Olive trees can produce a huge crop in late summer and autumn. The small fruits are relatively easy to pickle and can be stored for a long time. Olive trees can grow reasonably large – reaching the height of a two-storey house. They are happiest in parts of the country where summers are long and warm and winters are cold and dry. Olives grow well in coastal locations and their foliage is tolerant of salt air. However, if you are into them its worth giving one a try wherever you are. Olives can be trimmed into attractive tidy shapes and they can be grown into a medium sized screening hedge. There are a many varieties suited to a range of climates and conditions. Olives grow very well in containers so if your soil conditions don’t totally line up then this can be a good option. Container grown olives are good for small gardens and roof gardens too.
Quantity 1- 2 trees per household.
Brown Turkey large, juicy fruits with reddish brown skin and sweet flavour. Main crop ripens in late March. Grows into a large tree unless pruned hard to restrict growth.
Brunswick fruit have greenish bronze skins with sweet pink flesh. Harvest slightly earlier than Brown Turkey.
Mrs Williams main crop of large brownish-purple fruit ripen from late March to May.
Kerikeri Dwarf early crop of greenish-skinned fruits with golden flesh that ripen from early Feb into March.
Plant container grown plants in spring.
Plant olives in full sun. Trees planted in lawns or grassy orchards will grow better if grass is removed from a circle around their stem – take a stride away from the stem and make this the radius of your circle, remove grass and add a finger-deep layer of mulch.
Olives are great in containers such as half barrels and other deep pots. This means you can put them in your sunniest spot – say on a deck or terrace - if your veg garden doesn’t happen to be big on suntraps.
Olives grow well in soil that is moderately fertile and free draining. If your soil is slightly sticky and you want to improve it, you can add well-rotted compost and pumice or fine grit at the time of planting.
If growing as a hedge place plants a stride apart in their rows. Place plants at least 6 strides apart if growing them as individual specimens. Soak plants in water before planting them.
Prepare the planting area. Soil should be weed-free and well dug through to at least a full spade’s depth. Add some well-rotted compost if necessary and mix with surrounding garden soil. Carefully remove olive plant from container by turning them upside down and holding the plant across the base of its stem with a spread hand. Tap the bottom of the container until the plant and its root ball come loose. Handle plants by the root ball to prevent damage to stems and shallow roots. Place olive plant in a hole that is just larger than the container it came in. Back fill around root ball making sure there are no air pockets. Water well and mulch with a finger-thick layer of compost, old straw, shredded bark or untreated sawdust. Support with stakes in windy areas.
If planting in a container ensure it is large enough. Half barrels and large terracotta pots look good with olives and they are the right size too. Use a mixture of soil-based compost with plenty of grit and pumice mixed into it so you have a free-draining planting medium. Add slow release granules or sheep pellets before planting. When olives are grown in containers it pays to put them where you’ll be able to easily monitor them and ensure soil is moist – particularly in dry weather.
Keep plants weed free and maintain constant moisture levels – this is especially important in the first few years grow into shape and start to produce olives in quantities.
Feed: Maintain a nutrient rich layer of rotted compost as mulch around the base. To give young plants a boost you can feed them with a sprinkling of blood and bone meal around outer edge of foliage in spring. Container grown plants will benefit from a feeds in spring - keep plants mulched at all times.
Flowering: Some olive varieties are self fertile and can be grown on their own. Wind and small insects pollinate the flowers. Other varieties need the company of a few different varieties to ensure good pollination.
Olives are harvested in late summer and autumn. Pick green olives as they begin to turn purple. The most efficient harvesting technique is to lay a tarp or some sheets beneath a tree and shake it. You can also use a rake to pull fruit off – but be careful not to bruise them. Olives will fall to the ground and can then be easily collected and sorted.
Storage: Wash olives with water before drying and storing in a cool dry environment.
Olives are usually pruned into half standard shapes with a short clear stem and a broad open crown.
Take the tip out of young trees when they are about waist high to encourage production of side branches. These are grown to form an open goblet shape.
Pruning of established trees is generally carried out in early spring and mid summer. Stems in the centre of trees are cut back and thinned to prevent over-crowding. Keeping the centre of established trees open helps to ensure good air-flow.
Container grown trees are usually trimmed to a half standard with a short stem and goblet shape formed from a series of upward pointing branches around a cleared centre.
Birds are your number one problem once fruit start to ripen. Use mesh if you want to secure your shape.