Olive Pit Propagation – Learn How To Plant Olive Pits

By: Amy Grant

Have you ever wondered if you can you grow an olive pit? I mean, you can grow an avocado from a pit so why not an olive? If so, how do you plant olive pits and what other olive seed info might be useful?

About Olive Pit Propagation

Yes, you can grow an olive pit, but there’s one caveat – it has to be a “fresh” pit. By this, I mean not a pit from a store bought olive. The olives that we eat are treated with lye, among other things, and are unlikely to engender olive pit propagation.

Oh, by the way, did you know that both green and black olives are the same? The only difference is when they are picked. Green olives are picked before ripe, while black olives are allowed to ripen on the tree.

Olive Seed Info

Olive trees (Olea europaea) grow in areas of long, warm summers and mild winters and can be grown in USDA growing zones 8-10. Olive trees are primarily grown from cuttings but growing olive trees from pits or seeds is also possible.

The pits need to be thoroughly cleaned and processed to break dormancy and facilitate germination. When growing olive trees from pits, keep in mind that the germination rate is frustratingly low, so hedge your bets by planting multiple pits. Wondering how to plant olive pits? Read on.

How to Plant Olive Pits

The first step in growing olive trees from pits is to gather seeds in the fall once the fruit has ripened, but before they turn black. Don’t gather the olives from the ground but rather harvest the fruit directly from the tree. Use only olives that are unmarred by insect holes or other damage.

Put the olives in a bucket and lightly hammer the flesh to loosen it. Cover the crushed olives with water and soak overnight, stirring the water on occasion. Skim out any floaters, which are likely rotten. Drain the water. Using two scouring pads or the like, rub the olives to remove any residual flesh and then rinse them thoroughly.

Carefully, nick the pointed end of the olive pits with a pair of bolt cutters. Don’t break all the way through the hull or the seed will be ruined. Soak them for 24 hours in room temperature water.

Now it’s time to sow the olive pits. Use a well-draining soil mix of half sand and half seed compost in individual 6-inch (15 cm.) containers. Sow the olive seed to a depth equal to two times their diameter. Put the pots into a shaded cold frame with a germination mat set at 60 degrees F. (16 C.) for about a month. Keep the top 2 inches (5 cm.) of each pot moist while the seed germinates but allow the top ¼ to dry out between waterings to deter fungal and bacterial disease.

Increase the germination mat’s temp to 70 degrees F. (21 C.) after the first month of warm stratification and continue to water as before. Seedlings should emerge in this second month. When they do, begin to drop the temperature of the mat by 5 degrees (15 C.) each week until the temp is equal to the exterior temperature.

Acclimate the seedling to outdoor conditions gradually over the course of a couple of weeks. Keep them in a lightly shaded area during the hot summer months and then transplant them in mid-autumn when the weather is again cool and moist.

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Here are some of the best types of olives for containers.

  • Arbequina Olive: Can reach up to 10-15 feet in height and has the highest concentration of oil in the fruits.
  • Frantoio Olive: Grows up to 20-30 feet, but a container-grown tree stays small.
  • Mission Olive: Can grow up to 25-30 feet tall in the garden, but in pots, it attains a height of 4-5 feet.
  • Picual Olive: The plant can reach 12-18 feet in height. However, a potted specimen stays small.

Low temperature drops and damage to olive trees

Here is a table that shows how olive trees suffer in case of low temperature (numbers for the hardier ‘Arbequina’ variety, mostly):

Temperature °F Event or Damage Temperature °C
Temperature °F Dormancy & flower formation triggered 12.5°C
45°F Optimal temperature for dormancy 7°C
39° to 70°F Flower formation occurs 4°C to 21°C
30° to 39°F Flower formation impaired -1°C to 4°C
Above 23°F No damage Above -5°C
19° to 23°F Micro-cracks in bark, leaf tip burn -5° to -7°C
14° to 19°F Leaf burn, older leaves fall -7° to -10°C
10°F Leaf drop, all leaves are killed -12°C
9°F Leaf buds, flower buds are killed -13°C
7°F Twig burn, bark splits, damage -14°C
5°F Twig death, wood splits, limb dieback -15°C
1° to -7°F Large trees killed to the ground -17°to -22°C

This is for when other conditions are the best possible. Olive tree hardiness isn’t as good whenever the following happens:

  • rain in the days immediately before freezing
  • sudden temperature drop, instead of a slow, week-long drop
  • wind blows. As for humans, the “perceived” cold is greater with wind
  • tree is young, below 10 years of age

The numbers above are mostly based on the Arbequina variety, which is hardier.

  • For example, for the Italian ‘Frantoio’ cultivar, twig death and limb dieback already occur at 12°F or -11°C instead of 5°F or -15°C as shown above.

It’s possible to reduce damage by freezing to olive trees by winterizing them. Another solution if your area gets too cold is to grow olive trees in containers, so you can bring them indoors during cold waves.

5 Tips on how to Grow an Olive Tree

A garden is a place to escape to full of color, peace, love and hard work. It’s many homeowners pride and joy, and with countless dreamy images of beautiful gardens filling Pinterest gardeners have a wealth of inspiration to draw from in order to keep their garden looking good all year round and a paradise to escape to and relax in.

When the weather heats up, many of think of Mediterranean climates and their tropical gardens. One of the Med’s most famous exports is the olive tree – also known as olea europaea. The ancient plant is a status symbol of this region in Europe and is a plant which can be housed both outside and indoors.

To add a slice of olive greenery to your garden, we’ve spoken to Olive Grove Oundle to get their expert advice on growing an olive tree.

1. Find the right position

Olive trees are known for their love of the sunshine (it’s their natural habitat after all), so you should take care to place your tree in the sunniest spot you have in order for it to soak up the sun. You should place them where they can gain a minimum of six hours of sunlight per day south-facing is best if possible!

While trees can withstand temperatures of -10°C, if combined with a cold wind, young trees can struggle to survive. Where possible, provide suitable wind protection, and cover your tree during winter to protect it from the harsh winter elements.

2. Potting and Planting guidance

It’s best to plant your tree in the ground. However, it is possible to pot it if you wish. When planting, dig a hole around 50% larger than you need to give the tree plenty of space, and ensure you have a good drainage system in place. Gravel can be used here to help water to drain from the root-ball properly, or you could risk water being contained in the roots, and leading your tree to die slowly.

3. Water cautiously

Olive trees are relatively low maintenance and require little care in terms of food and water. In fact, if the compost you invested in is of a high-quality, you’ll find that you don’t need to feed your tree. You can simply top up the ground with a slow-release fertilizer yearly if you wish.

As one of the most drought-resistant trees, you won’t need to water your tree once planted. However, you will want to ensure that the soil doesn’t become dry throughout the year, and especially so during the winter.

4. Growing fruit is hard work

In order to grow fruit on your olive tree, you will need to ensure that your tree endures a period of colder weather below 10°C for two months, as well as a difference in temperatures between day and night.

As olive trees are natively exposed to an average of 300 days of sunlight per year, they will need a lot of sunlight in order to produce olives. However, don’t become downbeat if you don’t get as much sunlight, as it is possible to grow fruit in the spring and summer months if the weather has been particularly good.

To improve your chances of fruit production, you can shake the branches during the flowering season, as the self-pollinating branches will be caught by the wind and aid flower production. Pruning your tree can also affect how fruit is produced.

5. Light pruning

Olive trees require a minimal amount of maintenance and only need to be trimmed when needed.

If you plan on producing fruit from your tree then you will need to prune your tree. This should be done before the tree has flowered, and you should remove dead, diseased or dying branches. Your aim should be to thin out branches to let light into the center of the tree.

You should take care not to over-prune your olive tree as you could ruin the shape or risk over-production of non-fruiting shoots.

Jon Parrott

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Olive Harvesting Tips

  1. Olives are typically ready to harvest from the middle to late October, but some varieties, depending on the growing climate, grow through to the end of the year.
  2. Hand harvesting is common in all but large orchards. A net is placed on the ground around the base of the olive tree to catch the fruit that falls as the branches are shaken, pulled, or pneumatic rakes are used to remove it.
  3. The moment olives leave the tree they begin to deteriorate. Olives that are collected in bins turn into a type of compost that cause “fustiness” to occur which reduces the quality of olive oil.

Planting and Care

Several other Florida plants are commonly called "olive," so be sure you're purchasing a European olive tree if you intend to grow an edible fruit.

While olives have been grown in Florida for years on a small scale, they are a relatively new commercial crop here, so there is still much to be learned about the cultural requirements for keeping healthy and productive trees. Researchers have been testing olive trees as far south as Orlando. Growers further south will have to decide whether it's worth the chance or wait for more research to be done to see just how far south these trees will grow and thrive.

Floral development (and thus, fruit production) in the olive can be quite complex. Planting more than one cultivar close together may increase fruit set. If you want to jump in and give it a try, the cultivar 'Arbequina' from Spain has been the most popular in Florida. It is a self-pollinator, meaning it can use its own pollin to fertilize and produce fruit, but having other cultivars nearby seems to help. 'Koroneiki' and 'Arbosona' are often planted to support pollination of 'Arbequina'. 'Mission', the common black "table olive" (for eating as opposed to those better for oil), is another cultivar that is self-fertile and may do well in a Florida landscape.

One of the most important landscape considerations for growing olives is soil. Olives grow best in sandy, well-drained areas. The trees actually thrive in poor soil excessive nitrogen fertilization can cause too much shoot growth at the expense of fruit production. Too much water from irrigation or rain will make trees susceptible to root-rot disease and damage production by causing flowers to drop before they form fruits.

Plant your olive trees in a sunny spot with well-drained soil. Once established they'll require minimal care, but you will need to protect them if winter temperatures drop below 20 degrees.

Pruning can be tricky. Olive trees never bear fruit in the same place on a stem, so new growth each year is essential for flower production and fruiting. While pruning controls height or form and increases airflow to reduce fungal disease issues, the impacts on flowering and fruiting should be considered before drastic pruning takes place.

You should begin to see fruit on your olive tree after three years. In terms of production, don't be surprised if your tree seems to take every other year off. Olives are described as alternate-year-bearing species and typically have a year of heavy fruit production followed by a year of lighter production. Take advantage of the lower-producing years by pruning non-flowering branches during the flowering season. When heavier fruiting does take place, thin the crop of olives to two to three fruits per foot of twig. This will increase fruit size. Thinning should be done soon after fruit set.

Olives are considered relatively pest- and disease-free trees, although scale can be a problem, as with many other landscape trees in Florida. Additionally, leaves can be damaged by caterpillars and grasshoppers. Keeping an eye on your tree and addressing any issues early is important to keep it healthy and thriving.

For more information on growing olives, contact your local county Extension office. And look for updates from the Florida Olive Council it's working with UF/IFAS on olive research.

Watch the video: Grow an Olive Tree from a Pit

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