Varietal Diversity

One primary descriptor for olive tree cultivars is self-incompatible or self-compatible—this indicates whether the tree needs a companion pollinator varietal or whether it can pollinate itself. As an example the Frantoio is a good varietal choice if you only want to plant one tree. It is self-compatible (or self-fertile), meaning it doesn’t need another pollinator tree to bear fruit*. However, if you’re planning on planting more than one olive tree, it’s a good idea to mix up your varieties. First, all olive trees, including self-fertile varieties like Frantoio, set more fruit when pollinated by other varieties (especially if the weather is cold during flowering).

Second, varietal diversity in an orchard improves the odds for a successful harvest. Each of the varieties that we offer has its individual strengths and weaknesses, as noted on the cultivar descriptions page. Under ideal growing conditions these cultivars will all do well in Zone 8 conditions. But in a marginal year, be it a late spring, a cool summer, or an early winter, each will perform according to its varietal strengths—for example, the Maurino, known in Italy as a good pollinator to plant in cooler coastal climes, might perform better than other cultivars under cool summer conditions; or an early fall harvest cultivar such as Leccino might be the only reliable bearer in a year when winter comes early.

Also, whether you are growing olives for oil or table use, a mix of varieties makes for a more interesting flavour palette. Each olive variety has distinct flavour profiles and texture—which one is better is a matter of individual taste. In a typical olive grove in Tuscany, the dominant cultivars are Frantoio and Leccino, with Maurino and Pendolino playing minor roles. Maurino and Pendolino act as pollinators for the other trees (although they also each produce fine oil and bear early). In addition, as we explain on our Cultivar Descriptions page, each variety ripens at a slightly different time. If you are curing your olives for table use, this might not matter since you can cure olives when they are unripe (green) or ripe (black), depending on your preference.

*Olive trees have both perfect flowers which have both male and female parts, and imperfect flowers which contain only male parts (pollen-producing staminate flowers). 

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