How to Grow and Care for Olive Trees Indoors

A potted olive tree sitting on tile


Yunhong Gyeong/EyeEm / Getty Images

If booking your dream Mediterranean vacation isn't in the cards, you can invite that charming seaside look into your home with an indoor olive tree. In the right environment, these attractive plants with long, thin branches and green leaves can be extremely easy to care for—just think of the dry regions they naturally call home if you want a few ideas. However, at the end of the day, olive trees aren't really intended as indoor plants. These fruit-bearing trees need to be pollinated like any other, and they prefer direct sunlight. That said, olive trees are hardy plants that can prosper indoors for several years when cared for properly.

  • Botanical Name: Olea europaea
  • Common Name: Olive tree
  • Plant Type: Perennial evergreen tree or shrub
  • Mature Size: 5–30 feet high
  • Sun Exposure: Bright, direct light
  • Soil Type: Non-stratified and fine-textured soils
  • Soil pH: 5.5–8.5

Plant Care

A small olive tree with green leaves in a burlap sack against a wood-clad wall
Williams Sonoma

If you're living in an apartment that receives no natural light for plants, an olive tree probably isn't the best choice for you. However, if you can place your plant near an open window, letting it get a bit of air, you have the potential to promote healthy growth. Olive trees don't survive indoors as long as they do in the wild—averaging between 500 and 1500 years old—but you can still expect to keep yours happy for about nine years inside.

For the first year with your indoor olive tree, water the plant weekly or every time the top two inches of soil feel dry. After the tree is fully integrated and established in its pot, feel free to water only once a month. However, make sure to water it thoroughly: It's a good idea to drench the soil with a hose, then let all the excess water run out of the bottom of the pot's drainage holes. Take the plant outside to drain during warmer months, or use the bathroom tub for drainage when seasonal temperatures are below 65 degrees.

Since olive trees aren't used to regular water, giving yours a good drink will help rehydrate it. A thorough watering also lets the plant get rid of built-up salts and chemicals from the water and soil. Feed your olive tree every other month during the growing season with a fertilizer that includes nitrogen.

Best Growing Conditions for Olive Trees

Indoor olive trees can be a little finicky: They need sunlight, but not too much. The most important thing to note before bringing home your olive tree is that it needs sunlight, fresh air, and consistent waterings. This plant will be happiest next to a south-facing window that you don't mind leaving open for a few hours a day during appropriate seasons of the year.

If you want to go above and beyond, take your plant outside every few months and wash it down completely, including the undersides of the leaves where pests can accumulate. Since your olive tree needs fresh air, it's especially helpful to plan your waterings around bringing it outside for a bath. You can also move this plant outside for the summer to help it thrive before bringing it indoors during the colder months. Your olive tree will grow best in temperatures between 65 and 80 degrees.

When moving an indoor olive tree outside for the season, start by placing it in the shade for several days and gradually moving it to a sunnier spot. When acclimating from indoor life, direct sunlight can burn the tree's leaves if it's not given an adjustment period.

Types of Olive Trees

Because olive trees have been cultivated for thousands of years, you'll find quite a variety of them. The two overarching types are fruit-bearing trees and fruitless varieties (also called sterile trees).

Common varieties of the olive tree include Arbequina, which is native to Spain's Catalonia region and is best for small spaces because it matures to only a few feet high. Mission, which was originally grown in Spain has made its way to California since the 1700s. Also popular are the Manzanilla—an attractive variety with billowing branches full of bright green, perfectly oval olives—and the Greek Amfissa, which produces delicious purple olives. However, the latter isn't the best pick for a houseplant because it grows quite quickly.

How to Propagate Olive Trees

Propagating an olive tree is an easy job because the plant cuttings require very little effort aside from weekly waterings. It's also a fun project to do if you're new to the gardening game. Luckily, there's not much to it—all you need is a mature vine with a tiny root node protruding from it. Here's how to propagate your plant:

Step 1: Start the process by preparing the container to plant your new olive tree in. Fill an 8-inch nursery container with fine-textured soil. Using fine soil is key because it'll be soft enough to protect the cutting's delicate roots.

Step 2: Using sharp gardening shears, snip off a healthy 8-inch branch from a mature olive tree. Cut it about an inch or so below a leaf node, then remove all leaves from the branch.

Step 3: Poke a hole in the soil and insert the cutting (cut side down) into the pot. Next, gently pack the soil around and above the stem with your hands.

Step 4: Mist or lightly water the plant every day unless the soil is still moist from previous waterings. Keeping the soil consistently moist is the best way to ensure successful propagation.

Step 5: After a few months, the branch should have quite a few well-established roots. Once the roots are long and strong enough (or when the current nursery pot starts looking too small), transfer the cutting into a gallon-sized pot with the same type of soil. Water your plant once a week for the first year or so, then care for it as usual.

Common Problems With Olive Trees

Most indoor olive trees are fairly easy to care for with little growing problems, but there are a few common issues you may experience including pests, diseases, yellowed leaves, and browning leaves.

Pests and Diseases

The most common threats to olive trees are pests and disease—particularly scale—which are tiny, hard-shelled insects. There are many types of scale, and they all love olive trees. Unfortunately, they can cause significant damage to your tree because their mouths are quite sharp. When they latch onto the leaves and stem of your tree, they usually end up piercing them, which inhibits the tree's growth. Treat scale on olive trees by thoroughly soaking the plant, gently wiping it down, then applying neem oil to its leaves and stems or spraying the tree with insecticidal soap.

Another insect that can cause a lot of harm to your tree is the spittlebug. On its own, it doesn't do much, but most spittlebugs carry a dangerous bacterial pathogen, Xylella fastidiosa. Once your plant is infected with it, it won't live much longer. In fact, in parts of Italy and Spain, the pathogen has wiped out entire groves of ancient olive trees. Some insecticides can be effective at removing spittlebugs, but if the bugs have already caused a considerable infestation, the tree may not survive.

Yellowed Leaves

Yellowed or dropping leaves indicate that your olive tree is overwatered. If you notice these signs appearing on your tree, cut back on waterings and allow the plant to receive plenty of fresh air and direct sun.

Browning Leaves

The leaves of an underwatered olive tree will turn brown as they become dry and curl on the ends. Give the plant a thorough soaking if you notice its leaves starting to dry out, and check the soil regularly to ensure the top two inches feel moist.

Dropping leaves also indicate that your plant's water needs aren't being met. Overwatered and underwatered olive trees will both drop leaves, so determine the cause based on leaf color and moisture, then adjust your watering schedule accordingly.

Potting and Repotting Olive Trees

Transplant your olive tree into a new pot every few years during the spring growing season once new growth has begun. Choose a pot that has enough extra space for its roots to spread, but not necessarily one that's excessively large. Ensure the pot has plenty of drainage holes for thorough waterings on a regular schedule.

Use a well-draining potting soil to prevent root rot. Once the tree is planted in its new container, give it plenty of water and apply fertilizer. Keep the plant in an area with bright, direct sunlight indoors. If you're moving your olive tree outside for the season, choose a shady spot for the first few days to allow the plant to acclimate gradually to full sun.

FAQs

Are Olive Trees Easy to Care For?

Olive trees grown indoors are generally regarded as easy-growing houseplants. Since these trees are happiest outside, the most important factors to ensure your indoor olive tree stays healthy are direct sunlight, fresh air, and a consistent watering schedule.

Do Olive Trees Need Full Sun?

Direct sunlight is essential to the olive tree's growth. Place your indoor olive tree near a south-facing window. During the warmer months, open the window for a few hours a day to allow the tree to reach fresh air.

Are Olive Trees Toxic to Pets?

Olive trees are non-toxic to both humans and pets, meaning this species is a great option to grow in households with children, cats, dogs, and other animals.

How Fast Do Olive Trees Grow Indoors?

Olive trees are slow-growing plants that typically add about 2 to 4 inches of height per year. Indoor olive trees are even slower to grow than those planted in the ground, and they typically only require repotting in a larger container every few years.

Article Sources
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  1. Black Scale Saissetia Oleae. University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.

  2. Bodino N, Cavalieri V, Dongiovanni C, et al. Spittlebugs of Mediterranean Olive Groves: Host-Plant Exploitation Throughout the YearInsects. 2020;11(2):130. doi:10.3390/insects11020130