Repotting olive trees: when & how

Virginia
Virginia
Virginia
Virginia

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

Olive trees usually grow only in pots – a very limited space for woody plants. This makes repotting olive trees all the more important. We show you how to do it.

A potted olive tree outside
Also for potted olive trees, it is important to have the right fertilisation [Photo: Ania K/ Shutterstock.com]

Olive trees (Olea europea) belong to the olive tree genus (Olea). Planted out, they can reach heights of up to 20 metres and a crown circumference of 5 metres. Unfortunately, this pretty tree is accustomed to a warm, dry climate, so in our climes we usually have to resort to pot culture. This allows the plant to move to a protected winter habitat in freezing temperatures. Although olive trees are wonderfully suited for pot culture due to their slow growth and rather shallow roots, a tree is still a tree. So even your olive tree in a pot will quickly become claustrophobic and a new home will be needed.

Repotting olive trees: frequency and timing

Olive trees are not known for their rapid growth. But they also gradually grow larger and reach heights of up to two metres in the pot. Unfortunately, since the pot does not grow with the plant, it must be repotted regularly.

How often does an olive tree need to be repotted?

It is best to repot your olive tree for the first time immediately after purchase. This way you avoid pests being carried along in the soil and you know for sure that the tree is in the right substrate. Otherwise, it is necessary to pay attention to the needs of the plant. Do not follow a fixed timetable. Young, still rapidly growing trees sometimes require a new pot every year. Repot at the latest when the first roots peep through the drainage hole of the pot. Otherwise, olive trees get a larger pot every two to three years. This guarantees optimal growth of the plants. The roots have proper space again and the fresh soil provides a better supply of nutrients.

A bonsai olive tree
Olive trees grow very slowly, so they are perfect for cultivation as bonsai [Photo: Andres Luis Rojas Calado/ Shutterstock.com]

Note: If there is a risk of root rot because waterlogging has formed, repot as well.

When is the right time to repot?

It is best to move your olive tree to its new home in late winter to early spring. Repotting shortly before leaving the winter quarters offers the advantage that the plant is well recovered from winter dormancy. In addition, fresh soil is much better to start the new growing season with.

Repotting olive trees: the right soil

Even though pot culture is the right thing for the cold-sensitive saplings in our climate, it severely limits the tree. This limitation makes choosing the right soil and its condition incredibly important for the development of your olive tree. Use garden soil, which you mix with sand and humus, or citrus plant soil. In a pinch, you can also resort to potting soil. The main thing is that the soil used is nice and loose and permeable, so there is no risk of waterlogging. Otherwise, there is a risk of root rot.

Potted olive tree and soil
Loose and well-draining, soil for citrus plants is a suitable option [Photo: Cem Selvi/ Shutterstock.com]

Note: Mix egg shells, potash or bone meal into the soil. This guarantees a good supply of potassium and makes the olive tree less sensitive to cold.

The right pot

The new pot should be about 4 centimetres larger than the old one. If you choose a much larger pot right away, it will take too long for the new soil to root well enough to give the tree a good hold. In addition, trees that are sensitive to waterlogging must never be left without a drainage hole. You can place your pot on small feet so it is never standing in water. A drainage layer of gravel or clay shards at the bottom of the pot further reduces the risk of waterlogging. The material of the pot is irrelevant for the plants. But you should remember when choosing a pot material that you will have to move the plant, including the pot, during the move to winter quarters. Plastic pots may not be as aesthetically pleasing as terracotta pots. But after a certain size, it becomes a feat of strength to move the heavy pots together with the ever-growing olive tree. If you want to combine the advantage of both materials, put your olive tree in a plastic pot in a terracotta planter in the summer. This way the tree does not topple over so quickly.

Three healthy potted olive trees
With the right care, you can enjoy your olive trees for a long time [Photo: Katerina Planina/ Shutterstock.com]

Repotting olive trees: step-by-step guide

The larger the tree, the more difficult repotting. Therefore, repotting while lying down has proven convenient, especially for larger specimens. Here are step-by-step instructions so you can repot your tree without having to struggle too much:

  1. The olive tree is carefully placed on its side
  2. Release root ball from the pot by simultaneously twisting and pulling it
  3. Remove dead fine roots
  4. Remove moss and weeds from the root disc
  5. Lay out drainage layer on the bottom of the new pot
  6. Fill 20-30% of the new pot with soil and lightly press down
  7. Place the olive tree on top and into the new pot
  8. Straighten the trunk; fill the spaces between the pot and the root ball with soil
  9. Press earth firmly
  10. Water well
Tools for repotting olive tree
Repotting olive trees is important for their health [Photo: aprilante/ Shutterstock.com]

Just when it is time to repot, the root ball is stuck all the tighter in the pot. This is no time to be demure. Clamp the tree between your legs and then pull hard. If it still does not work, you need to get strong helpers, or even smash the old pot. If you want to correct a crooked growth of your olive tree when repotting, the root ball is shortened on the side opposite to the centre of growth. If the tree grows to the left, the root ball is shortened on the right side. Also, do not fertilise the olive tree for six weeks after repotting, as the new soil contains sufficient nutrients for this period.

Note: If the tree is to stop growing for the time being after repotting, the root ball is cut back. But never take away more than 10% of the roots.

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For more tips on caring for your olive tree in a pot, click here.

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