Olives have a long and storied history going back thousands of years. It was a staple crop in the middles east and during the Roman era they brought it to far corners of the empire. It was eaten as a hand fruit and processed into oil. Olive oil was even used as a sort of commodity currency since it was desired by so many and stored very well. Its one downfall is of course, weight. It is very heavy to store and carry around especially when considering it was stored in clay pots, adding to the already heavy weight. Literature has also a special place for the olive tree. It was mentioned in the old and new testament of the bible 30 times. But most notable it is tied closely to the Greek people. Many of the most known Greek stories mention the olive and the tree itself with a sort of reverence. It is said that the first Olive tree grew in Athens, where it grew for over 200 years. Maybe a part of me has absorbed part of the cultural significance or maybe the historic importance the olive has played, but it is certainly one of my favorite foods in either form.
I have for a very long time wanted to grow my own olive trees. Oddly enough when looking up some information on olive trees two questions came up that I found somewhat strange. If someone stumbles across my blog because you looked up one of these questions, let me answer them. Yes olives grow on trees, not vines. And yes an olive is a fruit and not a vegetable. I guess it is not a very popular tree to grow in America, so my assumption is that the familiarity with it is low. Though in more recent years olive groves have become more popular in both Texas and in California. It is very commonly used as well in landscapes due to its visual appeal.
I have bought a couple in what I hope to be many olive trees in years to come. Most varieties of olive tree do not fruit in Florida but the arbequina variety does. Many aspects of the tree make it well suited to Florida. It requires a lot of sun, well drained soil, and is drought tolerant once established. All of these conditions are present in Florida. When I bought it, it already was producing olives and it took both the cold and being transplanted fairly well. One thing I didn’t do but probably should have is wean it more slowly off regular watering. It came from a nursery where it was used to a steady diet of water.
As with many of the fruits and vegetables I am planting, much of what I am doing I am figuring out as I go. Trial and error is usually the best teacher. Of course mixing in a bunch of reading and information gathering doesn’t hurt either. But what I want to try and test is it’s endurance to lower water consumption. So far it is holding us well, the last few weeks it has started to flush out with new growth. We have received rain a number of days the last couple weeks which have helped it to also start budding. Given the shock I gave it and its new environment, my first year should be a low production year. I am hoping that after it is well established the production will get to a higher level. My plan is to try and propagate it later on this year, though adding irrigation beforehand will be on my to do list.
Where do olive trees grow best?
Olives like warmth, typically warm and on the drier. They will do ok in temps down to 22 degrees fahrenheit. Any place where there are mild winters and longer warm summers. Of course all the traditional places where we know them to be from meet all the conditions they need, Southern Italy, France, Spain, and in areas of Northern Africa and the Middle East. These places have the perfect temperature to grow many varieties of olive trees. In America, that would mean the best places in the US are in Zones 9 & 10. There are varieties that will do ok in Zone 8 and in humid climates like we have here in Florida.
What soil do I need to plant an olive tree?
Olive trees like sun lots of it, at least 6 hrs of sun per day with full sun being the preferred. Many assume that because the areas in which they were traditionally grown are dry, that Olive Trees don’t need or like lots of water. That isn’t true, if you ensure they get a healthy dose of watering they will grow faster and produce far more. They thrive in soil that drains well and is nutrient rich. They do not do well in areas where water collects and keep the ground wet. This could have harmful effects to their roots system and introduce disease. If you are only looking at them for landscaping then they will do ok with less frequent watering and they do stand up well as a trouble free ornamental.
How long do olive trees take to grow?
As long as you provide them with lots or sun, water, well drained soil they can live virtually forever. I mean it, there are olive trees alive today that still produce that can be traced back over 2000 years ago. There are at least 7 such trees that have been identified in Crete. There is no worry that your Olive tree will die and need to be replaced in your yard any time soon if taken care of.
How much space does an olive tree need?
As with many trees, Olive tree need lots of space to grow. Most grow to between 15 feet to 30 feet tall and lend to have limbs and branches that spread out 20 feet. Based on this alone you wouldn’t them growing into each other’s branches. Olive trees like many trees do better if they have space, within them and around them so rain and moisture can evaporate. Having them overlap with any other tree could create areas where moisture would be trapped and fungus and other undesirable things grow and harm your Olive Tree. The other consideration is root growth, they spread out underground quite far, typically 30 feet to grab nutrients and water. So in keeping them 30 feet from other trees will help them draw in nutrients and rain without competition and grow more trouble free.
Olives are delicious to eat, albeit with some processing they are fairly easy to grow in many areas in the US and make for a very beautiful ornamental addition to any landscape. If you never decide to do anything with the olives your tree grows you and your landscape would be well served with one of these ancient trees worked in your landscape.