How to Grow an Olive Tree: Olive Trees in Container or Ground

by KathleenDuffy

An olive tree in a container or planted directly into the ground will bring a Mediterranean atmosphere to the garden, terrace or patio. They can also be grown indoors.

There is something deeply exotic about the olive plant, with its beautiful pale green leaves and versatile fruit. Grown in the Mediterranean for thousands of years, it is strongly associated with warm sun, gentle breezes, as well as ancient cultures rich in history and myth.

Yet the olive tree can be grown successfully in cooler climates if given the right conditions and care and has, over the years, become increasingly popular.

It is a small tree with attractive flowers and fruit, making it ideal for those with limited space.

Basic Conditions for Growing Olive Trees

The Olive Trees - van gogh
The Olive Trees - van gogh

An olive tree grown in the south of cool area such as Britain will be able to survive most winters outside. However, it would be wise to ensure it is placed in a sunny spot, sheltered from the cold, winter winds. A patio, safe from the elements, or a south or south-west facing wall are the ideal situations.

Further north conditions can be much harsher in the winter. Because of these northern extremes, an olive tree is best grown in a container because this means it can be moved into a covered area for protection. Keep an eye on young olive trees which tend to be more vulnerable than older, more well-established trees.

Mini Olive Trees


Olive trees can be bought at varying heights, and the larger ones can be quite pricey.


If economy is a factor, start out with a small tree such as those shown here. These trees grow slowly. They are true Europeans and like to take life as it comes - so don't be too impatient with them!

Planting an Olive Tree in the Ground

Young Olive Tree
Young Olive Tree

An olive tree that is planted straight into the ground should have well-drained soil. However, olive trees are obliging and don't mind poor or limy soil. Think of those dusty, rocky hillsides their ancestors grew on.

Remove any weeds, and then dig in some well-rotted garden compost or leaf mould. The planting hole should be large enough so that the top of the root ball of the olive tree is just below the soil surface. Make sure it's covered though, but it doesn't have to be extremely deep.The soil should be firmed ensuring good contact with the olive tree roots. Water well and, in dry spells, continue keeping the olive tree well watered.

For olive trees that are planted against a wall, ensure a distance of  approximately 18 inches (45 cm) between the base of the tree and the wall .

Planting an Olive Tree in a Container

Olive Tree in Pot
Olive Tree in Pot

Olive trees do well in containers that aren't too large, where the roots are slightly constricted. As mentioned above, olive trees hate a fuss! The pot should take the root system easily, but one that is about 2 inches (5 cm) larger than its present container will be sufficient. Naturally, in subsequent years the olive tree will need to be lovingly potted on as it grows. Perhaps a terracotta, Mediterranean-type pot or one with a nice glaze and beautiful colours will help the olive tree remember its ancestral roots.

For container-grown olive trees a loam-based compost, such as John Innes No. 3 or equivalent, is recommended.

Olive  BranchA container-grown olive tree may need to be protected in the winter months, especially in the north of Britain. This will give fruits that may be forming a chance to develop and ripen. A gently heated greenhouse would be ideal, but failing that a slightly heated conservatory or another area of the home that isn’t too warm and would be light and frost-free, would be perfect.

In mild areas, such as southern United Kingdom, container-grown olive trees can be left outside during the winter months. However, ensure they are moved to a sheltered position and that pots are wrapped in bubble wrap or fleece jackets to ensure they don’t freeze

Don't worry about moving your heavy pot - you can buy pot stands with wheels which make the job so much easier.

Olive Trees Bring a Touch of the Mediterranean to Your Home!

View from the terrace of Achilleion Palace, Corfu, Greece
View from the terrace of Achilleion Palace, Corfu, Greece

Once an olive tree is established it will require very little pruning. Every spring check the olive tree for overcrowded shoots and any dead wood and remove these. It’s useful to trim any branches back that might be over long. Apart from these simple tasks, and ensuring the olive tree is watered well in dry spells, the plant is easy to care for.


However, remember the olive tree is a Latin plant and therefore craves love and companionship.

Remember how houseplants love to be talked to? Perhaps the olive tree might appreciate being read to - a little Homer might not go amiss.

Or gazing at pictures of Renaissance Italy or Greece whilst in its presence can only ensure it grows to its full potential. 

As you can see - It's easy to get really carried away whilst caring for the beautiful olive tree!

More about Olives

Lemon tree very pretty. Olive tree very pretty too! In fact, the olive tree has always had a significant role in much of the history of mankind.

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Updated: 01/10/2014, KathleenDuffy
Thank you! Would you like to post a comment now?


KathleenDuffy on 06/23/2013

Hi jptanabe - I've got one and I really love it. It's three years old and sits in my living room. Thanks for your post.

jptanabe on 06/23/2013

My own olive tree - what a lovely thought! It would definitely have to come inside in winter where I live, but maybe that could be arranged...

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