How To Prune Olive Trees: Step by Step Guide

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Pruning has positive effects on the olive trees. We do prune on the olive tree to maintain tip-top health, like building a solid trunk and crown frame; this allows the tree to withstand heavy load and high winds.

In this post, I’ll show you the exact process I follow when pruning olive trees, and I’ll also uncover some secrets to better pruning so you can have richer yields.

Key Takeaways:

  • Prune olive trees once a year in late spring or early summer, avoiding frosty periods.
  • Use clean, sharp tools for effective pruning without damaging the tree.
  • Shape the tree, ideally in a martini glass form, to promote healthy growth and fruiting.
  • Maintain lateral branches, remove root suckers and vertical branches for better tree health.
  • Regularly remove any dead or unhealthy branches to prevent disease and encourage growth.

How To Prune Olive Trees: Steps to Follow

plenty of pruned olive trees

Do follow this step-by-step guide to achieve the best results.

Step 1: Decide When to Prune Olive Trees

Olive trees grow slowly and generally don’t require much pruning. So, pruning only once a year is enough. The best time to prune your tree is in the late spring or early summer, just before it starts its new growth for the year, because your tree won’t start producing fruit before the blooming process.

According to Nicholas Wray, “Sunlight is essential for olive growth, but they shouldn’t be allowed to dry out.” So, pruning in early spring will repair any damage brought on by harsh frosts.

You should prune at a particular time, depending on your location and the environment. Nicola Hope advises against pruning on frosty days or if any frost is predicted in the coming days.

> Winter pruning

The ideal times to begin pruning are at the end of winter and in late spring when there is very little chance of frosts and freezing winds. Making sure your plants won’t be exposed to harsh weather is important because pruning trees encourages growth.

The tissue is more likely to be damaged when you cut a plant. You can begin pruning even before the end of those seasons if you get mild winters with no early spring frost damage. It is risky to prune in cold weather before bud break, though, as there is a good chance that the residual tissue may be damaged by frost, which will slow the healing process.

> Summer pruning

Olive trees often undergo pruning during the summer when they are actively growing, and this pruning is typically restricted to removing water sprouts and suckers. Although your plant’s development won’t be affected by the early summer pruning, the quality of the fruit produced during the growing season will undoubtedly be impacted.

Step 2: Have Sharp, Clean Pruning Tools

guy holding olive tree pruning shears

Secondly, make sure your pruning tools are clean, sharp, and ready to use before you do anything else. You might possess a few pieces of outdated equipment that you may have inherited from a friend or relative.

You only need the proper equipment to prune your olive tree. Misusing a tool could result in you pruning your olive tree more than you intended.

Additionally, using older tools increases the risk of transmitting tree diseases. So, cleaning your pruning equipment is a good strategy. At this point, you must be wondering which tool to add to your collection and how to properly clean the current one.

> Right tools

Hand saws, Chainsaws, and Shears are some of the best tools that anyone can use while pruning. Use pruning shears for shoots that are no larger than 2.5 cm (about 0.98 in) in diameter. To reduce fatigue, it is preferable to use shock-absorbent shears.

Related: Best Tools For Pruning Olive Trees

Use a pruning saw for branches with a diameter of up to 7.5 cm (about 2.95 in). These branches are typically found in the canopy’s middle. Here, a stiff blade of about 38 cm (about 1.25 ft) in length will be ideal.

You need to use a chainsaw for the massive, important center branches. Make sure the chainsaw is lightweight and continue to take a brief, regular pause. Make sure you are standing on a firm surface and that you are wearing protective gear.

> Sanitize your tool

The ideal treatment, in this case, is 10% bleach, which is made up of 1 part bleach and 9 parts water. Leave your instruments in a bleach mixture for 10 to 5 minutes. Moreover, the cuts need to be slanted so that water doesn’t soak into the cuts and infect your tree.

Step 3: Shape Your Olive Tree

best tools for pruning olives

Now that you have the appropriate tools, it’s time to shape your olive tree. When you trim a tree, you don’t just randomly cut. A goal should be always in your thoughts. Usually, it’s to shorten stems or branches that have grown too long, become brittle, or died.

For pruning trees, you can consider different shapes like Vase, Globe, and Vase Bush. But the martini glass-shaped olive trees are the best. These trees grow in a triangular shape and have strong, long trunks. The entire tree does not have to be cut with flat sides. As a substitute, you can shape your tree according to the martini glass.

> When to shape

Once your tree is about 1 m tall, you can start pruning and shaping. In the early years, you will just prune to shape the tree and not affect fruit production. A lot of chopping might hinder the growth of young olive trees, so try to avoid doing so.

> To create the main shape, pick three or four sturdy lateral branches

Pick three or four sturdy branches that are growing largely outward and upward from the trunk to serve as your tree’s main support structure as you start to form it into a martini glass. Even if they are developing downward, leave the tiny branches that emerge from these branches.

Related: How To Shape an Olive Tree

If your tree only has two strong lateral branches, remove any that appear to be very weak or overly vertical. However, the next year, you should search for two more robust branches to maintain. Your tree should eventually have four sturdy lateral branches for its primary framework.

Step 4: Maintain lateral branches

When we mention literal branches, it means we’re talking about secondary branches. The canopy of your olive tree is made up of lateral branches, which is why maintaining these branches is so essential.
Some of the lateral branches sprouting off your main branches may turn old as your tree ages. When you looked at your tree at fruit harvesting time, you saw that these were the older branches that may have once produced fruit but no longer do. So, cut the exhausted and weak ones to encourage your tree to grow more fruitful branches

> Take root suckers out

To prevent root suckers from consuming your tree’s nutrients and water, start by removing those that have grown up from the ground before making any pruning cuts. Trim them with pruning shears as deeply as you can below the soil line. For instance, these root suckers can be removed at any point during the growing season.

> Take vertical branches out

Remove all branches that are straight up, particularly the thin and frail ones at the top. Remove the vertical branches as well because you don’t want the interior of your martini-glass form to be crowded with them. Generally, a bird should be able to pass through your olive tree. A bird wouldn’t be able to do that if your tree is overly crowded with vertical branches in the middle; therefore, you should cut back on the number of vertical branches.

Step 5: Chop Off Any Dead Branches and Wood

Branches on olive trees grow throughout the year, so make sure to keep an eye on your olive tree and cut off any branches that are unhealthy, damaged, or dead. It’s important to prevent diseases from spreading further, destroying the olive tree, or infecting other plants. Cutting off and discarding all the affected growth can help it bounce back to its former glory.

> How to cut them

Simply reduce the size of healthy wood by at least 6 inches (15 cm). When pruning an olive tree, make sure to make clean cuts at a 45-degree angle. Avoid tearing the bark or making jagged cuts. To avoid damaging the main stalk, it’s important that any cuts you make have a minimum 45-degree angle.

> Remove branches that are touching or crossing each other

Avoiding any crossing or rubbing of branches is beneficial to promote healthy olive tree growth, with sunlight reaching all the branches and preventing wounds from rubbing against one another. Cutting branches that are crossing one another provides air circulation, which protects against pests and parasites. Just trim off the top 1/4 inch (= 0.6 cm) of these branches.

It’s always a fine decision to prune such olive oil tree branches in the late winter, just after the tree has completed its fruiting season but before the start of the new growing season.

Frequent Asked Questions About How to Prune Olive Trees

How often can you prune an olive tree?

Instead of harsh pruning every two years, potted olive trees should only need a mild trim once each year.

What kind of fertilizer do olive trees need?

Fertilizer is necessary for mature olive trees to keep healthy and produce consistently. They require a balanced fertilizer with a nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium ratio of 16-16-16 of some kind related.

Can olive trees be severely pruned?

Surprisingly, olive trees can withstand heavy chopping. Hard pruning may appear harsh, but it is occasionally required to revive an old, injured, or uncared-for tree. If necessary, 50–75% of the tree can be safely removed, but always leave enough foliage for the tree to continue photosynthesis and thrive.

How large do olive trees get?

Olive trees are evergreen and can reach heights of 25 to 35 feet, with a spread of about the same. Some experts think that leaving 16 to 20 feet between trees may improve fruit yields.

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