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Expert Tips on Pruning Olive Trees in Australia

If you’re growing olive trees in Australia, it’s important to give them regular pruning to control their size so that it’s not too difficult to harvest the fruit.

In addition to controlling the size of your tree, pruning allows you to create the desired shape and encourages more fruiting.

However, it’s important to get the timing right so that you don’t end with a flush of new growth that will just undo all the work you’ve put into pruning the trees in the first place.

When to prune olive trees in Australia

Olive Tree 3 1 | Plant care

The best time to prune your olive trees is just after they’ve finished fruiting and you’ve harvested all the olives. Generally, this will be at the end of autumn or very early in winter.

You want to prune your trees every year to control their growth so that they’re not allowed to grow too large. As olive trees will only produce a heavy crop every second year, this will help to balance the fruit production from year to year.

Pruning Olive Tree 2 | Plant care

If you’ve only just planted your olive trees, you have the advantage of ensuring a nice growth habit by regular pruning right from the start. You still only need to do this once a year and you’ll find that this won’t be a big job.

However, if you’ve inherited an aged olive tree that has been left to its own devices for a number of years, your first prune will be a major one, and then, a regular pruning session in subsequent years will be much easier and you’ll have a nice tree that produces lots of olives.

How to prune olive trees

Pruning Olive Tree | Plant care

Like most tree-pruning, there are a few steps that you want to go through when you prune your olive trees.

1. Remove any suckers

Most olive trees that you purchase in nurseries are grafted. This means that the top fruiting part has been joined to a hardy rootstock in order to create the perfect balance between a good fruiting tree and one that has a sturdy root system.

Therefore, it’s really important to remove any growth that happens beneath the graft. The graft will appear as a swelling in the trunk of the tree. Any branches that start to grow from the trunk section below the graft will have to be trimmed right back to the trunk.

This is a fairly simple procedure but you need to be careful that you don’t damage the trunk in the process. If left to grow, these branches will just rob the tree of nutrients and water.

You might also find suckers coming out of the soil from around the base of the tree. You want to cut these off at ground level.

2. Remove any branches that are growing below the main fork

When you stand back and look at your olive tree, you’ll notice the main trunk and then the point where upwardly growing branches fork off from the trunk.

Any branches that are growing from the trunk below this main fork, should be pruned off completely. Cut these back to the trunk but take care not to damage the trunk itself.

3. Remove dead or damaged branches

The next thing you want to do is remove any dead branches or any that are damaged.

These can be pruned back to active green growth or all the way back to the trunk of the tree if the entire branch is dead or damaged.

4. Take out any downward-growing branches

If you notice any branches that are growing downward rather than reaching for the sky, these can be pruned off completely.

These branches don’t do anything for the tree and just distract from the lovely natural shape of an olive tree.

5. Cut back any crossing branches

For the next step, you want to cut back any crossing branches. It’s important to create a nice open canopy without branches that are crossing over each other.

Crossing branches can cause rubbing of the bark and this can damage the branches eventually.

6. Cut back long overgrown branches by about one quarter

If the tree has been left unpruned for a number of years, you might find that the branches, especially the main leaders, will have become quite long.

You can trim these back by about a quarter to rejuvenate them and control the growth of the tree. If there are too many internal branches, you can remove these entirely in order to open up the centre of the tree so that you end up with a nice shape and a canopy that allows plenty of airflow.

Give your olive trees a dose of fertiliser after pruning

Lawn Fertilizer 4 | Plant care

Once you’ve finished pruning your olive trees, it’s a good idea to give them a dose of organic fertiliser such as Dynamic Lifter. This will give the tree a good boost after its haircut.

If you have mulch under the base of the tree, and you should, just fork this over a little before scattering the fertiliser over the soil around the base of the tree.

Remember that the root system is likely to be as wide underground as the canopy is above the ground, so make sure that you apply fertiliser right out to the edge of the canopy.

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Annette Hird

Annette Hird is a gardening expert with many years of experience in a range of gardening related positions. She has an Associate Diploma of Applied Science in Horticulture and has worked in a variety of production nurseries, primarily as a propagator. She has also been responsible for a large homestead garden that included lawn care, fruit trees, roses and many other ornamental plants. More recently, Annette has concentrated on improving the garden landscape of the homes that she has lived in and focused a lot of energy on growing edible plants as well. She now enjoys sharing her experience and knowledge with others by writing articles about all facets of gardening and growing plants.

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