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Pruning Olive Trees 

In order to get the best from your olive trees you need to prune them. There is a lovely saying that you need to prune your trees so that 'a swallow can fly through them' meaning that the shape to aim for is one that allows light and air into the centre of the tree.

Why Prune

There are a number of reasons for pruning olive trees some of the main one are listed here:

  • pruning helps to keep the tree a manageable size - important when you start to harvest!
  • removing old wood encourages new fruiting wood to emerge and keeps the tree youthful
  • encouraging light and air into the centre of the tree helps prevent pests and diseases from taking hold.

When to Prune

Often it is convenient to do some pruning alongside the harvest, cutting away growths from the base of the tree (these suckers reduce the vigour of the tree but also make it tricky to put the nets down) and removing carefully any branches dislodged in the harvesting process!! The remaining pruning can then be carried out during the Spring before the olive starts to flower (otherwise you will be removing the potential fruit!) The good news is that you don't need to prune every tree every year.

How to Prune

One of the best tips is to copy what your neighbours do! Few people find themselves growing trees in isolation and local pruning techniques will have evolved so that they best reflect the needs of the trees, climate and soil.  If you are starting growing olives in an area where you are a pioneer then you will need to do some experimenting!

A Beginners Guide

Remember that the most common shape to be aiming for is an open structure sometimes called the 'vase'.

Take each tree in turn and first stand back and look at it carefully.  It may be obvious that some poorly growing or crossing branches need complete removal.  Do these first - you will probably be using a lightweight chain saw TAKE GREAT CARE. You can remove more wood from old trees and if these have been neglected over time you may have to remove most of the branches to rejuvenate the tree.

Cut branches off with a slanting cut and cut them near the main branch from which you are removing them (but always be careful not to damage the branch being left).

Now you can thin out some of the remaining branches to allow light into the tree.

The best bit comes at the end when you can build a bonfire from your small prunings and saw the larger logs into fuel for the fire.

A Pruning Video

As with most things a picture (or in this case a film clip) saves a thousand words.  By far the best way to learn to prune is to get an expert (probably your neighbour) to show you.  For those without olive growing neighbours try this clip posted by Kenton from lujos who make a superb range of handmade, fresh natural soaps and beauty products using their own Spanish Olive Oil:


The mist is rising from the valley as we walk down to the olive grove.  In the distance the sound of the church bells rings out.  We spread the nets around the tree - keeping them close to the trunk to make sure the olives don't fall through and get lost onto the ground below!


 Ripe Olives

Ripe olives just waiting to be picked ... 


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