Gardening 101: This Is How To Prune An Olive Tree

Do you have an olive tree and are wondering when, why, and how to prune it? You have come to the right place – we will answer all your queries! Pruning olive trees is as much of an art as it is a science and with the right guidelines, you can easily master it.

Olive tree full of green olives

To keep yours healthy and promote the tree’s growth, pruning is essential. And you may already know how to do it on rose bushes, lavender, magnolia trees, apple trees or jasmine, but what about this one? Don’t worry; let’s learn all there is about pruning in detail.

Why prune an olive tree?

The first question that arises in our minds is why do it in the first place? Well, there are several reasons for that, such as:

  1. Eliminate old, unproductive branches to increase the growth of younger branches.
  2. To prepare the trees for effective harvests.
  3. To give the trees a proper form and structure.
  4. To balance out the production of fruit.
  5. To repair damaged parts of the trees.

For Structure Formation

To give your  tree a structure, pruning is necessary. Usually, you should take care of your olive trees from the time of plantation up to 2 years after that so that they will have a proper form and shape.

Black olives on olive tree

For Effective Fruit Production

To increase the production of fruit, you have to cut back the tree when it is between 2 to 4 years old. Since the younger branches produce the most olives, you have to make space for them through pruning.

Plus, to ensure that the  tree receives the same amount of sunlight throughout the year, you have to prune it. The parts of the olive tree that are not under direct sunlight and are in shade will not produce sufficient fruit. Make sure that you trim and prune the trees to allow the sunlight to enter the center of the tree.

For Tree Renewal

Once the trees start to age, you have to cut them back for renewal. Eliminate the oldest branches and make room for new ones to ensure steady growth and supply of fruit. And don’t forget that pruning plays a vital role when it comes to olive oil production.

When to prune olive trees?

Now that you know why it is necessary to do it, it is time to answer the second most-asked question: what is the right time to do it?

Winter Pruning

The best time to start pruning is at the end of the winter, and in late spring, when the likelihood of frosts and freezing winds is next to none. When you cut back a tree, it stimulates growth so you need to be sure that your plants won’t face extreme weather conditions

When you cut a plant, the tissue is more susceptible to injury. If you have mild winters, with no early spring frost damage, you can start pruning even before those winters end. However, pruning in cold weather before bud break is risky as there is a high probability of frost damaging the remaining tissue and delaying wound repair

If you do it after bud break, you will be able to check the number of flowers and potential fruit that you will remove by trimming and pruning. Don’t wait until after full bloom as it will remove branches as well as tissues with nutrients. Keep in mind that you should wait for a day with no rain to avoid water-borne diseases.

Summer Pruning

Summer pruning is usually done when the olive trees are actively growing and is generally limited to the elimination of water sprouts and suckers. The early summer pruning will not influence the growth of your plant, but will definitely affect the quality of the fruit in the growing season

Woman pruning olive trees

Olive tree shapes

By pruning the  tee appropriately, you can get various shapes depending on your needs and the climate of your area. Let’s take a look at a few common shapes.

  • Vase

The most common olive tree shape is the vase. The vase-shaped trees have a greater surface to volume ratio and have various advantages. The sunlight can penetrate the interior of the tree very easily and gets distributed evenly as well. 

In vase-shaped trees, there is a single trunk surrounded by 3 to 5 primary branches and the secondary branches are arranged in a symmetrical way. Moreover, there is spacing or ‘window’ in the central part of the tree.

There are different types of vase shapes, such as cones, inverted cones, multiple cones, cylinders, etc. The vase shape is very suitable for mechanical harvesting and table olives, especially if the branches are kept short and the whole structure is rigid. However, pruning olive trees to get vase shapes is time-consuming

  • Globe

In this shape, the olive trees have a full canopy with a single trunk. The difference between vase-shaped olive trees and globe-shaped olive trees is that the secondary branches occupy the centre of the canopy.

This shape is great for places with plenty of sunlight. The dense foliage will protect the old wood from intense rays. Moreover, this shape is helpful for mechanical harvests with the help of trunk shakers. If you neglect the pruning and let the foliage be, the trees will become excessively dense and that is not good for the trees. Light, regular pruning is necessary.

  • Vase bush

Another shape of trees is the vase bush. In this shape, the primary branches of the olive tree originate from the soil line while the secondary branches are arranged similar to the vase configuration.

By cutting the olive tree at the ground level, the shape can be formed from the suckers. The main advantage of this shape is that since the branches are shorter than the ones in the vase or globe configuration, all the tasks can be done without using a ladder. Also, there is an early onset of fruit production. This shape is perfect for handpicking or hand-operated equipment and is not suitable for mechanical harvesting.

Step-by-step guide: How to prune olive trees

Want to learn how to do it yourself? Here’s a step-by-step guide to help you do so!

Man ptuning an olive tree with pruning saw

Things You Will Need

  • Pruning saws
  • Pruning shears
  • Pruning tools
  • Chainsaw
  • Protective gear


  1. The first thing you have to do is make sure that your pruning saws or shears are sharp and clean.
  2. If the shears are old, unsharpened, and unclean, you have to clean and sharpen them first.
  3. To clean the saw, get some isopropyl alcohol and dip the blades in the solution for about 30 seconds. Carefully wipe the shears with a dry, clean towel.
  4. For shoots that are less than 2.5 cm in diameter, use pruning shears. It is better to use shears that have shock absorbers to reduce fatigue.
  5. For branches that are up to 7.5 cm in diameter, use a pruning saw. These branches will usually be present within the centre of the canopy. A rigid blade that is almost 38 cm in length will be perfect here.
  6. For major, large central branches, you have to use a chainsaw. Make sure that the chainsaw is light, and keep taking small, frequent breaks. Ensure that you are wearing protective gear and are standing on a stable surface.
  7. The cuts need to be slanted so that water doesn’t soak into the cuts and infects your tree. Don’t leave stubs as you cut against the larger branches.
  8. Start pruning and shaping when your tree is about 1 m tall. For the early years, you will be pruning to shape the tree only and not affect the production of fruit. Avoid cutting too much as this can stunt the growth of young olive trees.

Maintaining your olive tree with annual pruning and care

Olive branch in a palm

Once you are done with the major pruning, you need to maintain your tree with annual pruning and care. By the time the olive tree starts to bear fruit, you will see that the lateral branches are getting weighed down.

The branches that are olive growing vertically to the lateral branches are what you should aim for. Light and not severe pruning is best for encouraging ample new growth. The tallest branches that are growing straight up and are thin and weak should be pruned as well.

A rule of thumb while pruning mature trees is that a bird should be easily able to fly through the tree. If the tree is too dense for the bird to go through, then you need to remove more vertical branches.

With the passage of time, the lateral branches of your tree will grow off and stop bearing fruit. At that time, you will have to cut them off to encourage your tree to produce fruit-bearing branches. Moreover, you can remove the suckers from the base of the trunk at any time of the following year to maintain the shape of the tree.

Olive tree in a farm

Pruning an olive tree is necessary not only to maintain the shape but also to ensure sufficient and ample production of fruit. It is not a difficult task, and with the help of the guidelines that we have given above, you can easily prune and maintain different olive varieties yourself at the right time of year.

Happy Gardening, Folks!

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