Italians have grown fruit trees in containers for centuries, keeping them protected in special sheds during the winter.
Come spring, the trees are wheeled out to the sunshine again. While we can dream of owning an olive grove like the one we visited in the Galilee, olive trees successfully grow in pots too.
Assuming your climate suits the olive, you should acquire a sapling from a nursery. Olive trees grown from pits revert to the original wild olive, and if they produce fruit at all, it will be wizened and not very good to eat. Consult the nursery manager and choose the variety you’d like best. To maximize fruiting potential, you should actually have two of the same variety in the area. This may be impractical where there’s limited space, of course.
When to plant: Spring is the best time to re-pot the sapling into its permanent container. Tender saplings suffer under frost or harsh winter weather, so it’s best to transplant after all danger of frost has passed. When the temperature threatens to dip under 50°F/10ºC, the tree should be brought indoors. It may be taken out to enjoy the sunshine on warmer days. A trolley, on which the container stands permanently, is useful there.
Choose a spot that gets plenty of full sun and only partial shade. Have a clay pot about 2 feet/61 centimeters deep and the same width at the ready. No need for pebbles or other drainage device at the bottom. Pour enough soil in to cover the bottom thickly. Knock the sapling out of its original container and place in the new pot. Fill the pot with soil around the tree and make sure it stands stable. Water thoroughly.
Soil and watering: ordinary potting soil; no special fertilizers or compost at first. Wait until there are signs of growth in the following spring to add compost or concentrated fertilizer to the soil.Keep the soil lightly moist, but not over-watered. A mature tree can withstand drought, but until a sapling is established and thriving in its new environment, it needs light moisture.
Care of the tree: the very good Olive Oil Source site recommends pruning with caution for the first four years: remove branches under 3 feet/91.5 centimeters as well as suckers. Others recommend watching for flowering and then pruning off the tips of the branches, above a pair of leaves, as well.
Plant hygiene: watch out for scale infestation. Buy a natural insecticide product from the plant nursery. Traditional Mediterranean farmers whitewash the bottom half of the trunk to keep ants away. Weed out any wind-born seedlings the minute you notice them.
The next step is to enjoy the lovely sight of the tree’s silvery-green foliage moving while the breeze rustles through it. Because it may take up to five years before it produces any fruit for you. You’ll need to discuss when you can expect fruit with the gardener at the nursery. But by then you and the tree will have become good friends, and the fruit will be a nice bonus.
More about olive trees and olives on Green Prophet:
- The World’s Oldest Olive Trees Are Lebanese
- Preserving Olives
- Olive Trees Have Kurdish Roots
- Olive Trees Go Hi-Tech And SMSFarmers When Thirsty
Image of olive trees in pots via Shutterstock.