The Royal tree

The most common Olive (Olea europea) is a hardy tree, cultivated since antiquity for its hard wood and versatile fruit. Although it adapts well to different kinds of soil, our ancestors planted them on dry, stony hillsides and terraces, often in groups of fives, but it is common practice nowadays to plant them like a fruit orchard in long, regular lines, or even isolated in the middle of a lawn. What the olive hates most is to have its roots in stagnant water, so as long as the ground is well drained any scheme is possible.

The best time to plant an Olive is after the last frosts around the end of March or early April. It is important to water the tree regularly and thoroughly the first year, especially in the summer months when a young tree will need about fifteen litres a week.


Make a shallow dip around the tree to ensure that there is no waste. If you are planning to plant a large number of trees, remember to mix the varieties to encourage pollinisation. It is important to find out what varieties are suitable to your particular area or they may not thrive.

In order to ensure that there is good
photosynthesis there should be a healthy leaf growth, but not enough to obtruct light and air, especially in the centre. Care needs to be given to the tree’s shape, so any vertical branches should be removed as well as those that cross each other. Always eliminate last year’s fruitbearing branches, they will not produce again. Cut these branches right back to the old wood otherwise small ‘eyes’ will form, and sprout wispish branches in their turn.

Some olive varieties are more susceptible to the cold than others but below – 13°/15° the tree will usually die. You can have a surprise, however. After the terrible winter of 1980 when the Gardon and other rivers froze, trees whose bark was heard to split from the cold grew back from the base. If your Olive looks dead, cut the tree right back to just 5cm from the ground and there is a chance it will recover.


Eric Odin