Are you thinking of adding an indoor olive tree (Olea europaea) to your home? Olive trees can make fantastic additions to sunny rooms, though there are a few key facts that you should know first. It's best to think of an olive tree as an indoor/outdoor tree, as this type of tree does need to spend time outdoors when it's warm. You should also be aware that indoor olive trees are not likely to bear fruit. As long as you're prepared to let your tree soak up some outdoor sunshine during the summer and you're not expecting it to keep you in fresh olives, you're sure to love having an indoor olive tree.
Place Your Indoor Olive Tree in Full Sun
Olive trees need light (a lot of it!), so you'll need to position your tree near a sunny window where it will get plenty of sunshine. Your best option is to position the tree in front of a south-facing window that gets sun for several hours each day. In order to thrive, an olive tree should ideally get at least six hours of full sun on a daily basis. If you don't have a place like that in your home, it'll be best to consider a different kind of tree or plant that requires less light.
Choose a Dwarf Olive Tree for Indoor Growing
The tiny tree that you bring home from the nursery isn't likely to stay tiny very long. Unless your home can easily accommodate a tree that's 10+ feet tall, you'll want to select a dwarf variety. Most dwarf olive trees stay under five feet tall when grown indoors, though pruning may still be required. You may be thinking that you'll just move the tree outdoors if it outgrows your ceilings, but unless you live in a warm area this isn't feasible. Olive trees aren't hardy in USDA Zones 7 or lower.
Choose a Container in a Proper Size
Assuming you opt for a dwarf olive tree or plan to keep your tree pruned to no more than four to five feet tall, it'll do best in a container that's around 20 inches in diameter (give or take a few inches). If it's very small when you bring it home, you can put it in an intermediate-size container for a while. However, you'll want to move it up to a larger container quickly as it grows so that it doesn't become root bound. Choose a container that has plenty of drainage holes and place it on a saucer.
Pot Your Olive Tree in Well-Draining Soil
Do you already grow succulents? If so, you'll be glad to learn that cactus mix is the perfect potting medium for olive trees. If you don't already have cactus mix tucked away in your potting shed (or closet... we are talking about house plants), you don't have to go out and buy it for your tree. You can use any well-draining potting mix. Use one with a grainy or sandy texture and consider mixing in some perlite or pea gravel. The key is to avoid planting in soil that drains slowly or - even worse - gets soggy.
Water Your Olive Tree Sparingly
One of the key aspects of this guide to caring for an indoor olive tree is how you water it. With an olive tree, it's important to find a balance between keeping it too dry and overwatering. The key is to let your olive tree dry out from the last watering before adding more water. Whenever the top inch or two of the soil it's planted in is dry, that's a sign that the tree needs water. Don't add water "just in case" when the top bit of soil isn't dry. That will harm the tree rather than help it.
Verify That the Container Is Draining
When you water your olive tree, look closely to make sure that the container is actually draining. If water isn't draining out of the bottom of the container into the saucer, check to see if any of the drain holes are clogged and clean them out if needed. It's also important that the container not sit in water. Once you've verified that water is draining into the saucer, dump that water down the drain (or onto another plant that needs it) so your tree's roots aren't sitting in water.
Avoid Misting Your Indoor Olive Tree
If you have other houseplants, you may be in the habit of misting them every few days. Some houseplants benefit from this boost in humidity, but olive trees do not. Olive trees do best in dry conditions, so there is no reason to mist them at all. The air is dry in their natural habitat, so that's what they prefer. Simply pass by your olive tree when you have your spray bottle out rather than spritzing it.
Properly Fertilize Your Indoor Olive Tree
Indoor olive trees don't need a lot of fertilizer, but you should at least add a slow-release fertilizer (such as Miracle-Gro Plant Food or Osmocote Smart-Release Plant Food) in early spring. You may also want to re-apply again in late summer or early autumn. Alternatively, you could opt to apply a balanced NPK fertilizer (such as 16-16-16 or 10-10-10) every two to three weeks during the spring and summer months. You won't need to fertilize your olive tree during the winter.
Put Your Tree Outdoors During the Summer
Olive trees are native to the sunny Mediterranean. Full sun through a window is fine when it's cool outside, but these trees really need to be outdoors during the heat of summer. Keep your olive tree inside until all danger of frost has passed in the spring and bring it in before there's even a hint of the first frost in the fall. Other than that, let it enjoy being outdoors during the summer. You don't have to leave it outside all summer, but it'll do best if it gets at least a few months of outside time each year.
Enjoy Your Indoor Olive Tree
If you're looking to add some green to your living space, an olive tree just might be a great option. As long as you follow the tips in this guide to caring for an indoor olive tree, are prepared to resist the temptation to overwater, and you're willing to let it soak up some outdoor sunshine for a few months each summer, you're sure to enjoy having a (mostly) indoor olive tree in your home.