Maybe it’s because the olive branch is a symbol of abundance and peace which we all strive for, or maybe because it’s a beautiful small tree whose gray-green, lightly scented leaves complement most decors, but Olive trees (Olea europaea) have become the hottest trend in houseplants – the plant everyone has to have.
There are hundreds of varieties of olive trees and each vary in size, shape and color. Some produce fruits that are suitable as table olives and others for extracting oil.
Climate is very important in growing olive trees as temperature controls fruit set, growth and survival. Olives set flower buds in the winter after being exposed to warm days (70 degrees and above) and cool nights (35-50 degrees). Commercial production has been attempted in various parts of Texas, but the results have been mixed, with trees freezing to the ground in three out of ten years.
In McKinney, olive trees are best grown in containers and brought into an unheated garage when temperatures threaten to plummet; to be safe bring them in when temperatures are close to 40 degrees. Close to freezing conditions for several days, or a quick dip into the teens will kill trees.
Typically, trees grow into a shrubby shape and the trunk is gnarled and twisted. The most decorative appearance is a single trunk form with the lower branches removed and the young stem trained to create a straight, elegant trunk and a rounded canopy above.
Olive trees are shallow rooted, so they don’t need an extremely large container, but will perform best when planted in a good quality potting mix; adding perlite or expanded shale will enhance drainage. Take care to plant the tree at the same depth it was in the nursery container. Trees are sensitive to chlorine, so when watering with tap water, fill the watering can and let it rest overnight (the chlorine will evaporate) before applying water to the root ball. Water only when a finger inserted into the soil is dry to the second knuckle. Be skimpy with the fertilizer; only apply if the tree has shed a lot of leaves.
Position your tree to receive as much sunlight as possible; four to six hours at least. Protect it from cold winds as they can penetrate the bark and stunt the tree.
To produce fruit, two or more trees are required for pollination. If the correct conditions are met in five years fruit will follow flowers. Flowers are small, white and feathery and spring from the axils (base) of the leaves. They bloom in spring on the previous year’s wood. Fruits (technically called drupes) follow, and contain a single seed commonly referred to as a pit or stone. The fruit is harvested in September or early October, but is not edible fresh because of the presence of bitter glucosides. It must be processed with lye and salt, or pressed to remove its oil.
To keep olive trees groomed, remove any small shoots that are crossing in the spring and lightly trim to reduce the length of stems when needed. As a rule, no pruning should occur after August so that the tree has time to recover before the arrival of cold weather.
Olive trees will eventually grow to 50 feet tall, but may take a lifetime. While slow growing, they are long-lived. A tree in west Athens that is thought to be a remnant of the grove where Plato’s Academy was situated; it is estimated to be 2,400 years old. Remnants of an olive grove planted by Peisistratos in the sixth century still survives. Some olive trees in Italy are believed to date back to eighth century Ancient Rome.
Olive trees have played an important role in civilization from a mythological and sacred standpoint. Over the years, the olive tree has been a symbol of peace, wisdom, glory, fertility, power, wealth and purity.
Its primary product, olive oil is in demand around the world as an important food source and prized for its distinctive flavor. It was used to anoint kings and fuel sacred temple lamps; it was the original fuel for the eternal flame of the Olympics.
Olives are used in cooking worldwide, and as a savory addition to cheese, crudité and charcuterie plates – and a necessary ingredient in a dirty martini.
Whether you’re looking for more abundance and peace, or a lovely small tree, consider the olive. It’s beautiful, easy care and in home decorating fashion forward right now.