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Growing olives in Zone 7

Nov 30, 2012 -
  Growing olives in Zone 7
Olive trees are so beautiful that of course gardeners in all zones want them.

USDA Zone 7 is typically considered too cold for olive trees.

But we’re gardeners, which means we want to grow beautiful trees that aren’t recommended for our zones. That goes both ways too—for every New Yorker wanting a Meyer lemon tree we have a Southern Californian longing to grow Bartlett pears.

Tricia plants an olive tree in our latest video and that probably has you fired up about the beautiful and long-lived trees, with their crop of health-giving fruit.

Here’s how to push the envelope for olives in your climate.

Classic ways to find warmth for olives in your zone

Find the warm microclimates on your property
Microclimates are the hotter and cooler parts of your landscape.

Tips for locating warm microclimates:

Up against the wall
Heat will reflect from a south or west-facing wall of your house, outbuilding or wooden fence. The stored heat from the daytime will continue to warm the tree at night, raising the temperatures by several degrees. Plant an olive near one of those structures (allowing room for mature olive tree branches and good air circulation around the tree).

Facing south or west
Garden areas that get full southern exposure are the warmest parts of the landscape. Western exposures come next as hot spots. An eastern exposure captures morning sun, but is shaded in the afternoon, so there is not enough additional heat to really create a warmer microclimate.

Higher is better
The upper part of a slope will be warmer than the lower part. Cold air heads down hills and into valleys, bringing cooler temperatures and increased potential for frost.

Choose olive varieties that are cold-tolerant

Typical olives trees will be damaged by temperatures below 17F and may not survive temperatures below 10F.

A few varieties are a bit tougher and more likely to make it through cold spells. If you’re in USDA Zone 7, we recommend Mission and Arbequina olive trees.

Baby the olive trees through cold spells

A reliable, temporary measure for protecting your olive tree in a cold spell is to use floating row cover fabric like Agribon as a shield over the tree.

An unusual cold-proofing method is suggested by the Texas Olive Council, “To protect from the cold, mound trees with about 18 inches of soil on the trunk until they reach the age of five. Soil should be mounded in November and removed in late March.”

Grow olives in containers
A sure-fire way of controlling the climate is to grow olive trees in containers (they adapt well to that life). Either seasonally, or during cold spells, move the containers under the eaves of your house, or into a structure where the olives will remain at comfortable temperatures. Two people and a Pot Lifter can easily move heavy containers.

With a combination of warm microclimate, a proper variety, and safeguards during cold spells you should be able to grow olives in Zone 7.

Categories: Fruit Trees, Olive Trees

Fran Ransley Says:
Dec 2nd, 2012 at 8:01 pm

Any advice on transplanting an olive tree? The one I’m referring to has been in its current location for 5 or 6 years but is still very small, maybe 5’ tall and not very bushy. It’s an area that gets somewhat boggy during the winter and I realize now that it is not a good place for an olive. All of my property is heavy adobe clay, but a higher spot would have better drainage. Are there any particular precautions I should take when transplanting? It’s going to be hard to do it without some root disturbance. Thanks for any advice you can offer.

Charlotte from Peaceful Valley Says:
Dec 3rd, 2012 at 4:14 pm

Fran, An older book on olive orchards said there had been success with moving larger trees, so certainly give it a try, if you are willing to take a risk. Olives do not like clay soil but the improved drainage will help. Wait until the soil is warm in springtime to move the olive, and prepare a large area of soil (the way Tricia does in our video). Olive roots dry out quickly in sun and wind, so keep the roots covered after they have been dug up, and accomplish the task as quickly as possible.

John Roe Says:
Dec 4th, 2012 at 4:38 pm

So, what you are telling me, is that I can grow an Olive Tree, in Sacramento Area, like in North Natomas.  Please, get back to me.

Charlotte from Peaceful Valley Says:
Dec 5th, 2012 at 4:25 pm

John, Yes sir, you can grow olive trees in the Sacramento area! You are in USDA Zone 9; here are the olive trees suitable for that climate

Pattie Says:
Dec 6th, 2012 at 9:12 am

Can I grow an olive tree in Zone 6, if I grow it in a container that I can move to a greenhouse attached to my house in December?

Charlotte from Peaceful Valley Says:
Dec 14th, 2012 at 6:30 pm

Pattie, Yes, that sounds like an excellent plan for olives (and citrus too)! You should keep an eye on the weather and move tender trees well before the first frost in your garden—December might not be early enough.

John POLUM Says:
Dec 14th, 2012 at 7:59 pm

I live in Roy, Washington 20 miles south of Tacoma can I grow olives here.

Liz Says:
Dec 14th, 2012 at 10:46 pm

This article says “If you’re in USDA Zone 7, we recommend Mission and Arbequina olive trees.” but the website descriptions for those varieties say temperatures shouldn’t drop below 22°–25°F. We are in zone 8a and were advised by local gardeners to not even try olives. We don’t have a west or south facing wall that would lend warmth to the trees. Are those two varieties really that forgiving?

judy Says:
Dec 15th, 2012 at 8:52 am

I have 4 olives planted in my sunny, sandy pasture. Olives grow around here-my neighbor transplanted a huge,old tree and its doing fine. My trees refuse to set fruit. They’ve been planted for years w/o any olives! I don’t water much in summer, which may be part of the problem, but I’d sure be open to suggestions. We’re in the Santa Cruz mts and have citrus and avos on our property as well as apples and stone fruit, so I don’t think its climate. Any suggestions appreciated.

Charlotte from Peaceful Valley Says:
Dec 15th, 2012 at 12:14 pm

John Polum, The USDA hardiness zone map shows that you are in zone 8b with lows in 15-20F in the winter Olive. trees are damaged at 17F. You can grow olives—but follow the steps in the article about choosing warm spots on your property, choosing cold resistant varieties, and do use floating row cover cloth (like Agribon) on them during cold snaps when the temperatures will drop below 20.

Charlotte from Peaceful Valley Says:
Dec 15th, 2012 at 12:19 pm

Liz, The Mission and Arbequina varieties are happiest in the 20s but they are among the most cold-tolerant varieties and you can push the envelope with them if you have hot microclimates for them, and give extra protection during cold snaps. Do you have any hot spots on your property, aside from south or west walls? For instance, west or south facing spots high on slopes? If not—then perhaps container olives that you move to shelter are the only way to go.

Charlotte from Peaceful Valley Says:
Dec 15th, 2012 at 12:23 pm

Judy, Sorry that your olives are not fruiting! It sounds like a good climate. I would do a soil test in the olive area A likely problem is that the olives need pollination from other olives. We now make it easy to determine which olives to plant together for best pollination

karen Says:
Dec 16th, 2012 at 8:13 pm

Charlotte, do heat units matter as well as low temps?  Here in Puget Sound area we don’t get much true heat in the summer, though we are in zone 8 and can protect plants in cold snaps…..but many fruit varieties do poorly because of inadequate summer heat…

Charlotte from Peaceful Valley Says:
Dec 16th, 2012 at 8:42 pm

Karen, I don’t have specific numbers for you, but you are correct that olives need summer heat. That classic description of an olive’s desired climate includes words like “long, warm, dry summer”. I don’t know of any varieties that need less heat. Most of the olives grown in the U.S. are in California’s Central Valley (long, warm, dry summer). Before you throw in the towel, please check with your local Master Gardeners. They will know if there are successful olive growers in your area.

candy Says:
Mar 19th, 2014 at 5:36 pm

you can try hugelkultur. plant next to or on one. helps keep the roots warm. an austrian was able to grow citus using that method. the bigger the better!!!

Susan Says:
Apr 22nd, 2014 at 11:47 am

I realize this article is over 2 years old now but was hoping someone might respond. I wanted to try planting an olive tree in a pot on my balcony. I’m in Zone 7 and my balcony is my only outdoor space. It faces North and East. Recognizing this is not ideal, I’m wondering if anyone has suggestions on how to generate warmth for when the sun passes overhead in the afternoon. Thank you!

Stephanie Brown Says:
Apr 23rd, 2014 at 9:27 am

Hello Susan,

If a cold snap is expected you can add c9 Christmas lights (the big ones not the little twinkle lights or LED ones) to the tree and cover it with a Agribon AG-50 frost blanket. You can also add gallon jugs full of water around the base and when they freeze they will let off latent heat. Maximize this effect with a frost blanket. When you add the frost blanket make sure it goes all the way to the ground so the tree looks like a ghost not a popsicle. I hope these tips help.

Jessica Says:
May 27th, 2014 at 1:26 pm

Hmmm… I know it would be ugly, but I wonder if we planted a couple of olive trees here in Zone 7B (middle TN) if I could encircle them with filled black rain barrels for the winter.  I would be so happy to have *FRESH* olive oil!

Stephanie Brown Says:
May 28th, 2014 at 2:39 pm

Hello Jessica,

You would probably only need some Ag-50 and c9 (not LED) Christmas lights during a cold snap. It might look kinda pretty with the lights underneath the Agribon.

Mike Says:
Feb 24th, 2015 at 7:53 pm

I live in central NJ & want to plant an olive tree in the ground. Can I cover the tree with burlap & tar paper along with soil at the base in the winter time. I do it for my fig tree & it survives the winters. Thanks!!

Suzanne at Peaceful Valley Says:
Feb 26th, 2015 at 5:41 pm

Here is a website that discusses growing olives in NJ, They .recommend mounding up soil around the trunks. Not sure about the tar paper. You can use burlap or even a heavy frost blanket, probably doubled, when the temperature drops.

AS Says:
Jul 28th, 2015 at 12:49 am

Is it possible to grow olive trees in northern Europe, for example in Latvia? Would Mission and Arbequina trees survive? Thanks!

Suzanne at Peaceful Valley Says:
Aug 4th, 2015 at 10:05 am

The success of your growing olives is the temperature. Since there is no USDA zones I can refer to for that area, I would suggest talking with your local nursery. Try looking on a USDA map and fine what zone most closely matches your min/max tempertures. If the zone is less than 7, then most likely an olive tree will not survive. Even zone 7 is pretty low for an olive and you must protect it from the cold.

Ellen Says:
Aug 12th, 2015 at 9:35 am

I’m in western NC, 2800’ alt, zone 6b.  I have a 14” arbequina in a 4” pot and have been warned against putting it in the ground.  If I pot it, what size/material pot and what soil medium/blend should be used?  I’m finding so much conflicting advice, and none about doing it organically.

Suzanne at Peaceful Valley Says:
Aug 21st, 2015 at 10:45 am

Ellen, I would not advise putting it into the ground in zone 6b, unless you have microclimates in your property that may run warmer. But olive do quite well in pots just make sure the soil is of a neutral pH and has plenty of organic matter in the soil. The pot needs to be of sufficient size (3’ as wide and deep) and needs to have good drainage. Hope this helps.

Pauline Says:
Oct 25th, 2015 at 5:48 am

I live in Coeburn va don’t know the zone just wonder if I can raise a oliva tree in a pot or out gets pretty cold here in the winter.

Suzanne at Peaceful Valley Says:
Nov 2nd, 2015 at 10:31 am

Pauline, Depending on what zone you live in and what kind of olive tree you have, you can grow them in a pot and may need to bring it in during the winter.

Akos Horvath Says:
Dec 4th, 2015 at 2:49 am

Hi, i am from Hungary, from the edge of the 6b-7a zones, i’d like to plant Mission or Arbequina in my garden (with some protection during the hard days), does anybody know reliable sources in Europe which ships to Hungary?

Suzanne at Peaceful Valley Says:
Dec 4th, 2015 at 4:41 pm

Akos, Sorry I do not know of any sources in Europe. I would check with your local nursery to see if they have any sources.

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