Grow At Home: How To Care For An Olive Tree In A Pot

Who does feel like enough when it comes to indoor plants? There are so many styles, varieties and sizes to explore! However, if you want to add something a bit different to your home-greenery repertoire, an olive tree is the answer. Although this is typically an outdoor in-ground plant, it has become a popular choice for potting thanks to its Mediterranean vibe and light-coloured foliage! Wanna know more? Keep reading to learn how to care for an olive tree in a pot easily and effectively!

A small olive tree in a flower pot on the terrace of a traditional Greek house

With the proper care and love, olive trees are known to last for many years! And the best way to grow your tree in the UK is to keep it in a pot. That way, you can put it outside in a sheltered place with lots of sun for most of the year and bring it inside during the winter. This ease of movement is perhaps the most significant advantage of pot growing. Are you ready to find out more about potted olive tree care? We have all the answers!

Best placement

If you want your Mediterranean plant to produce fruits, you should keep in mind that it needs a lot of sun. When you place it outside, it should be in the sunniest and most sheltered part of your garden, protected from winds. 

Olives aren’t really indoor plants, and your olive tree needs air and natural light to thrive. This doesn’t stop you from placing inside the house. Keep in mind that it will do best if you put it in a space with air movement rather than in a corner. Also, consider placing it near an open window so it can get a bit of fresh air and take it outside every few months for an airing. 

Pot choice

Although you will ultimately need to plant olive trees in the ground, they can survive several years in the right pot. The tree can live up to 9 years as long as you have a large pot and keep it in full sun. Your pot should also have ample drainage holes. You can add crocks in the bottom of the pot and raise it onto little feet to help with drainage.

Most people grow these trees in terracotta or wood pots, being more breathable to help with drainage. Plastic containers are lighter and easier to move, but their walls are thinner and don’t provide much insulation. If you choose plastic, though, you may insulate the pot’s inside with bubble wrap before planting to prevent the plant’s roots from freezing.

Young olive trees in pots

Feeding

Feed your tree from early spring to mid-August with liquid seaweed extract, fish, blood or bone meal to keep it healthy. You can do this every 15 days in the first year, dropping monthly in the following years. Whatever the age, top-dressing it with a slow-release fertiliser 2 or 3 times during the growing season will also keep the plant healthy.

These trees are not heavy feeders; that’s why overly fertile soils can reduce fruit production. However, some trees that are grown in poor, mineral-deficient soils may benefit from regular feedings. Ensure that the fertiliser should be well-balanced, with a nitrogen content of at least 10 per cent. To inhibit weed growth and conserve soil moisture, you should apply a layer of organic mulch around your tree.

Watering

Beginner gardeners are infamous for overwatering. While some plants can tolerate the extra water, the olive tree will not! The frequency of needed water will depend on the size and type of pot you choose to plant in. Here’s what you should know, even if you have a small or larger pot:

  1. Never leave the planter sitting in standing water when watering. You should allow excess moisture to drain freely from your planter.
  2. It is necessary to water regularly since soil dries up much faster. Don’t allow the ground to become too dry. If the soil top becomes dry, give your tree a nice deep watering and ensure the excess water will drain away.
  3. Water your plant more often from May to July.
  4. Remember that underwatering in the short term is less harmful than overwatering.
  5. Reduce the watering over winter, but don’t let the compost completely dry out.

Young man watering a small olive tree plant

Repotting 

Over time, olive trees grown in pots deplete the potting soil’s nutrients, making it essential to repot the plant or replace up to 50% of the compost every 2-3 years. After the first repotting, you should repot it every few years until the tree reaches its final height. The best time to repot your live tree is in late spring to protect the tree in prolonged spells of cold. This period allows the tree enough time to establish itself in its new home for the summer and make a hardier specimen for the winter. 

Tips for repotting

When you are ready to repot your tree, you should consider the following:

  1. When repotting, let the soil dry out slightly first, making sure it isn’t wet.
  2. Loosen the soil at the pot’s edges and pull your tree out by the main stem’s base.
  3. Add extra soil into the new pot’s bottom before you insert your plant. We recommend 10-20% added horticultural grit or perlite for good drainage.
  4. The hole you’ll dig should be about the same diameter as the root ball and slightly shallower.
  5. Fill in around your plant with a mix of compost, soil and grit.
  6. A young olive tree needs to stay watered for several weeks to allow the roots to bed in.

Pruning

Professional gardeners recommend annual pruning at the end of winter or at the beginning of spring to keep your tree in shape. Potted olive plants prefer light pruning yearly instead of severe pruning every 3 years. Here’s what to keep in mind when pruning your tree:

  1. Remove dead branches that have grown from the foot of the tree or along the trunk and those that point downwards to allow light in.
  2. Free the tree’s centre, trimming branches growing towards the inside and keeping major offshoots that will shape its silhouette.
  3. Pinch out the young shoots’ tips to encourage a branching shape and new growth.
  4. You should not prune for shape until your tree is at least 2-4 years old. The more leaves a young olive tree has, the easier it will grow into a healthy, lovely specimen.
  5. Over-pruning your tree can produce lots of water shoots that will not make fruits or flowers.

gardening shear and olive branch

Propagating

Propagating your olive tree is pretty easy since the plant cuttings require little effort, apart from weekly waterings. It is also a fun project to do if you’re new to the gardening game. The good news is that there’s not much to it! All you’ll need is a mature vine with a tiny root node protruding out of it and following these steps:

  1. Start your process by preparing the pot where your new olive tree is going to live by filling it with fine-textured soil
  2. Use sharp gardening shears to snip off a healthy branch from a mature olive tree below a leaf node. Then clean the branch by removing all leaves
  3. Poke a hole in your soil to insert the cutting, cut side down, into your pot. Then, pack the soil above and around the stem with your hands.
  4. Water the plant lightly every day to ensure successful propagation.
  5. The branch should have quite a few well-established roots just a few months later. Once the roots are strong and long enough, transfer the plant into a 4-litre pot with the same soil type. Then follow the watering instructions mentioned above, and you’re done!

Olive varieties

Since olive trees have been cultivated for many years, you’ll find a large variety of them. Most common varieties include:

  1. Arbequina type doesn’t grow very tall and is best for small spaces.
  2. Mission that has Spanish origins.
  3. Manzanilla is lovely with its billowing branches full of oval, bright-green olives.
  4. Greek Amfissa produces delicious purple olives but isn’t great as a houseplant since it grows pretty quickly.
  5. Hojiblanca is a cold weather-tolerant Spanish variety having leaves with pale undersides
  6. Lastly, Olea europaea species are well adapted to the UK climate, making them a great choice.

Fruit tree or not?

Who doesn’t love eating black olives or adding olive oil to their dishes? And these all come from olive trees when they make fruit. These trees start producing at about 3 to 5 years old. They are self-fertile but wind-pollinated; that’s why they should be outdoors whilst in flower. To improve fruiting, you could shake the branches during the flowering time and maintain an increased humidity.

Also, keep in mind that these trees, like many plants, need a fluctuation between day and night time temperatures and 2 months of temperatures below 10°C to produce flowers and fruit. So if you are still wondering if these plants will ever flower indoors, well, the answer is that it is doubtful to happen, but they are still highly decorative!

olive branch and olive oil glass bottle on wooden table
This medium-sized evergreen tree makes for a fantastic stand-alone specimen or a screening tree. Potted olive trees are great for decorating a balcony or terrace or even a living room when you care for them the right way. Although these trees aren’t really intended as indoor plants, they can prosper indoors for a few years if you follow the key maintenance tips mentioned above. What are you waiting for? Invite the charming Mediterranean lifestyle into your house now!

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