How To Plant Olive Trees

Farmers Co operative.
Farmers Co operative. | Source

Growing Olive Trees

How to Prepare for Planting Olive Trees.

Whether you are planning to plant a few olive trees for garden ornamentation, or several hundred young olive tree plants for olive oil production, (in an olive grove) I was advised by my local farming friends here in Tuscany, the wisest first move would be to have a good look around to see which olive trees are doing best in the area you are thinking of planting up.

There are as many green and black varieties of olive tree as there are varieties of combinations

  • of soil and/or
  • climate conditions,
  • lower or steeper hills,
  • sun-facing directions
  • winds
  • variations of all of these considerations - and more.

The one or two varieties of olive tree that are doing well are the ones to go for, probably a better choice than any you might make from a text book of explanations. A visit to your local nursery - or farmers co-operative and a conversation about them will confirm their suitability.

2 Year Olive Trees At The Garden Center

2 Year Olive Trees At The Garden Centre
2 Year Olive Trees At The Garden Centre | Source

What Type of Trees to Plant

How wide the tree's foliage will grow affects spacing between the trees when planting. When the tree has reached its full width, there should be space between that tree and the next one in any direction, to facilitate harvesting the olives mechanically, or not, or treating the soil around them by tractor. Importantly, distancing them far enough from each other so that the light and the sun can reach all the branches, so that they can grow healthily.

There are three varieties of olive tree in the groves adorning our undulating Tuscan hills which have been growing proudly for up to three thousand years (since the times of the Etruscans).

A typical olive grove here today will be planted 94% with the following varieties of olive

They are:




The remaining 6% are planted with pollinators



Other parts of Italy grow other varieties of olive. It is impossible to generalize. Other areas in the world grow yet other varieties. One simple set of criteria suits all, everyone agrees, is not easy.

One of our local Tuscan nursery gardeners originally comes from La Puglia and while beaming a superior smile says.

"We grow La Coratina where I come from".

A relative of ours in California grows many other different varieties in his farm: Arbequina, Arbosana, Lechen de Sevilla, Cornicabra, Picual, Horjiblanca,Empeltre, Manzanilla.

When to buy Olive Trees for Olive Oil

Chose to buy from the most reputable local farmers co-operative or nursery. Having sold and planted-up other farms, gardens and municipal sites, they have the necessary agronomic expertise, a dependable reputation and the machinery. They might very well have the manpower to rent as well.

If you are planning to produce olive oil, they will advise which varieties of tree to buy and how to plant up your groves once you discuss the whys and wherefores of:

  • picking olives by hand or harvesting them with machinery
  • if you will be going bio dynamic or organic or no
  • whether there is local labor for this type of work, or not
  • how expensive that labor is

The are the factors which influence how many you want to plant, how wide apart each tree should be and eventually which trees are suited to your plans and budget.

Olive Trees in a Secular Grove Planted Six Meters Apart

Olive Trees in a Secular Grove Planted Six Meters Apart
Olive Trees in a Secular Grove Planted Six Meters Apart | Source

The Disc Plow

The Disc Plow
The Disc Plow | Source

Growing Olives Ground Preparation

Olive trees should be two years old and be planted in:

  • Autumn or Spring, when the chances of extreme hot or cold weather are less likely.
  • well drained, non congealing soil, (a clay soil is no good, though a little clay, mixed with sand is alright)
  • on land or hillsides with altitudes of up to around 500 meters (though occasionally they've been known to grow on even higher terrain). The earth will drain and the air will circulate to keep the plant as dry as possible (to prevent fungus).
  • south-west facing is most suitable.


In Spring, plow the field with a Disc-Plow (which overturns the soil 20-centimeters-deep) to air it and uproot weeds. Plowing a wet field is not good because the earth will clod and will not break down as it does when it is dry.

Fertilize to encourage a Spring growth and healthy flowering.

Remove the stones in the field, so that when the holes are dug for planting, the ground is prepared. The spade won't hit the rocks and time wont be wasted moving them aside.

Keep weeds and plants away so that the goodness in the earth belongs to the tree.

Laying out the ground/field

Plant in squads 6 x 6 square meters. The size of the root formation through the years is as expansive as the tree's foliage.

Newly Planted Olive Tree

Newly Planted Olive Tree
Newly Planted Olive Tree | Source

Planting the olive trees

In a field, or area that is now weed free:

  • The roots of the sapling need to be wet, so wet them in their pots before planting.
  • Dig holes for the young tree 80 centimeters - 1 meter deep by 1.20 meters wide. The holes are dug manually where I live
  • Making sure the roots of the tree are not meshed up. If they are, widen them with your hands gently.
  • Cover the planted wet roots firmly with the earth that's in the field, only. "You don't need to compost or fertilize it" they say in Tuscany. The tree must get used to the earth it's in.
  • Stake the small trees with chestnut wooden stakes - to encourage them to grow straight, also to keep them upright in the winds.
  • Tie the olive tree to the stake with a rubber thread so it doesn't cut the tree..
  • Water the trees if it doesn't rain, before the end of the month.

The trees will start producing olives in between 3 to 5 years after planting. And each year they will produce more and more, progressively. In 50 years each plant will annually be producing approximately 70 kilos of olives for olive oil.

Albiatti Garden Center Team in Tuscany Planting a 100 Year Olive Tree
Albiatti Garden Center Team in Tuscany Planting a 100 Year Olive Tree | Source

Ornamental Olive Tree Planting

Garden olive trees are decorative since there are no olives to produce, necessarily.

They are massive, historically emotional natural sculptures that look dramatic when they are planted when they are between 80 to 100 years old, that is, when they are between one to two meters high - and at their most magnificent.

The well drained, weed free, ideally south- west facing hole for them is 1 meter to 1.20 deep and wide 2 x 2 meters wide. The olive tree would be planted by several men and special garden center equipment. Again, the soil will not need to be fertilized since the roots, even at this age, must find their own way.

The value of the plant is between euro 1,000 and euro 5,000.

OliveTree in Tuscany 3,000 Years Old

Olive Tree in Tuscany 3,000 Years Old
Olive Tree in Tuscany 3,000 Years Old | Source

© 2012 Penelope Hart

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Comments 24 comments

theraggededge profile image

theraggededge 4 years ago from Wales

That is one awesome tree! I'm not planning on planting any olive trees in this corner of cold, wet and windy Wales yet but if I were, then this would be a good place to start.

Natashalh profile image

Natashalh 4 years ago from Hawaii

Wow - awesome stuff. Those pictures are yours? That's so cool! I'm going to go ahead and not try to plant any, though. The original English colonists to Charles Towne (as it was called them) attempted to plant olives for profit. They actually do grow here, unless we have a cold winter. The same is true for many other awesome trees, such as citrus trees, in South Carolina. They will grow alright for a while, and then up and die in a cold winter. I'll just wait until I live somewhere warmer, but awesome hub, just the same.

Brainy Bunny profile image

Brainy Bunny 4 years ago from Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania

Beautiful photos, and very interesting information! I've always wanted an olive tree, but I have a brown thumb and would surely kill it as soon as I took possession.

Turtlewoman profile image

Turtlewoman 4 years ago from California

Hi- I didn't know there was such thing as an ornamental olive tree that doesn't produce olives. Your hub is awesome, great photos. Do they come in dwarf size?

GoodLady profile image

GoodLady 4 years ago from Rome, Italy Author



Brainy Bunny,

Turtlewoman thanks for liking the pictures and Hub. I wrote you all separate comments but they all went away! Sorry. So pleased you liked the photos. It's such a photogenic tree. (You could probably Bonsai an olive, or simply buy a 10 year old tree, which wouldn't be so big).

Judi Bee profile image

Judi Bee 4 years ago from UK

I don't have any plans for planting an olive tree, but found this hub a pleasure to read and look at anyway. Great information and wonderful photos (as usual!)

Voted up etc

GoodLady profile image

GoodLady 4 years ago from Rome, Italy Author

Thanks for your Judi and so pleased you liked the photos.

brianschwarz profile image

brianschwarz 4 years ago from Washington, DC

How interesting! I wish I had some land to plan olive trees. Great hub, and I love the pictures.

GoodLady profile image

GoodLady 4 years ago from Rome, Italy Author

Glad you liked Hub, thanks.

jimmythejock profile image

jimmythejock 4 years ago from Scotland

Thanks Goodlady for sharing this a simple to follow and useful guide.....jimmy

GoodLady profile image

GoodLady 4 years ago from Rome, Italy Author

Glad it works for you, thanks.

seh1101 profile image

seh1101 4 years ago from Wisconsin, USA

Very interesting! Upvote! Unfortunately, I cannot grow an olive tree in my region, but could I grow one in a container? Then I would be able to move it inside during the winter.

You mentioned a very good tip about using the soil dug from the hole to back-fill after the tree is put into the hole. I've witnessed quite a few trees with girdled roots due to settling of soil that wasn't native to the site.

GoodLady profile image

GoodLady 4 years ago from Rome, Italy Author

They're nice in pots! The same soil is important. If you want to fertilize it, do that in the spring, after it has been potted, before it flowers.

Thanks for comment.

abrand 4 years ago

Do you have ant tips on espaliering olive trees. I have seen them growing this way against a sunny wall and they look sensational.

GoodLady profile image

GoodLady 4 years ago from Rome, Italy Author

Not seen it done that way here where I live, but surely it is a question of pruning them when they are 2 years into a shape that takes the back branches away, leaving just side branches. I bet they look lovely in a decorative way.

tang 4 years ago

hi Goodlady,

i need a tip or two on growing olive from seeds. hope you could help me. i live in malaysia.

i planted 15 olive seeds in 3 different pots with 5 seeds in each pot.

one pot has 4 sprouts and the other two pots have none. it has been 2 weeks and still counting, for the other two pots to sprout.

do you have a solution?

one more thing, the young sprouts, three of them have a light to pale green-this worries me. how to green them?

is the colour natural?

what is the colour of new leaves of young sprouts?

GoodLady profile image

GoodLady 4 years ago from Rome, Italy Author

tang, i don't know what your soil is like, but there's not much you can do to insist the other pots sprout. (is there enough grit or sand in your soil mixture..there must be much clay, nothing to retain water). You can't alter the soil now anyway can you? you mustn't water too much because this makes leaves yellow. good luck

Just Ask Susan profile image

Just Ask Susan 4 years ago from Ontario, Canada

I remember reading this hub before but I never did leave a comment. I do love olives and found your really interesting even though I won't be planting any olive trees here. I like the picture of that 3000 year old olive tree.

GoodLady profile image

GoodLady 4 years ago from Rome, Italy Author

Thanks Just ask Susan! It is the most beautiful amazing tree - and there are several of them here. Amazing and they still produce olives.

Joan Calvin profile image

Joan Calvin 4 years ago

Goodlady, this is one of the most interesting hubs I have read. The pictures are so vibrant and inviting. Even though I'm not much of a gardener, it makes me want to start planting an olive vineyard!

GoodLady profile image

GoodLady 4 years ago from Rome, Italy Author

Joan Calvin. If you have a spare field which has well drained soil, then why not plant your olive orchard? Glad you were inspired and many thanks for your comment so full of verve.

rbm profile image

rbm 4 years ago

What an interesting hub wow. I had no idea olive trees can get that old!

Janis Goad profile image

Janis Goad 4 years ago

I love the pictures. Olives don't grow where I love, but it is interesting to learn about them.

GoodLady profile image

GoodLady 4 years ago from Rome, Italy Author

Thanks Janis. Olive trees contain history don't they? They are calming to look at and quite incredible when they are 3,000 years old.

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