Olives are very slow growing and require little pruning in their early years - in fact leaving them alone at this stage will help to produce a stronger and healthier specimen. Once your tree is a few years old however, thinning it out will allow more light to penetrate and, in warmer parts of the UK, fruit to develop. Here’s how and when to prune an olive tree.
Always prune your olive tree in late spring or early summer. This is also the best time to thin out any crowded branches and allow as much light as possible into the centre of the tree. Make sure there’s no chance of frost before you start.
Olives grown in containers may need to be lightly pruned again later in the summer to keep their size in check. Once they reach their optimum height, pinch out the tips to encourage branching.
The ideal shape for an olive tree is that of a wine glass, with three to four main branches opening from the main trunk. To encourage a young tree to develop a good shape, wait until your olive reaches about 1.5m in height before choosing three or four strong, well-placed shoots to form the main framework. Pinch out the others.
More established trees should have any dead or damaged shoots removed each spring, along with any branches that spoil the shape. Go gently - pruning too hard will produce lots of vertical water shoots which divert strength away from the main tree.
Established olive trees require very little maintenance other than a light prune to allow as much light as possible to reach the centre. Pruning is necessary if you want your tree to fruit, but if this isn’t important, you can safely leave your olive tree to its own devices for years at a time.
For pruning and planting advice for specimen and hedging trees, take a look at our tree and hedge hub page.
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