Common Problems With Olive Trees In Pots

Olive trees are awesome – not only are they pretty and great to decorate a bare space, but they provide olives! If you’ve chosen to pot them, though, you’ve likely run into one of several problems. Fear not, though, because you’re not alone. Lots of people have found problems with olive trees in pots. And luckily, DreamyHome is here with the fixes you didn’t even know you needed.

The most common problems with olive trees in pots are pot size, improper repotting, weather, pests, watering, and fertiliser.

Keep reading to learn everything you could possibly need about olive tree care, and more!

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6 Problems With Olive Trees In Pots

This is going to be a big ol’ list – so buckle in. Below you’ll see the most common problems with potted olive trees, and their solutions. So without further ado, let’s get into it!

Pot Size

First things first – contrary to popular belief, (pot) size matters. Olive trees develop a rather expansive root system (they are trees, after all) and trying to force them into a tiny pot will do them no good. So what should you know about olive tree pots?

  • Too big is better than too small, but not by much. If you put the tree in a tiny pot, they will eventually stick to the pot, meaning you can’t repot without killing the tree.
  • Drainage is vital for just about any potted plant. If the olive trees roots get drenched and can’t drain the water, it runs the risk of root rot and other diseases.
  • If you’re planning to grow companion plants alongside the olive tree, get a larger pot than you think you’ll need. Those plants will compete for nutrients and the tree’s large root ball will make them die if they’re in a tiny pot.
  • Especially for larger trees, clay pots are great because they’re heavy enough to withstand wind. Terracotta pots also work here, though their spongy nature makes drainage slightly too easy, drying out the soil and compost.
    • Metal, plastic, and stone pots also work – just be sure to pick the right size, with proper drainage.


Potting olive trees is totally fine – but they need to be repotted regularly. The general rule of thumb is that every 3-5 years, you’ll need to upsize your pot. This means that repotting is a vital part of your growing process. If you avoid this, you run the risk of your tree’s roots strangling the trunk – which will kill the tree.

A common sign that it’s time to re-pot is yellowed, falling leaves. Additionally, if you catch roots escaping through drainage holes, it’s time to re-pot right now. If you just can’t do that, then trim the root(s) in question and put it in the agenda.

So what do you need to worry about when repotting?

  • Plant your tree so that its root ball is roughly 5 cm deep. The tree’s roots and trunk need space to expand over the coming years, so planting too deep could cause serious problems down the line.
  • Don’t use a massive pot for a tiny tree. If you put a small root system into a large amount of soil, they will retain too much moisture, killing the plant.

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As with most plants, olive trees hate low temperatures – they’re a Mediterranean plant, after all. Anything below -4° C will cause serious damage to your tree, and continued exposure will kill it – quickly. If you live in an area that reaches these temperatures consistently and want the tree outside, here’s what to do:

  • Wrap the tree overnight. This is a temporary solution, but it works. You can give the tree a layer or two of plastic or bubble wrap overnight, removing it in the moring to protect from minor drops in temperature.
  • Water the tree – lightly. This may seem counterintuitive, but frozen (slightly moist) soil will protect the root ball of your tree. Plus, a water-stressed tree will die more easily than a healhy one.
  • String the tree with lights. Not only will this keep your tree shiny and pretty like a Christmas tree, but the minor amount of heat from the (winter-safe, outdoor) lights will help keep the tree warm.
  • Do not prune your tree in winter. Pruning frost-damaged foliage actually puts the tree at greater risk. Think of it like your own body – cutting off a damaged part without a plan for care afterwords just makes the situation worse. Try to plan pruning in the early parts of spring, shortly after new growth happens, and after the last frosts of the year.

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Despite the fact that olive trees are less prone to pests than most other trees, they can still appear. If you have an indoor tree, begin by moving it outdoors – it’ll make it harder for the pests to survive with predators and weather as part of the equation. Next:

  • Pick off insects you can see to control minor infestations.
  • Use insecticide or neem oil to kill insects – but be sure to read the label and be sure it’s safe for the tree and neighbouring plants.
    • A mixture of 10:1 water and lemon juice can help here too, if you want a natural approach. Simply mist it on every other day and wash away the insects with cool water.

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Olive trees grown in pots are more vulnerable to their roots drying out than those sitting naturally in soil. The most common beginner mistake with olive trees in pots is to over or under-water them. Keep these tips in mind when watering your olive tree:

  • Olive trees should be watered 1-2 times per week. This will vary based on how much rain you get and how hot/dry your climate is. During the winter you can water only once overy other week.
  • If you’re not sure if the tree needs water, stick your finger in the soil. It should be damp, not wet.
  • Ensure your pot is draining properly. Overly watered olive trees can devolop root rot and die.


This will get a bit technical, but that’s okay! Fertiliser is super important for olive trees, and should be applied at least twice a year. Keep the following in mind:

  • Use olive tree fertiliser. This generally has a ratio of 1:1 nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium.
  • Apply fertiliser during early spring, scraping the top layer of soil off (~2.5 cm) and replace it with an equal mix of soil and fertiliser.
  • Apply additional fertiliser during mid-late summer.
  • Compost and mulch are too heavy and moisture retaining for olive trees. Use nitrogen-based fertiliser to ensure a healthy, happy tree.

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Final Thoughts

Olive trees are beautiful, hardy plants. But if you’re trying to pot them, you need to remember a few things to keep them healthy. First and foremost – it’s a tree. They don’t grow naturally in pots, meaning you need to take extra care when potting them.

Ensure that they have enough (and not too much) water and that their pots can drain properly. Remember to re-pot your tree every 3-5 years in a larger pot, allowing the root system to easily expand – and if you notice roots escaping the pot, it’s time to re-pot right away. Additionally, don’t forget that these are Mediterranean trees, so they don’t like cold temperatures. Either take the tree inside or care for it outside when frosts hit. Finally, be sure to regularly fertilise your tree – it’ll thank you. And if you’re looking for another tasty plant to pot, check out our guide to growing corn in a pot!