Olives (Olea Europaea) are small evergreen trees with silver foliage and they will add a touch of the mediteranean to any garden.
They are one of the oldest cultivated trees, dating back to ancient Greece. Leafy branches of the olive tree were found in Tutankhamuns’ tomb!!
Not only do they produce lovely fruit but the oil they produce has long been considered sacred and the olive branch is seen as a symbol of glory and peace. Their branches were offered to deities and they were used to crown the victors of games and wars, and olive oil is still used in religious ceremonies today.
Olive trees are hardy in the UK, down to about -10 degrees, if they are placed in a sheltered position over winter then they should be OK but if in any doubt, bring potted trees into a cold conservatory or porch. Even if they receive damage to the branches the olive roots are very resilient and will produce new ground shoots in the spring, thus creating new trees.
They are slow growing and rarely reach heights beyond 50ft, making them ideal for planting if a smaller tree is required. They will also grow quite happily in a container, again making them an ideal ‘small garden’ tree.
Olives do not require any special soil, in fact they will grow in poor, low-nutrient soil and even in clay as long as their is sufficient drainage. But they do require at least 6hrs of direct sunshine a day to ensure good flowering and fruiting. If your tree is planted in the ground then they will tolerate quite dry conditions but if they are in a pot/container then they will need plenty of water throughout the growing season.
Olive trees usually start fruiting when they are four to five years old and harvesting usually takes place mid-autumn. For green olives, pick the fruit when they turn from dark green to light green or you can wait for them to turn black but still firm for black olives. If you have a small tree then the fruit can be picked by hand but if you are lucky enough to have a large, old tree, then do it the traditional way, lay down a large sheet or tarpaulin and shake the tree vigorously.
Their are two common problems with olive trees, one is the fungal disease, peacock spot. This can affect the leaves and strip the tree of its foliage, sooty blotches form on the leaves in winter which will then develop into greenish/black spots. A copper fungicide should be sprayed on the tree in late autumn and if the problem persists then spray again in winter.
Fruit is produced at the tips of the previous years’ growth, so too much pruning will inhibit flowering and fruit. But to encourage growth, prune out any suckers and low branches during the spring and autumn.
See you soon.