The graceful silvery leaves and edible fruits of olive trees provide a perfect marriage of ornamental and practical appeal. However, growing olive trees in the garden is not possible for many people because of climate incompatibility or a lack of space. Olive trees respond well to container cultivation and thrive if provided with adequate heat, light and water, but they must be pruned twice a year to control their size and maintain their shape.
Choose a suitable variety of olive tree to grow in a container, depending on your needs. Choose a nonfruiting dwarf variety such as Little Ollie if you want the look of an olive tree without the potential mess of dropped fruit. Choose Sevillano or Mission if you want to harvest fruit from your tree.
Pot a young, 1- to 2-foot-tall olive sapling in a 5-gallon planter. Fill the planter with a mixture of 3 parts loamy garden soil and 1 part coarse sand. Plant the sapling so the base of its trunk is even with the surface of the soil.
Set the potted olive sapling outdoors against a sunny, south-facing wall with some light or dappled shade during the hottest hour of the afternoon. Avoid moving the planter once the tree has acclimated to the level of light in a given space.
Water the olive tree to a depth of 4 inches. Wait until the top 2 inches of soil are parched before watering again. Avoid making the soil soggy since olive trees do not do well with wet feet.
Prune the sapling in spring once temperatures reach 15.6 degrees Celsius. Remove all but three to five of the main branches using a pair of bypass shears. Keep the thickest, healthiest and most attractive branches when pruning.
Tip-prune the olive tree in late spring or early summer following the brief blooming period. Cut back each branch so only 6 to 8 inches remain. Make the cuts 1/8 inch above a pair of leaves using bypass shears.
Move the potted olive tree to a protected spot in late autumn if it is growing outdoors in U.S. Department of Agriculture zone 7 or below. Keep it in a frost-free area of the garden or indoors near bright light but away from a heat source.
Repot the olive tree in three to five years, or once it looks top-heavy in its original 5-gallon planter. Increase the size of the container by one gallon at each repotting to keep the roots in check.
Fruiting olive tree strains can take up to five years to set fruit, so do not be discouraged if no fruit appears for the first few years after potting.
Do not fertilise olive trees since they are not heavy feeders and excess nutrients can damage the roots.