The Olive Tree and you

Olive tree farming

The history of the olive tree in the Mediterranean

At the age of 100, an olive tree is still young

The history of the olive tree began in Greece, 37,000 years before our era. It survived the last glacial period and developed from a bush, the wild-olive. In France, olive trees have been part of the Mediterranean landscape for 7000 years.

There are 830 million olive trees all over the world, with 90% of them in the Mediterranean area.

The tree is typically found in garrigue (heath) areas. It is resistant to drought but is sensitive to frost. It can grow even in the poorest soils, including stony ground, and its roots can reach down 6 metres for water.

Olive trees grow slowly. The first olives appear when the tree is between 3 and 7 years old (depending on the variety). An olive tree reaches full maturity after 10 years and starts to decline in fertility after about 150 years. In favourable conditions, they can live up to one thousand years.


The olive tree has a strong sentimental value. It has not changed since its origins. The fruits have not been modified, but only improved to provide a greater yield. 

Eating a delicious olive from a tree that has been around for several hundred years is a meaningful experience. This is why some farmers, in partnership with L’Oulibo, are planning to make a “rejuvenating oil” with olives from very old olive trees.

Growing olive trees

From planting to harvesting
Planting an olive tree

Planting an olive tree

It’s best to plant the olive tree in spring (March-April). Olive trees can grow in all kinds of soils, even the poorest, with the exception of very humid clay soils.

Here are a few common-sense tips for planting an olive tree:

Orientation is important. The best exposure is to the south/south-east. It is better to avoid a northerly exposure and the bottom of a valley (cold air is unsuited to olive trees. If they don’t die, they will vegetate or be prone to disease and produce little fruit). The olive tree likes light and exposure to sunshine. Each tree must have an area of at least 6 by 7 metres. Trees planted between 4 and 6 metres from each other are said to be at low density. Below that figure, it becomes hard to take care of the soils and trees.

Olive trees should be arranged in staggered rows and not placed in a line on a slope, so that they can all enjoy as much sunshine as possible.

Tip for planting an olive grove:

Study the land beforehand, if possible with the help of an expert, to determine geological risks. Lastly, the grove should not be at too high an altitude. 700 metres at most. An altitude of 400 or 500 m is not a drawback, quite the reverse, especially if the aim is to produce table olives. Problems with flies will be reduced at these altitudes.

Pruning olive trees

Pruning olive trees

It is said that “nature loves things to be pleasing on the eye, and a good tree is a well pruned tree”. It is also said that you should never hamper the tree, but take its natural shape into account.

Olive trees need to be pruned to promote the development of the fruit and to avoid the spread of disease. Pruning is carried out in spring and must be repeated each year. It calls for real skill on the part of the olive farmer. Pruning helps new branches to grow, where the future olives will develop, and gives the tree more light. Excessive pruning will foster the growth of wood at the expense of fruit.


If pruning is carried out too early, the growing season will also begin too soon and the risk from frosts is increased. Maintenance pruning can take place each year and pruning to increase yield every 2 or 3 years.

Goblet Pruning

Making a success of the very first pruning will affect the shape of the tree. Farmers say that “a small bird must be able to fly through it without touching its wings”. The first pruning takes place when the tree is four years old, but if it has never been pruned it can be done at any age.

Each year, you should remove the shoots along the central branch of the young tree to shape the trunk. The top branches will go to form the tree’s structure. When the trunk is over one metre high, leave a few branches to grow from the top and cut the central branches in the shape of a goblet. There is no need for the trunk to grow too high.

Grafting an olive tree

Grafting an olive tree

Grafting is used to graft a chosen variety to a wild-olive, to boost pollination and to have greater variety in the olive grove. It takes place when the sap is rising, ideally in May, when the heat is not too strong (in very hot weather, the grafts may get “burnt”).

The two most widely used methods are crown grafting and patch budding.


Harvesting olives

You might recall that olives are first green and then turn black as they ripen on the tree. There is no variety of olive tree only producing green olives and another only producing black olives.