Successful Pruning Of The Olive Tree

Last updated on October 23rd, 2023 at 08:57 pm

Pruning the olive tree is very advantageous: it limits the fluctuations in olive production from one year to the next, and increases the quality of the fruiting. This operation allows to aerate the tree and thus to reduce the risk of diseases.

branche d'olivier - dessin

When to prune the olive tree?

Pruning of fruit trees is done at three different times depending on the objective:
Training pruning is done at planting
The maintenance pruning is done every year in February
The fruiting pruning must be done every two-three years

Successful Pruning Of The Olive Tree

Required equipment

  • Pruning shears
  • Pruning saw
  • Healing product (for cuts over 3 cm in diameter)

How to prune the olive tree?

Training pruning :
To be done at planting, if the tree is tall enough (at least 4 years old, about one meter).
Select the largest branches (4/5) distributed around the trunk and cut the others.
Pinch off the central branch.
Maintenance pruning:
Annual, in February.

  • Cut the “stumps”, the shoots that have grown at the foot of the tree.
  • Cut the branches that grow from the trunk.
  • Prune the branches that grow inward.

Fruiting pruning:
To be done every other year (fruit comes on the previous year’s wood) after severe cold weather (depending on region) and before the first flowers appear (May). This “goblet” pruning aims at giving the tree a structure with 4-5 branches. It favors air circulation, thus pollination and fruiting, and reduces the risk of disease by increasing light.

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Prune the branches of the previous year, which have already given.

  • Cut the arching branches just after the last branch before the bend.
  • On young olive trees, leave a fruiting branch every 15 cm.
  • Thereafter, cut the new branches that start from the trunk.

Cut the dead wood.

Shorten the most vigorous branches by one third: the closer they grow to the trunk, the better the fruit.
Pinch the olive tree:
Pinching is done on the still soft part of the branch tips, in order to limit elongation and to favor branching. The best time to do it is in spring when the first heat has returned.

How and when to cut down the olive tree ?

illustration : rabattage de l'olivier

cutting back an olive treeCutting back an olive tree is an important decision. It is only recommended in two situations: to facilitate the recovery after planting or for the restoration of an olive tree that would have been abandoned.

When to cut back ?

  • From fall (October) to early spring (April).
  • Equipment needed
  • A pruning shear
  • Power pruning shears

How to cut back ?

For the implantation of a scion:
Cutting back the branches of a young olive tree will help facilitate recovery. All branches must be cut at half their size just above an eye.
For restoration:
It is important to remove some of the branches, including all dead and crossing branches, as well as thinning the tips of the branches to make them less bushy. A major criterion is that light must be able to pass through the tree.

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Maintenance and fruiting pruning is done after the cold winter months and before flowering, in March or April. By aerating the tree, it limits the development of diseases. For Pierre Trollat, an organic olive grower in Nyons, in the Drome Provençale region, it should be done every year.

A private individual can reduce the frequency and carry out a soft pruning. The olive tree grows in the Mediterranean basin and needs sunlight. The branches on the north side are taller and grow less than those on the south side.
It is necessary to cut the gourmands (new shoots) badly placed so that the north side of the tree does not remain in the shade and that the fruits ripen.

The suckers located in the center of the tree are removed to let the sunlight enter from the top of the tree.
Branches that are too long can also be eliminated, as those located far from the trunk are less fruitful.
Remove the shoots that appear at the base of the tree and the branches that grow on the trunk.

The gourmands will bear olives the following year, as the olive tree only flowers on the two-year-old wood. It is possible to cut off the branches that have already given fruit to encourage the circulation of sap towards the gourmands that will produce olives.
In July, green pruning increases the tree’s production: the troublesome gourmands must be removed to facilitate the circulation of the sap towards the fruit-bearing branches.


  • James Jones

    Meet James Jones, a passionate gardening writer whose words bloom with the wisdom of an experienced horticulturist. With a deep-rooted love for all things green, James has dedicated his life to sharing the art and science of gardening with the world. James's words have found their way into countless publications, and his gardening insights have inspired a new generation of green thumbs. His commitment to sustainability and environmental stewardship shines through in every article he crafts.

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