Olives (Olea europaea) are evergreen trees that will add a Mediterranean touch to the garden. They are suited to garden or container cultivation, and may produce fruit in mild regions and warm summers in the UK.

Olive tree

Olive tree

Quick facts

Common name: Olive
Botanical name: Olea europaea
Group: Tree
Flowering Time: Summer
Planting time: Spring
Height and spread: Up to 10m (30ft) height and spread
Aspect: South- or west-facing, sheltered
Hardiness: Frost hardy
Difficulty: Moderate

Cultivation notes

If you have a protected city garden or live in a mild area, olives can be grown outdoors as long as you give them a sunny position and plant them in well-drained soil - for example, against a warm wall would be ideal.  In cold or northern regions, winter protection in a conservatory, for example, will be required.

Once established they are extremely drought-tolerant, but plants will do better if watered regularly in dry spells during the growing season. To encourage strong growth, it’s a good idea to feed each spring with a general fertiliser, such as Vitax Q4.

Olives naturally shed their older leaves in spring (April in the UK) as new growth begins.

Container cultivation

Olives are not entirely hardy in the UK, and will be damaged by temperatures below -10°C (14°F), with young plants suffering after lighter frosts. So, in colder areas of the country, you can grow olives in large (60cm (2ft)) diameter and depth) containers. Plant a pot with plenty of drainage holes and filled with a loam-based compost such as John Innes No 3 with 20 percent by volume added horticultural grit for additional drainage. You can place containers outdoors in summer, and then move them into a cold conservatory, well-lit porch or greenhouse over winter.

Although they can cope with dry periods, olives in containers need regular watering and feeding to produce fruit. During the growing season, keep the compost moist and feed with a balanced liquid fertiliser such as Phostrogen, every month. In winter, reduce watering, but don’t let the compost dry out completely.

Pruning and training

Olives grow very slowly, so don’t require much pruning. However, pinching out young plants can help to encourage them to develop a branching shape. Once they are 1.5m (5ft high), select three or four of the strongest and best-placed shoots to retain, and pinch out the others.

If needed, in late spring or early summer, remove dead, diseased or dying branches. At the same time, thin out branches to allow light into the centre of the tree and remove any branches that spoil the shape. Avoid pruning too hard as this will result in the over-production of non-fruiting water shoots.

Container-grown plants may need additional summer pruning to keep their size in check. When plants in containers get to about 1.5m (5ft), pinch out the tips to encourage branching.

Growing olives for fruit

In order to initiate flowers and fruit, olive trees need a two-month period of cold weather (with temperatures below 10°C (50°F). They also need a fluctuation between day and night time temperatures. Plants kept indoors are therefore unlikely to flower.

Very dry soil conditions can also inhibit flowering, even if the tree is able to tolerate such conditions. Watering during dry spells between February and May is therefore crucial for fruit production. If olives are produced, avoid excessively dry conditions during the summer as this may cause the fruit to shrivel.

Prolonged cold weather (below 7.5°C or 45°F) can also inhibit fruit production.

Growing more than one cultivar will increase cross-pollination and improve yield, although even a single tree should produce some fruit, olives being self-fertile. Flowers are mainly wind-pollinated, and shaking the branches during flowering to release pollen helps to improve fruiting. Increased humidity at flowering time also helps fruit to set.

Fruit is produced at the tips of the previous year’s growth, so excessive pruning will also prevent fruiting. Thinning of the crop is recommended, reducing the fruit numbers to three or four per 30cm (1ft) of branch within three weeks of flowering, in order to ensure that the crop will ripen and not drop prematurely.

Ripe black olives can be picked and eaten raw, but taste quite different from commercially sold olives, which are usually picked unripe and green, or black and ripe, but are then cured to produce an edible product.


Named cultivars are best-propagated by grafting, which is the preferred method in olive-growing regions. Grafting on to stock of Osmanthus can help produce smaller trees.

Olea europaea can also be propagated by taking semi-ripe cuttings, 10-15cm (4-6in) long, in summer. Alternatively, in winter take hardwood cuttings of up to 30cm (12in) from one- or two-year-old wood on mature trees, and root with bottom heat.

Seed can be sown in gentle heat in spring, but seed-grown plants will revert to the wild, small-fruited olive.

It will take at least four years for young plants to bear fruit.

Cultivar selection

Garden centres and nurseries should stock Olea europea, but if you are looking for a specific cultivar, try a specialist grower. Available varieties include:

  • Olea europaea ‘Sativa’ – small white, scented flowers in late spring and summer
  • O. europaea subsp. africana – smaller fruit and dark green, glossy leaves
  • O. europaea ‘Frantoio’ – popular Italian variety used for making olive oil


RHS Find a Plant


Plants are not entirely hardy in the UK and a long spell of cold weather can cause leaf drop, splitting bark and dieback. Even mature plants, which are fairly tolerant of frost, will be damaged once temperatures dip beneath -10°C (14°F). Any plants that are damaged should regrow from dormant buds along their branches, but their flowering and fruiting performance will be reduced that season.

Leaf loss or yellowing may be due to:

  • Natural shedding of older leaves in April as new growth begins
  • Dry conditions, particularly when grown in containers.
  • Frost damage
  • Attack by pests
  • Waterlogging. Poorly-drained soil conditions can lead to root disease such as Verticillium wilt or Phytopthora root rot. In wet soils drainage should be improved or plants grown on resistant rootstocks

Honey fungus may cause plant death.

Scale insect is sometimes a problem, as is the disease olive scab which causes ring-spot symptoms on the foliage.

Shop Olive Trees


Browse our range of Olive trees from the RHS Plant Shop


Did you find the advice you needed?

RHS members can get exclusive individual advice from the RHS Gardening Advice team.

Join the RHS now

Get involved

We're a UK charity established to share the best in gardening. We want to enrich everyone's life through plants, and make the UK a greener and more beautiful place.