Choosing Olive Trees: The Hidden Truth About ‘Fruitless’ Varieties

Picture of The Green Scene
The Green Scene

Landscaping & Swimming Pools

When it comes to selecting trees for your garden, Olive trees often stand out for their beauty and multi-trunk structure. Their gray foliage blends perfectly into our Mediterranean climate, making them a popular choice among homeowners. Not only are Olive trees aesthetically pleasing, but they are also a practical option for Southern California gardens due to their drought tolerance and lower maintenance requirements compared to other landscape trees. As evergreen trees, they maintain their foliage year-round, adding consistent visual appeal to your garden.

Olive Tree outside a home in the Renaissance development (Porter Ranch hills).

The Appeal of Olive Trees

Personally, I have a fondness for Olive trees not just because of their beauty but also for how well they can be illuminated at night. Proper lighting can highlight their architectural trunk structure, turning your garden into a captivating nightscape. This visual appeal, combined with their resilience, makes Olive trees an excellent choice for many homeowners.

“Wilsonii” multi-trunk Olives in The Oaks of Calabasas.

The Myth of “Fruitless” Olive Trees

Many clients often request “Fruitless Olives” to avoid the mess that comes with fallen fruit. Varieties like Wilsonii and Swan Hill are popular choices for this reason. However, it’s important to note that “fruitless” is a bit of a misnomer. These trees do produce less fruit, but they are not completely fruitless. While a typical fruit-producing Olive tree might yield thousands of olives, a “fruitless” variety might still produce a hundred or so, depending on the season. This amount, though significantly reduced, can still be enough to cause staining if the fruit is squished underfoot and tracked into the house.

A Funny Story About Olive Trees 

I recall a humorous incident with a client who was adamant about having green olive trees instead of black ones; “I like the green Martini olives, but I never liked the black ones on pizza”. We searched various local nurseries, only to be told repeatedly that the Green Olive tree varieties don’t grow well in our area. Finally, during a nursery visit with the client, a very senior Hispanic nurseryman smiled and spoke to me, “Señor, they are all Green Olives before they ripen and become Black Olives. It even says so on the can: ‘Ripe Black Olives.'” I still laugh about this to this day. This was an amusing yet educational moment that highlighted a common misconception about Olive trees.  If you like them green, pick them early.

Managing Olive Tree Fruit

If you love Olive trees but want to avoid the hassle of fruit, there’s a solution. You can spray the tree with a growth retardant, like “Fruitstop,” just as the tree is about 30% in bloom. The proper timing of this spray will singe the flowers, resulting in little to no fruit production. This method allows you to enjoy the beauty and benefits of Olive trees without the inconvenience of fallen fruit.  Do not spray recently transplanted trees. Let them get in a full growth season before treating to reduce olives.  

Olive tree outside a home in the Westcliffe development of Porter Ranch.

Why Olive Trees Might Be the Perfect Addition to Your Garden

Olive trees can be a wonderful addition to any garden, especially in Southern California. Their beauty, drought tolerance, and evergreen nature make them a standout choice. However, even “fruitless” varieties may produce some fruit, so be prepared to manage this aspect if you choose to plant them. With the right care and maintenance, Olive trees can enhance your garden’s aesthetic while fitting seamlessly into our Mediterranean climate.

Planting of an olive tree in the Westcliffe development of Porter Ranch.

Olive trees by a pool in the Renaissance development (Porter Ranch hills).

Olive trees outside a home in the Renaissance development (Porter Ranch hills).

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