How to Grow Olive Indoors

Olive trees are some of the longest-lived plants – with some dated at 3500 years old, and an average lifespan of about 500 years. As long as you keep your plant in favorable conditions, it could easily outlive you!

 

Timing

Harvest from Year 1+ on.

Full sun

Equivalent of 6+ hours of direct sun [DLI of 18+ mol/m²/day].

Care

Intermediate. You’ll transplant, prune, and harvest.

 

Best Olive varieties to grow inside.

Olive trees are beautiful, long-lived trees that produce a variety of tasty fruits. If you’re thinking of planting one, check out our favorite varieties below:

Arbequina

Best olive variety to grow indoors. Its fruits have a mild, fruity taste, resulting in a very fruity oil

Amazon

Picholine

The most common olive in France, great for snacking, holds up well in cooking and makes a mild-flavored oil.

Willis Orchard

Nocellara de Belice

Because of their mild flavor and buttery texture, they’re considered some of the best table olives, popular worldwide.

Hehaod

Manzanilla

These are the most popular olive consumed in the U.S. They’re brine-cured and often stuffed with pimientos or tossed with olive oil and garlic.

Amazon

 

Best Setup for Olive Plants

You’ll need:

Planter: 

A pot that is at least 12″ / 5 gal, though there is some flexibility. The plant will grow in proportion to its planter – so size is based on how tall you want your plant to grow.

Soil: 

Free-Draining Mix

Plant Food:

Fruit Blend. This should be low in phosphorus (with NPK numbers like 8-3-10). 

Grow Light:

A strong grow light that can give the equivalent of 6+ hours of direct sun [DLI of 18+ mol/m²/day].

Jump to: Our product recommendations

Starting your Olive: Seed vs Propagate

Olive that’s grown to eat is usually started with a live plant or cutting. This is because plants grown from seeds will grow as “wild types” – meaning they won’t produce the same fruit they came from (think of crab apples!).

Why you shouldn’t start Olive from seed

If you grow an Olive from seed, it won’t grow “true to type” meaning the fruit you will get will be a weird cross between the many different varieties – and chances are it won’t taste very good. However, if you are growing it for a houseplant and don’t care about the produce – go ahead and plant the pit!

Propagating Olive: How to Clone from a Stem Cutting

If you’ve already got an Olive plant you love (or a friend does!) you can easily “clone” it with just sharp scissors and a clean glass of water. First, cut a couple 6” shoots of new growth (avoid anything woody). Next, remove the lower leaves, so the bottom half is just stem. Place in a glass of 3” of water, making sure the cut leaf spots are underwater. Place the glass on a bright windowsill and change the water every few days. In a couple of weeks, roots should emerge and you can transplant them into your container. While using additional rooting hormones won’t hurt, it’s not necessary with Olive plants. 

  1. Cut 6” section of new growth
  2. Remove leaves halfway and place them in the water on a sunny window sill 
  3. Wait 21 days for a few ½ inch roots to form and carefully transplant into it final container

How to Transplant Olive

Many nurseries ship Olive as “Bare-Root” – this means the roots are not in soil and the plant is dormant. It’s a bit strange to receive something that looks like a bare stick, but it’s much easier to make sure you’re not bringing any pests in. To transplant your bare root Olive plant:

  1. Prepare your pot by filling it ½ with soil and shaping it like a cone
  2. Prepare the plant roots by trim any that seem dead, mushy, or excessively long, then shape it like a cone to fit on your soil.
  3. Check the fit so that the highest roots are just below the rim of the pot. Adjust the soil as needed. 
  4. Once the fit is good, fill the pot up to the highest roots, lightly tapping the soil down as you go. Finish up by giving it a good deep watering.

If you received your plant in a nursery container with soil, the process is much the same. Once it arrives, gently pull it out to check on the roots (adding water can help if it’s dry).  If they’re not hitting the edge and there’s plenty of soil, then resist the urge to transplant it into a bigger pot. If the roots are crowded and starting to circle around the pot, then you’ll need to repot it. Use a slightly larger pot (2 to 3 inches larger in diameter). Fill the bottom with enough new soil so that the top of the nursery pot lines up with the top of the permanent container. Finish by filling around the edges and watering thoroughly. 

Where to grow your Olive plants

While you should take advantage of the sun (it’s free and perfect for plants) there are limited circumstances where indoor natural light is enough for Olive plants to grow well. A very bright window can cut your grow light needs in half, but if you want to grow lots of Olive, you’ll still need one. For an introduction to grow lights, head over to our post on grow lights for indoor gardeners. We’ve also got a buying guide for screw in types, but to keep things simple in this guide, we’ll just provide directions for the 24W Screw in Bulb by Sansi, which we think is a good middle-of-the-road option.

How bright should your grow light be? 

Olive plants need the equivalent of 6+ hours of direct sunlight [DLI of 18+ mol/m²/day] to grow their best. In order to provide an equivalent amount with a grow light, it needs to be pretty bright! The 24W Sansi bulb should be placed 6 inches away from the top of the plant. This will give your PPFD (the standard measure of brightness) of 500 μmol/m²/s.

How many hours per day do your Olive plants need under a grow light?

Olive plants are what’s known as “day-neutral” so can grow under a range of daylight lengths. In order for them to get enough light, we recommend setting up a timer to leave it on for 12+ hours per day.

Olive Plants Need Warm Temps with an Annual Chill

Olive plants are native to northern climates and need to rest each winter – brought on by shorter days and colder temperatures. Plants need to be in between 32°F and 45°F for 200-300 hours in order to internally build the cellular structures that will become fruits. When your indoor plant starts to lose its leaves in fall, place it outside for a few months until you meet the  “chilling requirement” (but bring them in if temps drop below 30°F for longer than a day). For the rest of the year, they are perfectly happy with a wide range of typical indoor temperatures.

How to Prune Olive Trees

Pruning is important for Olive trees. Even dwarf varieties can easily grow up to 15 feet – and pruning keeps them easier to manage, care for, and fit in our living space. Beyond this, we help the plant focus its energy by limiting the number of branches we allow to develop. The basics of pruning are simple; plants grow from their tips (not bottom), but if you remove the tip it will redirect the growth to side branches. The art of pruning takes many forms, however – Bonsai, Espalier, and Spur are some ways the basic principles are applied. We encourage you to explore the look you want, but if you are unsure, open-center pruning is a well established style for fruit trees.

The standard for most fruit trees is known as “Open Center Pruning”  where the canopy consists of 3 or 4 evenly spaced main branches. This lets light and air penetrate through the center and reach the edges for an even, lush plant. Make the first cut when you are happy with the height of the trunk – it may happen as soon as you get your plant (we recommend letting the trunk be at least 2 ft above the soil). This cut should be right above a bud or branch coming off the main trunk. This will encourage the main branches to form, so if more than 3 or 4 come out then remove the extra with an eye to keep spacing even.  The main pruning is now done, so just once or twice a year you’ll want to do a maintenance prune to remove any crossing or dead branches and keep the center short.

Year 1+: How to Pollinate Your Olive Flowers

The olive trees we recommend are self-fertile, meaning they don’t need pollen from another tree to produce fruit. However, you can get up to 3 times more fruits from the same tree if you pollinate the flowers. We recommend using a paintbrush and just touching the “nose” of each flower on a tree when it is blooming. 

Year 1+: How to Harvest Olives 

Olives are ready to pick after their skin changes color, and if they feasible come off the branch. If you are unsure, give them the “supermarket” ripeness test. Gently press your thumb and if it gives a little, then it’s ready.  

Year 100+: End of Life 

Olive trees are some of the longest-lived plants – with some dated 3500 years old, and an average lifespan of about 500 years. As long as you keep your plant in favorable conditions, it could easily outlive you!

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The right supplies can take the guesswork out of caring for your plants – and turn care from a daily to weekly routine. Through our grow tests, we’ve found these products to produce the best indoor Olive (and also have simple maintenance).  Plants are adaptable and can grow in many different conditions, so they are by no means necessary if you already have other supplies.

Best Containers for Olive: Ceramic Self Watering Planters

Plants thrive on consistent moisture but can suffer if they’re waterlogged. A semi-porous ceramic self regulates ideal conditions. Our favorite is the COSWIP planter. Runner up is XS Self Watering Planter by Wet Pot.

Best Soil for Olive: Free Draining Mix

Olive needs a drier environment – so you are better off using a free-draining cactus potting mix – we like this Organic Mix by Espoma

Best Nutrients for Olive: Fruit Blend

Olive likes nutrients that are low in phosphorus (with NPK numbers like 8-3-10). For a Fruit Blend, we recommend: Espoma Citrus Tone

Best Light for Olive: DIY or Soltech

There is a very small chance that you have the bright windows needed to grow these without a grow light. If you are looking for a higher-end option – we love the Aspect Light by Soltech. For a more affordable option, a DIY setup using a 24W Screw-in Bulb by Sansi with a Clamp Light and Mechanical Timer works well too.  Check out our complete guide on a DIY setup for less than $40 or our buying guide for screw in bulbs.

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