Planting site considerations

Olive trees prefer to spend their days in a well-drained soil, basking in sun. Plant your tree in your sunniest location. The more sun the olive tree gets, the more likely it is to mature quickly, overwinter well and ultimately, consistently bear olives.

When planting your trees, try to give each tree the following:

  • Well drained soil: Olives can tolerate a wide range of soil types, from sandy silts to clay loams, as long as the roots don’t sit in wet soil. In other words, if the soil stays saturated at any time of the year, do not plant olives in that location.
  • A very sunny location. Olive trees need as many hours of sun as possible in the summer, but are not as fussy about light during the winter. But keep in mind that the olive is an evergreen, so while its growth slows and is said to go dormant in winter, it never goes completely dormant like a deciduous tree.
  • Protection from excessive cold wind. Think of creating wind breaks if you’re planting on an exposed spot. If your site is exposed to winter north winds, either pick a different spot or choose a different species.
  • Good air drainage. This means you should avoid planting the trees at the bottom of a slope because that’s where the cold air pools at night. If you do plant on a slope, make sure it’s a gentle one. Remember that you plan to harvest the olives, so beware of planting on a slope too steep to place a picking ladder.
  • Enough space to allow the tree to grow 8-10 feet in diameter (remember that this means you need more space to allow for picking, pruning, dining, dancing etc.). A mature tree can reach this width and more, though you can always train it to a slimmer version. In our cool summer climate, it will take many years for trees to reach eight feet in diameter but it will eventually grow that wide—unless a killing freeze knocks the tree back to its roots.
  • Don’t leave too much space from fellow olive trees. Olive trees, even self-pollinating varietals such as Frantoio, benefit from wind pollination from a compatible variety, so plant them within sight of one another.
  • Water. Monitor your tree closely over the first summer, especially if  the weather is hot and dry. The trees are young and the roots need moisture for the trees to survive. Monitoring soil moisture is especially important if you are planting young trees—their root mass is small and can easily dry out in the first month of planting. Olive trees thrive on water so once a tree is established, as long as the soil is well-drained, you can water freely during the summer. On rocky or sandy soil, overwatering is unlikely but if you have heavier soil, then make sure you are not watering too much. Signs of overwatering include leaf yellowing and leaf drop. 
  • PROVIDE PROTECTION FROM DEER AND LIVESTOCK! A fence is best, or at least a cage around each tree. Once the tree is big enough it might survive without a fence but you should still protect the trunk and lower branches even if the trees leaves are out of reach of deer (see photos below)

McEvoy Ranch (California)—outside the fence

Burlap wrapped around the trunks and lower branches offer some protection from deer rubbing their antlers or just gnawing for fun.

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