Landscaping with Olive Trees

Ever since I began organizing my garden in the five Mediterranean climate zones, some existing trees and shrubs were not in the correct areas. A particular concern has been a ninety-foot long section designated for plants from the Mediterranean basin area. This section, on the southwest border of the garden, has a long-standing row of Willow Leaf Cotoneasters (C. salicifolius), screening the adjacent property.

This Cotoneaster is a fine shrub that grows vigorously and produces long, looping branches from its base, and reaches about ten feet high. It is drought tolerant and trouble-free and can be controlled annually by cutting up to a third of the larger branches at ground level.

In most respects, these shrubs are desirable elements of the landscape, but they spread over a large area and create a lot of shade. In addition, as natives of western China, they do not relate to the Mediterranean climate zones.

The plan is to replace these shrubs with several olive trees (Olea europaea), which are native to Crete and Syria, originally, and strongly associated with the Mediterranean basin area. They are evergreens, with gray-green leaves and an attractive natural form that is graceful and billowing.

Fruitless Olive

Olea europaea ‘Majestic Beauty’

Olive trees are most often grown for their fruits, which are the source of olive oil, a popular and healthy resource in the kitchen and on the dining table. Olive trees are widely grown commercially in California’s Central Valley. The Santa Cruz Olive Tree Nursery, a wholesale nursery in Watsonville, offers numerous varieties.

Olive trees are also attractive as ornamentals in the landscape. Home gardeners could grow and harvest olives for processing by olive-oil producers, but several dwarfed non-fruiting varieties are available and well suited for home gardens. Non-fruiting varieties are often preferred for landscape uses because fruit drop can stain pavements and generally can be messy.

The fruitless varieties can produce small quantities of fruits. Fruiting can be limited by pruning flowering/fruiting wood and by planting only one variety in the garden (different varieties are needed for cross-pollination).

Fruitless varieties of O. europaea include ‘Bonita’, ‘Little Ollie’, ‘Majestic Beauty’, ‘Montra’, ‘Skylark Dwarf’’, ‘Swan Hill’ and ‘Wilson’s Fruitless’. Some of these varieties grow naturally as multi-branched shrubs but can be pruned when young as single-trunked trees.

Dwarf, non-fruiting varieties could grow to fifteen feet high and ten feet wide, but their size and shape can be controlled through annual winter pruning. Depending on available garden space, a ten-foot high tree might be preferred and would be sufficient for screening.

I will plant perhaps six olive trees in “mini-groves” to avoid a row along the fence line. This plan might require one or more large shrubs to re-establish the screen between my garden and the adjacent garden. For example, the existing landscape in that section already includes a Rockrose (Cistus x aguilari ‘Maculatus’), which is another native of the Mediterranean basin area, and an attractive, evergreen shrub.

This project will require significant work to cut down the Cotoneasters and grind out their roots. The optimal time for planting olive trees is early fall, to allow a young tree time to become established before the coldest time of the year, but in the Monterey Bay area, where cold is a not important consideration, olive could be planted at most times of the year. In any event, there is ample time for these preparations.

This process will have a dramatic impact, opening up the garden. Gardening can involve many small-scale tasks, but an occasional bold stroke can bring excitement and a significant new look to the landscape.

 

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