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Mastering the Basics

How to care for an Olive tree

A potted Olive Tree by the front door brings rugged elegance to your entrance way. Olive Trees only take a little effort to look after, but some maintenance pruning in spring or early summer is needed to maintain the desired shape and to encourage the tree to produce fruits. In this guide Will Williams, Soto Co-founder, creative director and five times RHS medal winner takes you through a step-by step guide on caring for your Olive Tree. This Masterclass answers why, when and how to prune an Olive Tree.

The Olive Tree brings a touch of the Mediterranean to your outside space. Soto source our Olive trees from Spain, ensuring the best quality (evidenced by the straight trunk).  Soto Olive Trees are typically three - six years old, so they are relatively young trees, but they do require some very occasional attention. To help you care for your Olive tree and keep it looking its best, we’ve put together a guide on looking after your Olive Tree.

 Olive tree being pruned


Why prune an Olive Tree

Olive trees are low maintenance – they require only a little water, tolerate most soil types and are slow growing, but they do need more light than a lot of other trees. Pruning to your desired shape allows light to the whole tree which encourages fruit production, with the added benefit of making the Olive tree appear neater. You may also need to remove damaged or weak tree branches which are taking valuable energy from the tree.

Whilst your Olive tree may not be bearing any fruit yet, if it has three or four lateral branches, it is a good idea to prune to encourage a robust tree in the coming years. If you are aiming for a lollipop tree or pom-pom shape, start Olive tree pruning early to encourage density and your desired shape.

When should Olive Trees be pruned?

Olive trees are evergreen, but to encourage strong new growth from the start of the growing season, it is best to prune Olive trees in the late spring or early summer. Pruning Olive trees when it is milder protects the new shoots from the frost damage.

If you prune back your Olive tree ‘hard’ it will result in a dense growth, whereas a light ‘formative’ prune will give your Olive tree a natural shape.

As with many fruit trees, Olives produce fruit on new wood, therefore if you’re going to harvest your own olives, a heavy prune will increase your fruit yield.

What tools are required to prune Olive Trees? 

How to prune an olive tree using secateurs


Before you begin pruning, make sure you’ve the right pruning tools for the job. How you shape Olive trees is very dependent on the size of the tree. Young trees need secateurs and more mature Olive trees require a pruning saw to be able to cut through the thicker branches.

Olive Trees available from Soto, have branches less than 2.5 cm thick, and require secateurs to trim the tree. To make your life easier, ensure they are comfortable to use, strong and robust enough to cut through woody stems.

Thicker branches up to 8 cm in diameter, often found towards the centre of the tree, require larger  pruning tools such as a saw. Very established trees would need a chainsaw, something perhaps to leave to the professionals!

Pruning Olive Trees, the step by step guide

In the spring when it comes to pruning the Olive tree, follow these steps to achieving a neat and healthy tree. This annual task should only take a few minutes for your Soto tree.

Where to cut your Olive tree?

Start at the base of the Olive tree and remove any shoots from the main trunk (known as water sprouts) and base (suckers). Next remove any branch that looks dead or detracts from the tree. Think of this action as diverting energy from the main road to new and more useful routes, promoting new growth. 

How to prune an olive tree

Next, look up into the trees canopy to see if you can see any light penetration through the branches. You don’t want your Olive tree to be too dense so look for weak horizontal branches or any that are growing vertically. Often the weak lateral branches used to be fruit bearing branches but have come to the end of their production life.

Creating the desired shape of your Olive Tree

You can start developing the shape of your Olive tree from when it is quite small, around 1m in height or when it has four strong lateral branches. These four branches will be the anchor for the rest of the tree. Some people aim for a martini glass shaped tree, whereas others prefer a rounder lolly-pop shape.

The eventual size of potted trees is determined by the size of the pot. If you are looking to keep the small size of your Olive tree, plant in a smaller pot. To encourage a larger tree, transfer to a larger one. Soto has an edit of pots; we suggest a Soto size large for our Olive trees. 

How to prune Olive trees 

Where to cut an olive tree when pruning


Cut diagonally so that water can easily run off the branches and make sure you are cutting against the branch. Use secateurs to do this, Soto use Felco.

If you are looking to encourage strong, dense growth cut back hard. The fruit from an Olive tree comes from new wood, so for improved fruit production cut back the branches hard. If you are only hoping to maintain the Olive Trees shape, little pruning will be sufficient.

How much pruning is too much?

On a mature tree, don’t worry if you’ve cut back too much, hard pruning will mean the tree will grow back stronger. When it comes to young trees or potted olive trees, it is best to be gentler and give them a light prune. It is important not to take too much of the energy away from the tree. We recommend you often take a step back to look at the tree throughout, so you achieve the desired shape.

Where and how to prune an olive tree

Looking for more care tips for your Olive Tree?

Head to our Olive tree plant profile page for further tips on caring for your Olive Tree. The Soto Masterclass has tips on watering, understanding the aspect of your garden and how to pot a plant.

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