How to Grow an Indoor Olive Tree

olive tree

Pottery Barn

If booking your dream Mediterranean vacation isn’t on the cards this very minute, rest assured; you can still invite the seaside lifestyle into your own home. Replicate the charm of those tiny villas scattered across the hillsides of Greece with your very own indoor olive tree. 

With 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 are not really intended as indoor plants; they are fruit-bearing trees that need to be pollinated like any other. That said, these hardy trees can prosper indoors for a few years if you follow these key tips.

  • Botanical Name: Olea europaea
  • Common Name: Olive tree
  • Plant Type: Small perennial evergreen tree or shrub
  • Mature Size: 5 to 30 feet tall
  • Sun Exposure: Bright, direct light
  • Soil Type: Non-stratified and fine-textured soils
  • Soil pH: 5.5 to 8.5
  • Toxicity: Not toxic

Olive Tree Plant Care

olive tree

Williams Sonoma

If you are living in an apartment that receives no natural rays, an olive tree probably isn't the best choice for you. However, if you can place your olive plant near an open window (letting your tree get a bit of air), you have the potential to promote healthy growth for at least few years.

For the first year with new your olive tree, make sure you water it weekly or every time you notice the top two inches of soil feel 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 really drench the soil with a water hose and let all the excess water run out of the bottom of the pot.

Since these types of plants aren't used to water regularly, giving it a good drink will help rehydrate it. A good watering also lets the plant get rid of built-up salts and chemicals in the water and the soil.

Best Growing Conditions for Olive Trees

Olive trees can be a little contradictory: They need sun, but never too much sun because, just like us, they can get a sunburn. The most important thing to note before bringing home your new olive tree is that these plants need sunlight, air, and movement.

If you want to go above and beyond, take your olive tree outside every few months and wash it down completely, including the underside of the leaves where pests can accumulate. Plus, because olive trees need fresh air, you're killing two birds with one stone by bringing it outside for a bath.

Don't put your tree to in direct sunlight while it's outside because, even just a few minutes in bright sun outside, it can burn. Try to leave it under a bigger tree or in the shade.

Olive Tree Varieties

There are actually a lot of varieties of olive tree, which makes sense because we've been growing olive trees for thousands of years. The two overarching varieties of olive trees are fruit-bearing ones and fruitless ones (also called sterile olive trees). The most common varieties include: Arbequina, native to the Catalonia region of Spain and are best for growing in small spaces because they mature to be only a few feet tall; Mission olive trees were originally grown in Spain, but since the 1700s, have made their way to California; Manzanilla olive trees are especially beautiful with their billowing branches full of bright green, perfectly oval olives; Greek Amfissa olive trees produce those delicious, rich purple olives we love so much, but they're not great for indoors because they grow quite quickly.

How to Propagate Olive Trees

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 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 will be soft enough to protect the super 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 of the leaves from the branch.

Step 3: Poke a hole in the soil and then insert the freshly cut branch, cut side down, into the nursery pot. Then, pack the soil around and above the stem with your hands.

Step 4: This part may be kind of annoying, but it's the best way to ensure a successful propagation: Mist or lightly water the plant everyday (unless the soil is already moist from the last time you watered it).

Step 5: A few months later, the branch should have quite a few well-established roots

Step 6: 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, and water your plant once a week for the first year or so.

Common Growing Problems

The most common threat to your olive tree is pests and disease. Olive trees are most susceptible to tiny hard-shelled insects called scales. There are a lot of 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 stems 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 trees are spittlebugs, which, on their own, don't do much, but most carry a dangerous bacterial pathogen called Xylella fastidiosa. Once your plant is infected with it, it won't live much longer. In fact, in parts of Italy and Spain, Xylella fastidiosa has been known to wipe out entire groves of ancient olive trees.

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