Pruning the olive tree is an operation that consists of cutting off its branches. Depending on the objective, different types of pruning exist including shape pruning, regular pruning or maintenance pruning. Pruning the olive tree is an easy technique for all to learn. For each type of pruning, there is a technique that can be applied to obtain the desired results. The ideal time for pruning is near the end of winter. 

If maintenance pruning is done every year, regular pruning only needs to be performed every 2 or 3 years. If shape pruning is very important in determining the tree’s form, regular pruning ensures a good harvest. Pruning must be carried out at the end of winter and aimed at accelerating the tree’s vegetation. Moreover, young shoots that are still fragile cannot endure the winter frosts. Also known as coppicing, regeneration pruning aims to restore a damaged olive tree, of which the trunk or timber were frozen during winter. The idea is to cut the tree at its base making sure to leave some shoots. This procedure can save olive plants on large plantations.

Shape pruning an olive tree

Shape pruning intends to guide the tree’s future shape when it reaches maturity. The first pruning is done in the second year to cut off low branches touching the ground. It is preferable to use a spreader rather than clippers. For the third year, pruning involves trimming the lower branches to a height of 3 feet which is the ideal height when the olive tree is in production. The fourth year’s pruning is based on thinning the tree by selecting the future main branches that are limited in number to 4 or 5 units. These are branches that are staggered in relation to the trunk in order for the plant to be robust once snowfall appears. From the fourth year on, shape pruning turns into regular pruning, which aims to provide the tree with goblet pruning.

Regular pruning or goblet pruning 

Regular pruning is also called goblet pruning because its shape allows good ventilation and helps fight against the spread of disease. It involves cutting off the central branch and leaving only 4 or 5 branches. It also stimulates fruiting by giving pollen the opportunity to be well-dispersed on flowers. Goblet pruning allows the tree to enjoy the sunlight, protecting it from diseases and pests by preventing a dark and humid atmosphere from settling in. By carrying out goblet pruning, the olive tree’s width makes up for its lack of height. By being closer to the trunk, fruit-bearing branches produce olives of better quality.

Pruning an olive tree aesthetically 

Aesthetic pruning aims to give the tree a harmonious appearance that is appealing to see. It occurs in the month of February or March, at latest before the first flowers appear. Aesthetic pruning involves the removal of shoots that have grown at the olive tree’s base and the cutting of branches falling to the ground. The heart of the tree will be hollow and the branches growing inside are cut in order to ensure good air circulation. The main branches making up the frame are preserved, which simultaneously ensures pollination for substantial fruiting.

Some helpful tips on pruning the olive tree 

Pruning is also intended to slow the tree’s growth in height and width to make harvesting easier. Shape pruning an olive tree should not be done before its third year, as its development can be slowed while its vulnerability to disease can become more pronounced. An olive tree growing in a container should also be pruned to prevent the branches from crossing and to reduce their length. The use of a healing product after pruning is useful in preventing infectious attacks. It is best to recover waste generated during pruning by composting it and grinding it into a good potting soil. Indeed, the olive tree’s leaves decompose rapidly. By increasing the temperature to 160° F during composting, the spread of disease is hindered. The olive tree is not suitable for topiary. Ball-shaped pruning should be avoided because it has an impact on pollination, the proliferation of scale insects and olive production.

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Published in Pruning by Alexander on 04 Jul 2011