The olive tree (Olea europaea) is a typical shrub of the Mediterranean region. The ideal climate for him should provide heat in summer and a cold winter. With its evergreen leaves and slow growth, the olive tree tolerates pruning well and can even be kept quite small. Why, how and when should you prune an olive tree? We answer these questions in the article!
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Should you prune an olive tree at all?
Yes, olive trees need pruning in some cases to grow well and bear fruit. Pruning the olive tree is necessary for:
- Good plant health
- Better development
- A beautiful appearance
- Prevention of pest infestation
- Better light flow in the heart of the tree
If fruiting is not that important to you, you can also prune the tree for aesthetic reasons. To get a beautiful, well pruned tree, you should do the pruning after winter has passed and before the first flowers appear.
Important note: You should still support the olive tree well when planting it. If you are aiming for a larger tree, we recommend that you let it grow for the first few years and not prune it so that it forms a trunk of 1 to 1.2 meters. If frost has caused some damage to the olive tree, you should prune the affected branches back to the live wood.
Pruning olive tree – in autumn or spring?
From the third year, you may prune the olive tree to promote better development of the plant. But when exactly should you perform a maintenance pruning on the established olive tree? The months of March and April are the most favorable for this. This way, you avoid the frost period and the flowering period, which tend to stress the tree. If you are aiming for good fruiting, you should prune the olive tree only moderately in early spring, as the tree has already formed its buds in the previous year.
For olive trees that are ornamental, small prunings are possible throughout the year as long as there is no danger of frost. Warm, sunny days are best for pruning.
Topiary, fruit pruning, maintenance pruning – this is how to proceed correctly
While the first pruning of a young olive tree is to select the leading branches, it also has the advantage of giving the tree a good shape. This is called topiary. Subsequently, it is called fruit pruning. It gives strength and productivity to the tree and provides thinning of the plant mass, which should bring light to the olives.
We recommend that you prune the tree selectively, as too much exposure of the trunk and leading branches will weaken the olive tree. Contrary to popular belief, you should keep in mind that olive trees and their branches do not particularly like the sun. If your goal is still productivity, the implementation is quite different. Indeed, then it is important to remove the branches that have already borne a lot of fruit. In this way, you will favor the future mothers, which will benefit from an excellent rise of sap.
How to bring an olive tree in shape?
Now let’s move on to the “how.” First, you should equip yourself with the necessary materials to work in good conditions. To enjoy the pleasures and benefits of gardening, your pruning shears should always be clean and well sharpened.
Important tip: Make sure to always use it in the right direction! The cutting part, the blade, must always remain on the side of the bud or node, while the hooked counter blade must remain in contact with the removed part.
First, you should remove all the shoots that have grown at the base of the olive tree with pruning shears. Cut them off just above the ground. Then, clean up the framework, that is, remove with hand shears all the branches that cover the framework of the tree inside and outside. Cut them flush with the trunk. Now it’s time to start shaping. To do this, proceed as follows:
- Cut back the branches that slope toward the ground.
- Prune out the heart of the tree.
- Prune the branches that grow inward, keeping the leading branches; this promotes air circulation and thus pollination and fruiting.
- Trim other branches to give your olive tree the shape you want.
Note: Pruning techniques are the same for olive trees grown in pots and those grown outdoors.
Can the olive tree tolerate radical pruning?
The olive tree is hardy and can tolerate severe pruning. In this regard, it is not uncommon in the Mediterranean for an olive tree that has never been pruned and is therefore misshapen to be cut back to the ground. Thus, only one strong shoot should be selected to be supported vertically, while the others are removed. What is the final result? The crown can grow to the desired height by removing the shoots and side shoots to the entire desired height of the trunk. This will also allow you to grow your tree as a shrub.
Please note: In our climate, a radically pruned olive tree would take a long time to fill in the gaps. If you are growing the tree in a German garden, radical pruning is not recommended unless the tree is affected by a disease. Plan this pruning for the spring, after the winter dormancy, when the plant can put its full strength into regrowth.