Plant profiles: Olive trees
Olive trees are one of the most attractive trees to use in a Mediterranean, Southwestern, or romantic styled landscape designs. Native to the eastern parts of the Mediterranean, Asia and Africa, the olive tree can grow into a small to medium sized tree usually topping out between twenty five to fifty feet tall and often wider than high. Young olive trees can be single or multi-stemmed and quite graceful. The multi-stemmed trees tend to grow shorter than single trunks. As they age they can acquire gnarled, sculptural branches that give them character. These handsome trees are evergreen so they will offer shade year round. Olives are ideal for drought-tolerant gardening and are low maintenance trees.
The fruit can be a problem. For people who enjoy processing olives for eating – they are very bitter and can be slightly toxic if eaten raw – the fruits can be a a fun project to cure and preserve. For landscapes where the goal is purely aesthetic the fruits can become a nuisance, littering the ground and staining concrete surfaces. There are several kinds of olive trees that would be better selections to use for landscaping where the fruit is not desirable.
The Olea europea ‘Majestic Beauty’ with its small, inconspicuous fruit is a good choice for an attractive olive tree without the mess. More expensive to purchase is the Swan Hill Olive® of Olea. This olive does not produce fruit and, although it is a little more costly since the variety is still under patent, it is a lovely tree that will give you years of easy-care beauty. The Olea ‘Wilsonii’ is another good fruitless choice olive tree. All these are ideal for lovely and practical landscape use. Some people are allergic to the pollen from olive trees. This would be another reason to select one of these non-fruiting varieties.
The olive tree is an evergreen native to warm, sunny climates. It thrives in dry summers and well-drained, calcareous (lime rich) soil. Where happy it will eventually grow into a handsome shade tree or create an attractive backdrop for other plants. Fruitless varieties are also good choices for designing near water features like ponds or swimming pools. It is one of the best shade trees to plant for evergreen performance in areas of poor soils, hot sun and low rainfall.
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