Growing Olives: A Guide to Planting, Growing, and Harvesting Fresh Olives

Growing Olives - Free stock image from Pexels of a woman and olive plants

Several U.S. cities are encouraging their citizens to try gardening during the pandemic, and their hard work is starting to bear fruit.

YouGov America found out that 50% of Americans have started cultivating their own gardens at home. Among these gardeners, only 13% stated that they aren’t planning to plant fruits and vegetables. Meanwhile, the rest of the gardeners are caring for fresh produce.

Similarly, if you’re planning to grow your own food, one of the best plants you can look into growing at home is an olive tree. And here’s how you can do it:

What Are the Benefits and Uses of Olives?

Olives are a staple in Mediterranean cuisine, which is the U.S. News & World Report’s top-ranked diet because it is rich in fats that act as anti-inflammatories in the body. Whole olives contribute to this as they are made of monounsaturated fat, which is beneficial for heart health.

Growing Olives - Image from Canva of whole olives in a wooden bowl
Even olive oil, which is a liquid fat obtained from olives, is known to be a healthy alternative to most fat sources.

Health website SymptomFind discuss olive oil in their guides on healthy living. In fact, their article on polyphenol underlines that this compound is abundant in extra virgin olive oil.

Polyphenol does not only give olive oil its distinct bitter and fruity flavors, but it also provides antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties that can decrease your risk of getting chronic illnesses.

Try including olives in:

  • Salads
  • Tapenades
  • Sandwiches
  • Pastas
  • Pizzas or flatbreads

What Are the Ideal Growing Conditions for Olives?

Olive trees grow in the Mediterranean as well as in Syria and Asia. These particular regions have a warmer climate, and lifestyle website The Spruce points out that olive trees prefer locations where they can enjoy the warmth of the sun.

Growing Olives - Canva Image ofOlive Tree in the Sun

Most varieties of fruiting olive trees in the U.S. prefer USDA growing zones 8-10, as well as locations where they get lots of exposure to the sun. Therefore, it’s important to choose a variety of fruiting olive trees that are ideal for your garden area.

For instance, the Arbequina olive is a great choice for those with limited space because it can grow in containers. They are one of the species that can tolerate colder climates. They are also perfect if you enjoy olive oils with a fruitier taste.

On the other hand, the widely popular Manzanilla olives are slow-growing trees that are very productive in bearing fruit. Their tasty olives are often brine-cured or stuffed with pimientos.

Finally, if you want a fast-growing variety, look into growing the Frantoio olive tree. This tree thrives in warm climates and can produce darker versions of the fruit in about one to two years. Once it’s ripe, it’s excellent as oil and can even be eaten on its own.

How Can I Plant Olives?

The best time to plant olive trees is during spring and fall. Before planting, make sure that you are placing it in an area where it will thrive.

Besides choosing a spot that gets a lot of sunlight, you also need to guarantee that it will be rooted in good soil. Our article on ‘Organic Gardening’ suggests that you send a soil sample to professionals to ensure that it has good pH and nutrient levels.

Growing Olives - Canva Image of womans hands holding soil and a seedling

You can also make your own compost to provide the nutrients that your plant needs to thrive. Just stir in old leaves and garden trimmings with kitchen scraps and manure. Then mix in a thin layer of soil between these two materials before covering it with at least four more inches of soil.

Once the area is ready, you’re ready to plant the olives. Follow these steps:
1. Pick fresh olive fruit and remove the outer seed coating, before soaking it in fresh water for one day.
2. Dig a hole that’s about ⅜ inches deep before sowing the seed.
3. Cover the seed with soil, then moisten it with water.
4. Add a bit of mulch, such as wood chips or leaves, to preserve the moisture.
5. Water the area every time the top inch dries out to keep the seed moist.
6. Apply half a pound of fertilizer around one foot away from the trunk every year.

Within a few weeks, you will have tender seedlings. Your olive trees will take two to five years to mature and bear fruit.

Harvesting and Preserving Olives

Most olive trees produce fruit within two to five years. Harvest time usually comes in fall. During fall, pick the fruits with a pinkish purple color as it means that they are nearly ripe and ready to eat.

Once you have picked your harvest, you can cure them to eat or preserve them to use later. Have a look at this video by scottimage to see how to perfectly preserve olives:

Olive Tree Care: How to Keep Your Olive Trees Healthy

Olive trees are hardy plants and do not require a great deal of care to thrive. If you have chosen the right location and soils for growing olives, the rest comes down to watering them regularly, especially in your dry season, and feeding them in the spring and summer months.

Growing Olives - Canva Image of watering can in the sunshine

To feed your olive trees, use a balanced fertilizer with a ratio of at least 10 for nitrogen (NPK 10:10:10 or 13:13:13), and equal parts of phosphorus and potassium. Slow release and organic fertilizers a good option for trees that are fruiting and should contain minor elements, such as zinc, boron and calcium.

It is best to feed lightly and often. When growing olives, nitrogen is the most important element for olive trees and they need a lot of it so keep that in mind. Organic fertilizers might not have enough nitrogen, so you may need to add some in if you’re using an organic plant food.

Olive trees are not fussy plants and they seldom suffer from pests or diseases. Scale insects are likely to be your only unwanted guests, and you can either manually remove them or use a neem oil solution to keep them at bay.

There’s no need to prune your olive tree, unless you want to keep it in shape. It will bear fruit regardless of pruning. If you want to tidy it up and keep it nicely formed, you can clip off any unruly growth in autumn.

Final Thoughts

Growing your own olives can be challenging but once they bear fruit, you can enjoy nutritious meals and snacks every fall. For more gardening ideas, check out MindsetEco. The resources on gardening and lifestyle will help you live a more sustainable and eco-friendly life.

References and Useful Resources

Healthline: Olives 101: Nutrition Facts and Health Benefits

Morning Chores: How to Make Homemade Olive Oil: A Step-by-Step Guide

Olive Tree Growers: The Care and Feeding of Olive Trees

The Guardian: It’s a Keeper: How to Preserve Your Own Olives at Home

The Spruce: 10 Varieties of Fruiting Olive Trees You Can Grow

Frequently Asked Questions

How long does it take for an olive tree to bear fruit?

Olive trees mature in two to five years, and usually bear fruit around three years. The first fruiting season may not yield a very big harvest, but once it has started to fruit the yield will increase rapidly each season. Fruit first appears in the late spring/early summer and will be ready to harvest by late summer/autumn. Check out the full guide for more info on harvesting olives.

How do you tell when olives are ready to harvest?

Olives are ready to be picked when they have changes from green to a pinkish purple, but are not yet dark or black. It is best to pick them before they are fully ripe, as they will keep longer and preserve well. Read the full guide for more info on picking and preserving olives.

Can you eat olives fresh from the tree?

Olives picked straight from the tree are edible but they are very bitter and need to be cured or preserved before they will be ready to eat and enjoy. Read the full guide for more into on curing and preserving olives at home.

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