Olives (Olea europaea) come from the Mediterranean region. They thrive in areas with hot, dry summers, but also perform adequately in coastal areas. Willowlike foliage is a soft gray-green, and smooth gray trunks and branches become gnarled and picturesque in age. Trees grow slowly, typically to 2530 ft. tall and as wide; however, young ones put on height (if not substance) fairly fast. They usually tolerate temperatures down to 15F (-9C). Growers from Texas to the Carolinas have planted groves of olives for oil production. Homeowners can grow them as well, both for oil or eating. Unlike other tree fruits that ripen and are ready to eat, olives require a curing process of soaking in brine or lye to remove the bitterness. Then they are rinsed and marinated in jars before they are ready to eat.
'Arbequina'. This Spanish selection is a good choice for the home gardener interested in either fruit or oil. Growing 1215 ft., it is more cold tolerant than most, surviving down to 10F but needs warm summers to bear fruit. It is self-fertile, so only one tree is needed.
'Manzanillo'. Originating in Spain, this olive is widely planted for canned black olives, but it is suitable for oil as well. It is self-fertile.
'Mission'. This U.S. selection is self-fertile, grows to about 20 ft. and can be used for oil or cured for the table.
A suitable climate is the most important factor in success with olives. Unlike most fruit trees, olives don't set flower buds in fall. Instead, they only set buds following exposure to cool nights (3550F) and warm days (80F) during winter.
Olive trees look best when grown in deep, rich soil, but they will also grow in shallow, alkaline, or stony soil.
Choose a sunny location with good drainage. Set plants, and water well. Cut off the tip of young trees at 2 ft. to make them branch. Remove basal sprouts as the tree grows if a single-trunked tree is desired. Fertilize in spring and midsummer with a slow-release product containing at least 10 percent nitrogen plus micronutrients. They get by on little water but produce better crops with a deep soaking every two weeks.
Olives ripen and drop late in the year. They can stain paving and harm lawns if not removed.