No other fruit in the world has as rich a history as the olive. Going as far back as 3000 BC in Asia Minor, olives, their cultivation and oil play important roles in ancient and modern civilizations alike. In Greek mythology, olive oil was said to be a gift from Athena to Zeus. Olive oil plays an important role in the world’s major religions, and along with its many culinary uses is even used in health and beauty products.
While the US today is the third largest national market for olive oil (due in part to large ethnic populations), it represents only about 1% of the world’s market in olive oil production. This is probably due at least to climate – olive trees do best in a Mediterranean-like climate. They need a long, hot summer and a cool, not frigid, winter. A mature olive tree can survive temperatures down to 15°F for a limited amount of time; sustained cold below 15 degrees can be fatal.
This good news is that, if you live in the right climate, growing olive trees is simple! Olive trees are tough, hardy and long-lived with an ability to thrive in poor conditions. Northern Florida’s sandy, loamy soils isn’t ideal farmland for most crops, but when it comes to growing olives, it’s spot-on.
Why Plant an Olive Tree?
Olive trees are evergreen, with beautiful, silvery foliage and white flowers. Florida olive trees will generally bloom in April or May.
Olive fruits start out as green and will generally become a blackish-purple color when fully ripe; though some varieties will remain green and others turn a copper-brown color. The shape, size, and flavor characteristics can vary based on the variety of the cultivar.
You should begin to see fruit on your olive tree after three years. In terms of production, don’t be surprised if your tree seems to take every other year off. Olives are described as alternate-year-bearing species and typically have a year of heavy fruit production followed by a year of lighter production.
Planting & Caring for Olive Trees
Though olive trees can be grown indoors as an ornamental for a limited time, they aren’t best suited to container gardening. If you want fresh olives, you’ll need to cultivate your trees outside. Here are some tips for planting and care:
- Soil. Olive trees actually thrive in poor soil. Choose a sunny spot with sandy, well-draining soil. Once established your olive tree shouldn’t need much care. If you’re going to fertilize your tree, keep in mind that too nitrogen fertilization can cause too much shoot growth at the expense of fruit production.
- Watering. Don’t over-water your olive tree! Too much water from irrigation or rain will make trees susceptible to root-rot disease and damage production by causing flowers to drop before they form fruits. (This is why you need to select a spot with well-draining soil.)
- Pruning. Pruning can be tricky. Olive trees never bear fruit in the same place on a stem, so new growth each year is essential for flower production and fruiting. While pruning controls height or form and increases airflow to reduce fungal disease issues, the impacts on flowering and fruiting should be considered before drastic pruning takes place.
- Pest control. Olives are considered relatively pest- and disease-free trees, although scale can be a problem, as with many other landscape trees in Florida. Additionally, leaves can be damaged by caterpillars and grasshoppers. Keeping an eye on your tree and addressing any issues early is important to keep it healthy and thriving.
Types of Olive Trees
Before looking for an olive tree for sale, you should decide whether you just care about the plant as an ornament or if you want fruit, and if you want fruit, how you want to use it. Olives are usually too bitter for eating right off the tree; depending on the variety, some are ideal for preserving and eating later, while others are better suited to be pressed for oil.
Varieties of Olive Trees you can purchase at Citrus.com include:
- Arbequina Olive Tree. The Arbequina Olive Tree is fast growing, early flowering, and grows high quality olives that can be eaten fresh, brined, or milled into oil.
- Mission Olive Tree. This self-pollinating variety is a good choice for home growers because the versatile olives can be harvested and pickled when green or black. Mission Olives can also be pressed into oil.
- Pendolino Olive Tree. This Italian variety has a unique, “weeping” form, and is a very easy tree to grow, maintain, and harvest.