Ever thought of growing an olive tree? Native to the Mediterranean, olive trees prefer warmer outdoor climates and are sensitive to freezing temperatures, but if you live in a climate that’s not congenial to their needs you can grow them indoors.
Indoor trees make wonderful, ornamental houseplants, and as long as you have enough light (a spot that receives at least six hours of direct sunlight is key) there’s no reason you can’t add an olive tree to your indoor nursery.
In order to flower and produce fruit, an olive tree needs radical changes between night and day temperatures, so indoor olive trees aren’t likely to provide their delicious fruit for you. They also won’t live as long as their outdoor counterparts (which can survive for centuries), but their longevity can be improved by moving them outdoors during the summertime. But even without fruit, it’s worth adding an olive tree to your indoor plant collection for the grace and beauty their silver leaves and picturesque limbs will add to your décor.
Read on for ten tips on how to grow olive trees indoors:
How to Care for an Olive Tree Indoors
As long as you’re diligent about providing your olive tree with what it needs to thrive, growing an olive tree indoors is fairly easy.
- Enough light is essential. As stated above, olive trees require at least six hours of direct sunlight per day (a south-facing window is best, otherwise your olive tree may start dropping leaves). You should turn the pot ninety degrees once a week in order to ensure your tree gets equal light exposure. If you’re unable to move your olive tree to the patio during the summer, a full-spectrum grow light can help.
- Find the right temperature. This shouldn’t be difficult…olive trees grown indoors do well in temperatures anywhere between 65°F and 80°F. Unlike other houseplants, they can withstand dry air pretty well, but do keep them away from heat vents.
- Get the water level right. As with most indoor trees, you need to be careful not to overwater your olive tree, but neither should you let the soil dry out completely. Use your index finger to check if your tree needs water: stick your finger in the soil up to the first knuckle…if the soil is dry, water slowly until the soil is soaked and excess water trickles through the drainage holes.
- To feed or not to feed? Potted olives can benefit from being fertilized occasionally. The best time to do this is once a month from early spring through the summer. A slow-release fertilizer is optimum.
- Pruning: just a little off the top. Full-size varieties (such as Arbequina olive trees) will require pruning, but even dwarf olive trees can benefit from a trim to allow sun and air to reach the heart of the plant, and encourage an attractive, bushy shape. Once during the spring, when new growth starts, is a good time for this chore…use sharp hand pruners to cut above where the leaf is attached to a stem at a 45-degree angle.
- Pot “up” when necessary. Olive trees grow slowly, but if you see roots growing through the drainage holes of your olive tree’s pot, it’s probably time to move the plant to a larger home. Your new pot should be at least two inches larger than the olive plant’s root ball on all sides. Choose a pot made of natural, breathable materials (such as ceramic, wood or terra cotta) to help keep the roots from overheating. Make sure your new pot has plenty of large drainage holes.
- Choose a well-draining soil for your new pot. A commercial potting mix for cacti and succulents works well. Don’t add compost or mulch as it could lead to your olive tree’s roots becoming waterlogged.
- Take it outside. Indoor olive trees benefit greatly from being moved outdoors for the summer (and they make a statement on your patio, too). Wait until nighttime temperatures stay above 40°F during the night and place your tree in a spot where it will be sheltered from the wind and full sun for a few days while it acclimates.
- Overwintering your olive tree. You should bring your olive tree back inside before temperatures fall below 40°F. About a week before you move it indoors, place your olive tree in a partially shaded spot so it can reacclimate to the lower light conditions. Olive trees attract ants, scale insects and other pests, so right before you bring your tree inside, cover the soil with plastic wrap so it doesn’t get drenched and give the tree itself a good spray with the house.
- Oops! I left my olive tree outdoors and it got down to freezing last night! Don’t give up on your olive tree if it has sustained a bit of frost damage…yes, these trees are very sensitive to cold, but their roots can regenerate and the tree regrow. Just bring it inside as soon as possible, care for it as usual, and give it a chance to recover.