Olive trees have undergone a boost in popularity of late. So much so that many people are choosing to grow bonsai olive trees indoors. Are you interested in how to turn an olive tree into bonsai? Then read on because we are about to give you a guide to growing your own bonsai olive tree.
We will look at what bonsai is all about, the materials you need to grow a bonsai olive, how to get started, and how to care for your bonsai tree. Let’s get started!
I thought it important to begin by talking about the materials needed before we move on to explain the process of turning an olive tree into bonsai.
Traditionally – and we will go into little more detail later on – the bonsai tree is plated in a shallow pot. To begin with, however, you will be starting with a cutting from a healthy olive tree and a standard pot in which the plant will be cultivated.
We have a detailed article on growing olive trees from cuttings which I recommend you have a look at.
It is interesting that you can, in fact, buy a bespoke bonsai tool kit. You don’t need to if you are just testing the waters, but one does come in useful if you decide to take bonsai up as a hobby.
Bonsai trees are also trained with wire. Your local garden store will be able to advise you as to the correct wire to use. Trees are wired to keep their shape, which is another factor we shall look into when we talk about understanding bonsai later on.
It is important to get the correct compost for growing olive trees as bonsai. You’ll need a small saw for potentially cutting branches and snippers for pruning your bonsai. These are tools a gardener will already have to hand.
The process of creating a bonsai olive tree may appear complex at first, but you will find it rewarding and enjoyable. Before we begin our journey through that process, we need to consider the different types of olive trees and choose the best one for bonsai.
Choosing the Right Olive Tree
The olive tree is believed to be among the first to be cultivated by man. It is no surprise, then, that over thousands of years, there have become distinct strains.
Olive trees are from the genus Olea, and there are three species that are considered best for bonsai.
Olea europaea is the common olive tree that we cultivate for fruit and oil. It is often used as a bonsai as it has ornamental properties.
Olea sylvestris – the ‘wild olive’- is the type usually chosen for bonsai. Its smaller leaves and fruit make it the ideal tree, as well as it has denser vegetation than the above.
Olea oleaster is another wild species with tiny leaves that are also ideal for bonsai. It is less commonly found than the Olea sylvestris.
Put simply, then, the ideal bonsai olive is Olea sylvestris which is most likely to be the one you will be buying if you choose to purchase a bonsai tree that is already in growth.
Buying off the shelf is always an option, but it has its drawbacks: bonsai trees can be expensive to buy, and you miss out on the enjoyment and reward that comes with growing your own.
So, I’ve talked briefly about what is needed to grow a bonsai olive and the type of tree to choose. Now it’s time to get into the heart of the article and go through the processes involved in growing a bonsai olive.
The Process of Turning an Olive Tree into Bonsai
You are likely aware that bonsai is an art that originated in Japan and the East. It has cultural significance, and we will come to that later. Translated into English, the literal meaning of bonsai is ‘tray planting.’
So, where do we begin? You have your materials, you’ve chosen your bonsai tree, and you have a cutting ready to go. Follow our instructions in the article about growing from cuttings that I linked above.
Designing a Bonsai Olive Tree
Let’s assume you have your cutting planted and growing. The next step is to decide on your design. We will not get too deep into the history of bonsai designs – and there are many – but will simply outline a few of the more popular ones.
Formal Upright bonsai are grown as a standard tree and carefully trimmed to present a tidy appearance, whereas Informal Upright is where the tree is left to grow in a wilder fashion.
Cascade bonsai are modeled on trees that grow out over the water. Forest-style is where there is more than one tree grown together.
For beginners, we would recommend choosing one of the upright styles as they are easier to learn with and also suit the growth of the olive tree.
Now there is an important point to consider: are you growing your olive tree in the house or in a warmer location such as a greenhouse? The cutting you planted – or seedling if you started entirely from scratch – will need planting into its shallow tray when it is a good size. But for those not grown under heat, there is an important consideration.
What Time of Year Should I Repot my Bonsai Olive?
An olive tree is slow to grow. Nevertheless, when it reaches the point where you want to turn into bonsai it will have been through the process of flowering and fruiting. This takes a toll on the tree.
Always repot your bonsai in the early spring. This is the best time to start using the wire to shape the tree, and it will be more likely to survive the repotting process that involves a lot of change for the plant.
Choose the point before the first buds arrive for the best results.
You also need to think about the size you wish your olive bonsai to grow to. Bonsai size classifications are a fascinating subject but one that we don’t want to get too involved with here. Put simply, they can be anywhere from one to three inches, right through to 60 to 80 inches, with a range of graduations in between.
Your decision will depend on where you are displaying the tree and the space you have available.
Repotting your olive tree is the start of the process through which it becomes bonsai. The wire is one important element – this is used to anchor the tree to the pot so that it grows as you wish – and the soil or substrate you use is another. Let’s have a look at that in more detail.
The Right Soil Mix for Bonsai Olives
Olive trees grow in the Mediterranean region. Like all plants, they have their preferred soil. However, where bonsais are concerned there is more to think about.
Research tells us that there are two options: a mix of one-quarter volcanic ash, one-quarter pumice, and half akadama – a natural type of clay soil found in the regions where olive trees go. However, this mix may be difficult to attain.
The other option is to buy off-the-shelf cultivated cactus soil. This should be more than adequate. Make sure the pH is neutral between 6.5 to 7.5, and your bonsai olive should thrive. We’ll have a look at caring for your bonsai shortly.
Training a Bonsai Olive
Now the fun begins! Your bonsai olive tree is in the right soil in the shallow pot it will remain in, and you are ready to start work in earnest. Training is about chopping and pruning to attain the shape and style you want.
The fact to remember is that olives are slow to grow. For example, if you want to grow out a branch for added shape you are looking at up to 5 years, even for the smallest bonsai tree. Other factors that can be used in training include removing parts of the tree completely, planting the tree at an angle to get the Cascade effect, and various wiring techniques.
Wiring is part of the art of bonsai, yet some growers choose to leave their bonsai in its natural form. Wiring takes time and understanding to perfect. Copper wire is used to shape the arms/branches or to model the trunk and leaves.
You do not need to start wiring your tree instantly until it reaches 5 years as the element of slow growth is still there. Growing a bonsai olive tree is an ongoing, ever-changing process, and you can change your mind at any point.
So, you have successfully grown a bonsai olive tree. What do you need to do to look after it?
Caring for Your Olive Bonsai
All bonsai trees need care and attention, and olive bonsai trees are no different. In this section, we’ll outline the care needed for your bonsai in the warmer months of the summer and the colder times of the year in winter. Let’s begin with the basics of caring for an olive bonsai in summer.
Summer Olive Bonsai Care
Here are my tips for keeping your olive bonsai in top condition:
- Olive bonsai will need a lot of water in the summer. I recommend checking the soil at least twice a day. If it is dry on top, you need to add water to keep it moist.
- Your olive bonsai will need plenty of sunlight for that nutritional UV light. My advice is to keep the plant in a shaded spot in the garden in the hotter months, as this will allow for adequate UV light but will keep the plant from getting too hot.
- Olive trees are susceptible to mites and insects, so make sure you keep a close eye on your bonsai, especially whilst fruiting.
Winter Olive Bonsai Care
- The care routine is slightly different during the cooler months:
- Fruit will grow on the tree from autumn until early winter. These should be removed as they attract pests who will damage the tree.
- I advise taking your olive bonsai indoors during winter if you have harsh winter weather.
- The tree will only require watering once a week during the colder weather.
Basic care for olive bonsais is the same as for an olive tree, but obviously on a smaller scale! Before we finish, I think it is worth having a few words on what makes bonsai special.
Understanding Bonsai and Olive Trees
Olive trees have been around for a long time. They live on average between 300 and 500 years, and there are known living examples that are more than 1000 years old. The olive tree is known to be among the first to be cultivated by man for its fruit.
There are plenty of examples of olive trees as symbols in various cultures, and our article on this makes interesting reading. This piece on the lifecycle of the olive tree should also help you learn more about these fascinating trees.
Bonsai is an ancient art that emerged from Japan many centuries ago. It is, in fact, derived from an ancient Chinese practice of growing dwarf trees called penjing.
Growing bonsai trees is almost a unique practice as it is among the few examples of growing and cultivating a plant simply for its appearance. The rich history of bonsai is littered with tales of the great Emperors of Japan treasuring their trees and of links between bonsai and the Zen Buddhist religion.
Bonsai trees represent aspects of nature – as we have mentioned, for example, with the ‘Cascade’ design of bonsai.
Today, bonsai is a popular pastime in the West and across the world.
Yes, and in fact, olive trees make excellent subjects for bonsai. The above article gives an overview of what it takes to bonsai an olive tree, and bear in mind it is a process across several years.
It is not hard to bonsai a tree, yet it does take a great deal of patience. There is plenty of literature on the subject, and if you are willing to wait several years to see your bonsai take shape it is a rewarding hobby. You can choose to buy a tree that is already in growth if you wish to see results sooner.
Bonsai is the ancient Japanese art of growing miniature versions of a variety of trees. Olive bonsai is the art of growing miniature bonsai trees using olive trees. It is a popular pastime in Japan and the East and is becoming more so in the rest of the world.
I hope this article has introduced you to the olive bonsai tree sufficiently enough to encourage you to begin growing one. While many plants mature from seed in a few months, the olive bonsai – should you choose to grow from scratch – is a slow yet enjoyable pursuit that will take many years for the results to show.
Thanks for reading, and check out our other articles on olives and olive trees.