer to a south or southwest window with the most intense sun exposure. Or invest in grow lights to provide adequate light for growth.

Don’t take it right from deep shade to full sun – this will cause shock, and olive trees will start shedding leaves – but move it gradually. Keep an eye on your olive condition over several weeks and see if it improves.

Consider moving your tree to a sunnier spot if it grows in a shaded area. If that’s impossible, you can try pruning surrounding plants or trees to allow more light to reach your olive tree.

Remember that olive trees also need a period of winter dormancy, requiring less light. So, ensure they have a balanced light schedule throughout the year.

healthy olive tree with green foliage 1
By taking preventive steps for legginess and taking good care, your olive trees stay healthy, vigor and productive.

2. Prune for a More Compact Shape

Secondly, after moving a leggy olive tree into more light, you may also want to cut off leggy stems or branches to encourage new olive branches to sprout and grow to restore your tree to its former lushness. Indeed, pruning encourages the growth of lateral branches, resulting in a more compact tree structure.

The best time to prune olive trees is during their dormant period, typically from late winter to early spring.

Start by removing dead or diseased branches and branches growing inward towards the tree’s center. Then, focus on removing the upper branches to allow more sunlight to reach the lower parts of the tree. Make clean cuts with sharp pruning shears or a saw, and avoid leaving stubs or tearing the bark.

When pruning, maintain a balanced tree structure with an open center. This allows for better air circulation and sunlight penetration, reducing the risk of pest and disease problems. Remember not to remove more than one-third of the tree’s foliage in one pruning session. It is better to make several smaller cuts over some time than to remove too much at once. Trim off exceptionally long, lanky olive branches by one-third their length, snipping just above a node (the point where leaves grow from the branch).

After pruning, water your olive tree well and add a balanced fertilizer for olive, following package directions. After four or six weeks in the new, sunnier location, your olive tree should start looking healthier and fuller.

Also, please read my other articles about olive tree care and maintenance: how to prune olive trees in pots, how often to water olive trees indoors, and shaping olive trees.

leggy olive tree prunign technique 1
Here is a pruning technique possible for this leggy olive tree. Fertilize and water afterwards

3. Fertilize Correctly

Before applying any fertilizer, it’s a good idea to have your soil tested to determine what nutrients it may be lacking. Once you have that information, you can select a fertilizer that will provide the necessary nutrients in the right amount.

When fertilizing your olive tree, follow the instructions carefully, as too much fertilizer can lead to excessive growth and leggy branches. It’s also a good idea to avoid fertilizing during drought, as this can lead to salt buildup in the soil.

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4. Water Properly to Avoid Overwatering

Watering should be done deeply but infrequently, allowing the soil to dry out between watering sessions. This will encourage the roots to grow deeper and prevent surface roots from contributing to leggy growth.

It’s also important to note that the watering needs of olive trees can vary depending on factors such as the age and size of the tree, as well as the weather conditions. Mature olive trees require less water than younger trees, and watering needs may increase during hot, dry weather. To determine when to water, you can check the soil moisture by inserting a finger into the soil up to the second knuckle or using a moisture meter. If the soil feels dry, it’s time to water.

In addition to proper watering, ensure that the soil is well-draining. Poorly draining soil can contribute to overwatering and leggy growth. Adding organic matter such as compost or peat moss can help improve drainage if the soil is heavy and clay-like. Adding a layer of mulch around the tree’s base can also help retain moisture while allowing excess water to drain away.

Last update on 2023-12-02 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

5. Repot if the Root System is Too Crowded

Repotting should be done in the spring, just before the growing season begins.

To repot, carefully remove the tree from its container and loosen the root ball. Trim any damaged or circling roots. Choose a new container that is about 2 inches larger in diameter than the current one. Fill the bottom of the new container with fresh potting soil and place the tree in the center. Fill the remaining container with potting soil, pressing it down firmly. Water the tree thoroughly after repotting to help settle the soil.

IV. How to Prevent Leggy Olive Trees?

Preventing leggy growth in olive trees is crucial to maintain healthy and productive plants. One of the most important factors to consider is proper pruning techniques. Pruning helps to promote healthy growth by removing dead or damaged branches, encouraging new development, and maintaining a desirable shape. So prune your olive tree regularly and at the right time of year to prevent leggy growth.

Another critical factor to consider is providing adequate sunlight and soil conditions. Olive trees require a minimum of six hours of direct sunlight each day, so plant them in a location that receives enough light. Additionally, ensure the soil is well-draining and not too compacted, which can impede root growth and lead to leggy growth.

Monitoring for pests and diseases is necessary to prevent leggy growth in olive trees. Pests and diseases can weaken your plants, making them more susceptible to leggy growth and other problems. Regularly inspect your olive trees for signs of pests and diseases and take action immediately if you notice any issues.

Overall, preventing leggy growth in olive trees requires proper pruning techniques, adequate sunlight and soil conditions, and monitoring for pests and diseases. By taking these steps, you can help your olive trees stay healthy, productive, and beautiful for years.

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V. Frequently Asked Question

What does it mean when an olive tree is leggy?

Leggy olive trees are trees with long, slender stems and sparse foliage. They often have a weak and unbalanced structure, which makes them more prone to breaking and falling over.

What causes olive trees to become leggy?

Olive trees can become leggy due to various reasons, such as over-fertilization, overwatering, crowded root systems, and improper pruning.

Can leggy olive trees produce fruit?

Yes, leggy olive trees can produce fruit, but the yield is usually lower than that of a well-pruned and compact olive tree.

Can leggy olive trees be fixed?

Yes, leggy olive trees can be fixed by proper pruning, fertilization, repotting, and providing adequate light and water.

How do I prevent my olive tree from becoming leggy?

You should provide adequate sunlight, soil conditions, and proper pruning techniques to prevent your olive tree from becoming leggy. You should also monitor your tree for pests and diseases and address any issues promptly.

Is legginess bad for my indoor olive tree?

Yes. It’s a sign your olive tree is desperate for sunlight. Because sunlight is one of the most critical conditions to grow olive successfully. If an olive stays in a spot where the light is too low, it will become weak and may eventually die.

VI. Conclusion

In conclusion, leggy growth can reduce olive fruit production, increase the risk of pests and diseases, and create aesthetic issues. However, there are several ways to fix leggy olive trees, such as proper pruning techniques, fertilization, watering, repotting, and providing adequate light.

Following my advice and placing your olive tree with the right sunlight and proper care, a leggy and stretched-out olive tree can become lush and complete again.

If your home doesn’t have adequate natural light for your potted olive trees, you can supplement with artificial lightning, choose LED or fluorescent bulbs for the best results. Because standard (incandescent) bulbs don’t provide all the wavelengths of light that olive trees need, causing them to continue stretching to find the light.

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