Olives in Florida?!
Yep! In 1920, there was a producing 35-footer in the Tampa area. Producing olive trees have been in Florida since the 1700’s. Today, approximately 300 acres of commercial olives are grown.
A beautiful olive (Olea europeae) tree can be a wonderful addition to the homeowner’s landscape. Not only are these trees ornamental, but can also provide food.
Considered relatively pest and disease resistant, olive trees do have challenges in Florida. The biggest challenge is our humid Florida climate.
Although olives have been cultivated in Florida for many years, much is still unknown about successfully producing olives here as little research has been directed toward olive growing. Not all olive varieties will produce or even grow in Florida. Arbequina is the most widely planted and reliable variety for Florida. Varieties such as Mission, Ascolano, Frantoio, Koroneiki, and Pendolino also do well. Other varieties are being trialed and will become increasingly popular. Flowers bloom in April-May, are wind-pollinated, and prefer approximately 200-300 chill hours for development. Although trees can take lower temperatures, fruit is damaged at 30oF. Most varieties need a pollinator and, at this time, there is “best guess” information about this topic. Apparently Florida’s climate affects pollination differently than other climates. Florida’s focus will be on olive oil as opposed to processed fruit or olive leaves (used for tea).
Excessive water and fertilizer are the two major management concerns with olive trees. Olive trees prefer poor soils and tolerate a 5-8 pH range. Our sandy soils are perfect as olive trees are intolerant of moist soils and high water tables! Reduce irrigation before flowering and once flowering commences, increase irrigation. Trees will be 4-to-5 years old before producing olives. Spring and early summer irrigation encourages shoot growth which increases number of fruits for next season and moderates alternate bearing. The current season’s irrigation influences the current fruit size and stone-to-flesh ratio. Boron, nitrogen, and potassium are important nutrients for olive. Foliar application of boron (Borax) in small amounts is recommended. Olive trees need boron, but are sensitive to the micronutrient.
Trees can be maintained at 15 feet. Pruning should be completed by late summer as drupes are produced only on new growth. The goal is to attain 8”-20” new growth yearly.
Pests include leaffooted bugs, glassy-wing sharpshooters, grasshoppers/ katydids, hornworms, olive shootworms, leafrollers, ants, and scale. Another concern is olive anthracnose, a fungi causing fruit damage. See EDIS publication “Pests and Fungal Organisms Identified on Olives (Olea europaea) in Florida.” Of special concern is Olive Quick Decline (OQD), a disease not currently in Florida. The pathogen, Xylella fastidiosa, is in Florida and is responsible for Pierce’s disease. A subspecies of Xylella fastidiosa causes OQD and is spread by insects and contaminated tools. If Xylella fastidiosa is suspected, please contact: Department of Entomology and Nematology, UF/IFAS Extension, Gainesville FL. See EDIS publication, “Xylella fastidiosa and Olive Quick Decline: Symptoms and Identification of an Insect Vectored Pathogen.”
Consider adding olive trees to the landscape palette or to the garden!