Small olive trees grow well in pots, and they are versatile additions to the landscape. They look good as single specimens or in small, informal groups. Place smaller trees among foundation plantings at the corners or between windows. Use them in areas where people congregate and near outdoor seating where their fragrance can be enjoyed. Olive trees are very low-maintenance and generally drought-tolerant, but may need occasional watering when grown in pots.
Tea olive, fragrant olive and sweet olive are all names for Osmathus fragrans. This little olive tree will grow to 20 feet tall, but it tolerates hard pruning and is easily maintained at a height of 6 to 10 feet. Tea olives are well-suited to growing in pots. From fall until early spring, the tree is covered with small, fragrant, white flowers. The tree grows very slowly and lives a long time. Once mature, most of the foliage grows at the ends of the branches. Pruning isn't necessary for the health of the tree, but it encourages branching and helps maintain the tree at a reasonable height, making it easy to move indoors during cold weather. Place the container outdoors in a location with full sun or partial shade. Tea olives thrive in morning sun with a little afternoon shade. Place them on decks or porches and near entryways, where their fragrance can be enjoyed. Bring the container indoors when temperatures below -6.67 degrees C threaten. Outdoors, tea olives are hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture Zones 8 to 10.
Madagascar olive (Noronhia emarginata) is a small tree, well-suited to coastal environments. It tolerates salty air and salt water spray, and growing it in a large, heavy pot means that you can take the tree right up to the seaside without fear of salt damage. The tree grows up to 20 feet tall with a spread of 15 to 20 feet, but like most olives, it tolerates pruning to a smaller size. The olive-green leaves are up to 6 inches long with a leathery texture. Small, fragrant, yellow flowers are followed by attractive, bright yellow fruit that turn to dark purple when mature. Madagascar olives need full sun or partial shade. It makes a nice little tree for decks and patios, although some people find the dropping fruit objectionable on walkways or pavement. The size of the tree and the heavy pot make it difficult to bring the plant indoors, so it is best grown in USDA Hardiness Zones 10B and 11, where it can stay outdoors year-round.
Wild olive trees have become rare in the wild, and are considered near extinction. Although cultivated specimens are available for sale, it may take some searching to find one. They grow 20 feet tall with a spread of 10 to 15 feet. They have large, showy flowers but less fragrance than other olives. The olives are edible but should be consumed in moderation. Birds and other wildlife are attracted to the tree, and consume the olives in abundance. The branches are thorny, and need pruning to develop a strong structure. Wild olives need full sun, and the tree is very drought and heat tolerant. It is hardy in USDA Hardiness Zones 9 to 11, but may drop its leaves when touched by frost.
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