Pruning the olive tree is a very delicate but essential operation if you want to have a good harvest: here are all the techniques you need to know absolutely.


Symbol of peace and rebirth, the olive tree is a plant that grows luxuriantly in our country , being typical of Mediterranean areas. From its fruits, olives, one of the best and most versatile products that exist in the world is obtained: extra virgin olive oil. We Italians are great producers of it, so much so that this precious green gold is undoubtedly one of the excellences of our territory. Do you also want to grow some olive trees? Don’t worry: it’s easier than it seems. But you need to pay attention to pruning , which is perhaps the most delicate moment. Let’s see how to do it.

Olive tree, the characteristics of the plant

The olive tree (scientifically called Olea europaea ) is a fruit tree belonging to the Oleaceae family – which includes shrubs and ornamental plants such as ash and jasmine . Its origins are uncertain: it is believed to have roots in Asia Minor, where the wild olive tree has grown spontaneously in lush forests since ancient times. The plant then found diffusion in Greece and, later, throughout the Mediterranean area , where it is today cultivated for food purposes (both for the consumption of olives and for the production of extra virgin olive oil).

It is a slow-growing evergreen tree, given that its fruiting begins only 3/4 years after planting and reaches its peak after at least 9/10 years. It is also very long-lived, because – in ideal climatic conditions – it can live for more than a thousand years. Its leaves are lanceolate, silvery-white on the lower side (where they have thick hair) and intense dark green on the upper part. Towards the end of spring, the plant flowers : it is a riot of small white flowers, which offers a wonderful show.

The fruit is a fleshy drupe called olive: there are many varieties , all rich in interesting nutritional properties. In general, in fact,  olives provide important quantities of omega 3 and omega 6 fatty acids, useful for cardiovascular health, and antioxidants, which reduce the risk of developing many diseases.  By pressing the fruits, extra virgin olive oil is obtained : used as a condiment, it is the basis of the famous Mediterranean Diet and flavors any dish, providing precious nutrients to the body.

When to prune the olive tree

In olive tree cultivation , pruning is one of the most important operations. It is therefore essential to know how and when to carry it out: every intervention must be aimed at the well-being of the plant, and must be practiced in the best way. Let’s first see what the right period is to carry out pruning. We must immediately say that there is no general rule that is good for every olive grove : times change according to the climate and the geographical region in which you are. However, it is possible to generally identify the best months in which to carry out the cuts.

A first intervention, called dry pruning , must be carried out between the end of winter and the beginning of spring (ie between the months of February and April). It is the main operation, which needs to be carried out when the plant is in vegetative rest, before a new flowering. In warmer regions, pruning can be brought forward in January or February, while in northern Italy it is better to wait until April or May: the olive tree is in fact a very resistant plant, but it fears the cold and its cuts could expose it to diseases, if carried out in unfavorable climatic conditions.

If necessary, you can then carry out a second pruning (called green pruning ) during the summer season: however, this intervention must be reduced to the minimum necessary. Its purpose is to eliminate any dead or seriously diseased branches, but also to remove suckers and suckers, which could damage the plant and its crop. What you should absolutely avoid, on the other hand, is early pruning, i.e. in November and December , because it could awaken the tree during its resting phase.

How to prune the olive tree

We have seen when to prune the olive tree, now we just have to find out which are the most useful techniques for making the cuts. First of all, it must be remembered that every “scar” exposes the plant to possible diseases: for this reason it is important that you use clean and well-kept tools, in an excellent state of maintenance. You will also have to be careful never to damage the bark, which protects the plant from parasites and fungi. As regards the type of cuts to be made , these differ according to the age of the olive tree.

Farm pruning

In the first years after planting the plant, it is important to intervene with periodic cuts that give it the right shape. This type of operation is called breeding pruning , and is usually carried out until the third or fourth year of the olive tree’s life. How is it practiced? First of all, immediately after planting your plant, cut the stem about 60/70 cm from the ground. It is from this that the main branches will arise : select three or four of the most robust and vigorous, eliminating the weakest ones which would only steal precious nutrients from the tree.

In the years following the first, your olive tree will gradually take on the shape you have chosen . In this period of its life, the plant develops a lush foliage that you will have to keep under control, to prevent the branches from intertwining with each other or coming out of the shape of the tree. During breeding pruning, then, cuts must be reduced to a minimum. After having set the basic structure of the olive tree, you will only have to eliminate the suckers and suckers , i.e. the vertical branches that arise on the trunk or branches.

Production pruning

Around the fourth year of life, the olive tree begins to bear fruit . It is at this point that regular pruning begins, done in late winter (or spring, depending on the geographic region). In this case we speak of production pruning : the cuts are in fact aimed no longer at giving shape to the plant, but at making it as fruitful as possible. To achieve this, you will first have to ensure that the hair continues to grow lushly, while maintaining the right balance.

So go and eliminate those branches that cross each other and those that remain perpetually in the shade: they are not productive, but they still remove nutrients from the rest of the plant. In this way, you will allow sunlight and air to circulate well inside the foliage, reinvigorating the olive tree. It is also important to reduce excess production, which could give rise to the phenomenon of alternation (i.e. a year particularly rich in olives, followed by a very poor season).