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Backyard Olive Trees: Fruiting vs Fruitless & Should you plant one?

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, it should be fairly obvious to you that most of California is in a serious drought. This can make landscaping tough. You need to look for plants that can withstand intensely dry conditions. This has made low-water, heat-resistant trees like fruitless olive trees extremely popular backyard plants. 

Olive trees are becoming more and more popular in the drier states in our nation, and are especially popular in modern, southern California landscape plans. But why? Read on to learn about the general appeal of a backyard olive tree and the benefits of fruiting vs fruitless olive trees. By the end you may have the answer to the question of whether or not an olive tree makes sense for your backyard living space.

Why are olive trees increasing in popularity?

As we mentioned, much of the west is in a severe drought. This can make it hard to find plants that cooperate with current and impending climate change challenges. Plants that love hot, dry weather are natural pivots for coastal and southern California areas. Olive trees are one of these plants.

They can endure intense heat and need water only once a month. They are extremely hardy, translate easily, and throw a decent amount of shade in your space. Not to mention, they are evergreen and keep their foliage year round. They can be ground on hills, and are fire resistant–another plus for Californians who live in fear of yearly wildfires.

Olive Trees in California

Olive trees are doing extremely well in southern, coastal regions of California because the climate mimics that of the Mediterranean, where the trees are native. Like we said, they are also fire resistant. Most of our CA friends and west coasters are well versed in the threat of fire. While you don’t want a wild fire anywhere near your property, having fire resistant plants means that a fire is less likely to originate from your lot as well as provide some resistance against fiery conditions.

Olive Trees in Landscaping

Not all olive trees are ideal for landscaping. In fact, despite their many benefits, olive trees have a bit of an acquired aesthetic look. To some, they can feel a bit scraggly. Admittedly, the trunk of an olive tree is not your typical up-down shape. Instead, it tends to grow in weaving or gnarled looking patterns. The foliage, while evergreen, has a silvery look that is in contrast to many of the leafy, deciduous trees we imagine when we think of a typical tree.

However, the same look that can be off putting to some homeowners can be incredibly appealing to others. If you’re looking to bring more organic shapes to your landscape, the twisting trunk and branches of the olive tree are perfect. Planted together, they look great as perimeter plants, or accenting driveways.

Fully grown olive trees are typically around 25 feet tall, and 25 feet wide. They are great for homeowners who are struggling to plant on a hillside. Uniquely, they can also be moved. The root system of an olive tree makes it especially receptive to transplanting. So, if you aren’t a fan of your olive tree in one corner of your yard, you can probably have good luck moving it somewhere else.

Fruitless vs Fruiting Olive Trees

When you think of an olive tree, you’re probably imagining the varieties that provide delicious toppings for pizza and garnishes for martinis. However, if you’re planning on using an olive tree in your landscaping, you’re going to want to skip the fruiting variety. Unless you are committed to picking and harvesting the fruit year long, a yard full of drying and rotting olives is not anyone’s cup of tea.

Fruitless Olive Trees

Luckily, there are several beautiful varieties of fruitless olive trees that lend themselves well to landscaping. The best varieties for your backyard include Swan Hill, Wilsonii, or the ever popular Majestic Beauty.

Fruitless olive trees can be lower maintenance options, and will not make a mess of your yard. Plant in clumps, or feature on their own. Fruitless olive trees may still produce a small, anemic crop of olives in spring. However, the drop of fruits should be minimal.

Basic Care for Fruitless Olive Trees

Part of the mass appeal of olive trees is their low maintenance upkeep. This is especially true of fruitless olive trees. Once established, olive trees need very little care from you at all. Prune as desired, and water only as needed. Pruning can help prevent any remaining unwanted fruit that may develop.

To establish, plant in an area that receives full sun. Ensure soil is well draining, and water deeply once a month until the tree has become established. Make sure the area has decent air circulation, and treat for pests as needed. Most of the time, olive trees stand out as star candidates for easy upkeep trees to have in your landscape.

Wait, aren’t olive trees invasive?

You may have heard the news that olive trees are actually invasive plants in California. This is true, to an extent. Fruiting olive trees are indeed invasive. Their seeds drop in mass and are carried away by wind and animals, causing unwanted spread that can negatively impact the environment. They also clog drains, and cause issues when blocking drainage sites or waterways.

But not all olive trees are forbidden. To avoid negative environmental impacts, steer clear of the Russian olive tree or other fruiting varieties. Honestly, most homeowners would rather have fruitless varieties anyways.

Should you plant a fruitless olive tree? Yes, if you want to.

At the end of the day, olive trees are a great solution to a changing climate. Not many plants can thrive in dry, hot weather, but the olive tree enjoys both.Though they aren’t everyone’s aesthetic cup of tea, the meandering trunks and silvery foliage is beautiful to many. For readers in California looking for a shade solution, fruitless olive tree varieties may be the answer you’re looking for.

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