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If booking your dream Mediterranean vacation isn't in the cards this very minute, you can invite that charming seaside lifestyle into your home with an indoor olive tree. In the right environment, these majestic shrubs 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. They're fruit-bearing trees that need to be pollinated like any other. That said, these hardy plants can prosper indoors for a few years if you follow these key tips.
- Botanical Name: Olea europaea
- Common Name: Olive tree
- Plant Type: Perennial evergreen tree or shrub
- Mature Size: 5–30 feet tall
- Sun Exposure: Bright, direct light
- Soil Type: Non-stratified and fine-textured soils
- Soil pH: 5.5–8.5
- Toxicity: Non-toxic
If you're living in an apartment that receives no natural sunlight, 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 for at least a few years.
For the first year with your indoor olive tree, make sure you water it weekly or every time you notice the top two inches of soil feeling pretty dry. After the tree is fully integrated and established in its pot, feel free to water only once a month. However, make sure you really water it. It's a good idea to drench the soil with a hose, and let all the excess water run out of the bottom of the pot.
Since olive trees aren't used to water regularly, giving it 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.
Best Growing Conditions for Indoor Olive Tree
Olive trees can be a little contradictory: They need sun but not too much. The most important thing to note before bringing home your indoor olive tree is that it needs sunlight, air, and movement.
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. Plus, since olive trees need fresh air, you're killing two birds with one stone by bringing it outside for a bath.
Don't put your olive tree in direct sunlight while it's outside because even just a few minutes in bright sun can burn it. Try to leave it under a bigger tree or in the shade.
Olive Tree Varieties
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 ones (also called sterile trees).
Common varieties 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, and Mission, which was originally grown in Spain but, since the 1700s, has made its way to California. Also popular is Manzanilla, which is especially beautiful with its billowing branches full of bright-green, perfectly oval olives, and Greek Amfissa, which produces delicious purple olives. However, the latter isn't great as a houseplant because it grows quite quickly.
How to Propagate Indoor Olive Tree
Propagating an olive tree is actually pretty easy because the plant cuttings require very little effort, apart 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 out of it.
Step 1: Start the process by preparing the container where your new olive tree is going to live. Fill an 8-inch nursery container with fine-textured soil. Making sure the soil is fine is key because it'll be soft enough to protect the delicate roots.
Step 2: Using sharp gardening shears, snip off a healthy 8-inch branch from a mature olive tree. Make sure you cut it about an inch or so below a leaf node, and 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. Then, 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 already moist from the last time you watered it). This part may be kind of annoying, but it's the best way to ensure successful propagation.
Step 5: A few months later, the branch should have quite a few well-established roots. Once the roots are long and strong enough (if it looks as though the current nursery pot is too small), transfer it into a gallon-sized pot with the same type of soil. Water your plant once a week for the first year or so.
Common Growing Problems
The most common threats to olive trees are pests and disease, particularly scales, tiny hard-shelled insects. There are many types of scales, and they all love olive trees. Unfortunately, they can cause a lot of 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.
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.
Byron, M., Gillett-Kaufman, J. and Allan, S. Black Scale Saissetia Oleae. University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences
Bodino N, Cavalieri V, Dongiovanni C, et al. Spittlebugs of Mediterranean Olive Groves: Host-Plant Exploitation Throughout the Year. Insects. 2020;11(2):130. doi:10.3390/insects11020130