Pruning olive trees: when & how


I study plant biotechnology and often find myself confronted with the serious consequences that lack of knowledge and misinformation can have for nature. That is why I am so passionate about bringing people and nature closer together again.

Favourite fruit: raspberries, strawberries and pineapple
Favourite vegetables: courgettes, broccoli and cucumbers

Perfect care of an olive tree also includes proper pruning. But when is the right time and how much needs to be cut? Find out all about pruning olive trees.

A pruned olive tree
When pruning, shorten shoots that are too long to keep the crown’s shape [Photo: KHMILSTOCK/]

You cannot go too wrong when pruning your olive tree (Olea europea). Especially if the tree is for ornamental purposes and no value is placed on a particularly high olive yield. This is because an olive tree is extremely tolerant of pruning and will resprout even from old wood. This makes it the ideal bonsai for beginners. Nevertheless, skilful pruning supports not only the appearance of the sturdy southerner, but also its well-being. We show you how to make the cut successfully.

When should you prune olive trees?

The best time for pruning Mediterranean potted plants is the spring after wintering and before flowering. However, minor pruning can be done throughout the year if there is no danger of frost. The best day is sunny, warm, but not too hot. In this way, you minimise the stress to which the tree is subjected during pruning. If you want to harvest olives, it is recommended to keep pruning as moderate as possible in early spring, because the tree always puts on the buds in the previous year. The more the annual shoots are shortened, the lower the number of flowers and fruits.

Person pruning an olive branch
Minor pruning on olive trees can be done throughout the year [Photo: Georgios Tsichlis/]

Pruning olive trees: instructions

Olive pruning keeps the crown in shape and removes dead or diseased parts of the plant. Ventilation and sufficient light in the crown are also important reasons for olive pruning. Three forms of pruning are distinguished: maintenance cut, education cut and inner crown cut. Maintenance pruning can be performed throughout the year. Here you remove:

  • Dead plant parts
  • Sick plant parts
  • Regrowing shoots on the trunk or in the root area
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The education cut and the inner crown cut both serve to shape the crown. They are important for a long-term and orderly crown structure. The two cuts can be made in one. Proceed as follows:

  • Plan the cut well in advance
  • Use clean and sharp shears
  • Removal of diseased and dead shoots
  • Removal of shoots that grow inward or crosswise
  • Shoots from the previous year are cut back so that all the leaves get light
  • Main shoots should be longer than the side shoots
  • Larger wounds are closed with wound balm or wax

If the goal is the densest possible crown, several strong branches are cut back. This may be repeated in early summer when new shoots appear.

Note: Avoid cutting the main shoots, because each main shoot has one main root. If you cut away one of the main shoots, the associated root will also die.

Should olive trees be radically pruned?

Actually, when pruning your olive trees, less is more. But every now and then it may be necessary to prune more radically, for example, if the tree is not healthy. A healthy tree should not be radically cut back, because the olive tree in our climate takes a long time to fill the gaps created. If it does become necessary, radical pruning is always done only in the spring. At this time, the plants have the greatest amount of power, because they have rested during the winter.

Another important maintenance measure is the repotting of olive trees. You can find more info here.