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elena_nuta

olive plant pruning

Elena Nuta
last year

hi all,
I've read so many posts on here about how to prune plants/trees to get a nice shape, and more specifically I've read so many of Tapla's posts/comments. But still, I have no idea what to do with this olive tree plant. I'm actually not even sure what my goal shape should be. I used to think plants should be left as they choose to grow lol!

Any ideas/suggestions?

Comments (19)

  • tapla
    last year

    Hi, Elena. If it's safe to assume you've been caring for your plant long enough to feel fairly secure its level of vitality is stable or on the upswing due to the upcoming summer, here's what I would do:

    The first thing you want to do with a new tree is look it over and get a sense of what potential it has in terms of eye appeal. You can start by deciding how many trunks you want it to have. I see opportunities for a plant with as many as you want because I know how the tree will respond to pruning. Conspicuous, is the opportunity to decide now whether you want 1, 2, 3, or 4 trunks. Generally speaking, trees look best if they have 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, or 9 trunks. After a triple trunk tree, the number of trunks is usually an odd number until you have 9 or more trunks. So, while there's a conspicuous opportunity for 4 trunks, I'd probably eliminate the 4 option.

    Advice - don't be afraid to prune - it's your friend; and, about now is the best time to do hard work (repotting and heavy pruning) of plants in the Oleaceae family. Pruning/pinching is how to keep your trees full/ compact/ looking healthy. Your tree confuses the eye because it has several heads competing for your eyes' attention. To look best, it should have 1 apex and the slingshot appearance that comes by way of how the trees bifurcate (form a Y) near the soil line needs correction. My approach to pruning the tree goes like this: Referring only to the last image you posted, I would prune the right trunk immediately above the lowest branch that moves to the right. That fixes the bifurcation and other potential issues relating to trunk thickness. Ask if you want to see how far forward I'm thinking. Then, the left side of the trunk bifurcates again and the 2 sides still compete for your eye because there is no clear apex. Both of those trunks need shortening, and one needs to be shorter than the other. If you're onboard so far, you'll need to decide if you want the middle branch or the left branch to be the apex/top of the tree. Either will work fine - just depends on your preference; but, where you prune depends on which trunk you want to be the tallest. Once you decide that, I'll help you choose what leaf to prune back to, because the leaf you choose largely determines the direction in which the new trunk will grow. This sounds complicated, but it's all very easy.

    Al


  • Elena Nuta
    Original Author
    last year

    Hi Al,
    Thanks so much for your reply!

    Yes this plant is very happy and healthy, I think! I've only had it for about 2 months, I've got it in a South facing window. I love near Toronto, Canada.  It lost a few leaves at first, but it has put out about 6" of growth on the main trunks, and also shot out for a few new branches, in those 2 months. The soil seems to be very well draining (lots of bark). I don't feel it needs to be repotted this year, thoughts?

    So as I stated to read your comment about how many trunks it could/should have, I thought, "great, it already has 3" but then I kept reading and wondered if maybe my understanding of "trunk" is different than yours. To be quite honest, I thought a tree only had one trunk, and the rest are branches.

    I've marked on the attached photo where I understand you're saying to prune, roughly.  The trunk that I'm showing as longest is the thickest of the two at that bifurcation. I am concerned about the quite severe lean of the tree if we do this.  I don't need or necessarily want the trunk to be vertical, but I guess I just can't see how this will turn out. As far as exact locations to cut, I understand that the new branches will come out at the leaf axil (is that the right word? The armpit?). So do we want branches to come back towards the center?

    As far as the final aesthetic I'm after, I would like something airy and whimsical, let's say, rather than a very dense tuft of leaves on a tall stick.  To that end, I think the lean mentioned above could actually be a huge bonus. A final height of maybe 5' would be nice, but I realize that's a long way away. I'll need to make sure my next house can accommodate all my current baby trees by the time they get huge.

    Lastly, I would like to put it outside for the summer but am not sure how to acclimatise it, and I'm also worried about how to bring it back in before winter.  Do you have any references for that? My main concern is temperature extremes (too cold, too hot, will the plant freak out when I bring it back in?), and also pests.

    Thanks again for all your help!

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  • tapla
    last year

    The soil seems to be very well draining (lots of bark). I don't feel it needs to be repotted this year, thoughts? Unless the tree is really robust (I don't think yours rises quite to that level at this time) It's better to prune hard one year and repot the next; or, reverse the order. That gives the tree enough recuperation time there should be almost no risk because of how the work is staggered.

    So as I stated to read your comment about how many trunks it could/should have, I thought, "great, it already has 3" but then I kept reading and wondered if maybe my understanding of "trunk" is different than yours. To be quite honest, I thought a tree only had one trunk, and the rest are branches. I had considered that approach, but that would mean the trunk ends at the first bifurcation; or, I would need to make an assumption re which half of the bifurcation is actually the trunk, then make another decision at the next bifurcation. Too, when deciding how you're going to prune a plant, there are a number of potential trunk lines. Sometimes the tree sorts out which line the trunk takes, but more often the grower needs to make that decision for trees grown indoors because of how much that cultural change affects the tree's normal growth habit. Then, sometimes I decide to sacrifice the technical on the altar of the visual. It's just going to be easier to talk about this tree as though it has 3 trunks (or fewer) instead of the 1 trunk it technically has. I'll be sure to talk in terms of branch order where I can, once your intent is known.

    I've marked on the attached photo where I understand you're saying to prune, roughly. The trunk that I'm showing as longest is the thickest of the two at that bifurcation. Don't feel as though you're locked in to the idea the thickest 'should be' the tallest. The caliper of those branches is so similar that whichever branch you choose as the longest will end up being the thickest; this, by virtue of the greater number id branches attached to it. Even if the disparity was greater, you could still easily make up for it by pinching and partially defoliating the branch currently thickest until the longer/thinner branch catches up and passes it (in thickness). I am concerned about the quite severe lean of the tree if we do this. I really appreciate the amount of consideration you've given to this exercise. I've considered that you might balk at that configuration, so let me see if I can describe what I envision for the tree with 3 trunks (visually). I don't need or necessarily want the trunk to be vertical, but I guess I just can't see how this will turn out. As far as exact locations to cut, I understand that the new branches will come out at the leaf axil (is that the right word? The armpit?). So do we want branches to come back towards the center? I envision the small branch growing at roughly the same angle it's currently growing, but perhaps a little more vertical. It really doesn't matter, because the rest of the tree will be built around that branch. The middle branch and the tall branch will be each/both be directionally pruned so the emerging new leaders will grow back toward the small branch. The new leaders will be lightly guided so one grows to one side of the small branch/trunk, and the other to the opposite side. This is so none of the main branches will seriously affect the photo load of the lower branches. The top view would look something like this, except the line that bisects the 90* angle would be the shortest/ lowest/ smallest trunk.

    So, we have 2 'trunks' growing away from the smaller trunk. To address that issue, You would prune both of the larger trunks back to a leaf facing the short branch. If you look at the arrow again, imagine the center of the arrow gone, so all there is is a 90* angle. That sort of represents the shape of both taller 'trunks'. You will have new branches growing on the inside and outside of the 90* V. You would keep the first branch that moves left, either above or below the vertex, as a visually balancing branch on both trunks. So now, you're working on the beginning of 3 foliage masses that appear to be random, but have actually been planned well in advance.

    As far as the final aesthetic I'm after, I would like something airy and whimsical, let's say, rather than a very dense tuft of leaves on a tall stick. To that end, I think the lean mentioned above could actually be a huge bonus. A final height of maybe 5' would be nice, but I realize that's a long way away. I'll need to make sure my next house can accommodate all my current baby trees by the time they get huge. To get to the 5' height, you might want to add another zigzag to both tall branches, with another structural branch growing off the outside of each angle. When the branches are very young, you can carefully steer them in the right direction by wrapping a pipe cleaner around the branch and bending/ guiding it.

    Lastly, I would like to put it outside for the summer a very good move but am not sure how to acclimate it, and I'm also worried about how to bring it back in before winter. Do you have any references for that? If you're not going to repot, you really don't need to be too worried about acclimating it. I'd put it in open or dappled shade for a couple of weeks, then put it in full sun. By then, the tree will already be back-budding, so if the existing leaves should burn or fall off 'just because' you already have a flush of foliage in the wings that will emerge pristine and precisely acclimated to your full sun location. Just be careful about watering. My main concern is temperature extremes (too cold, too hot, will the plant freak out when I bring it back in?), and also pests. It's a Mediterranean plant, so it should do well with temperature extremes. I probably would try to avoid frost when they're in leaf, and I wouldn't fertilize at mean temps >80 or <60*. Fertilizing at high temps increases drought stress and at low temps can cause ammonium toxicity. Foliage-Pro 9-3-6 would be a very good choice for almost anything you're likely to grow in a pot. The only exceptions I use workarounds for are tomato and hibiscus.

    For pests, you can spray twice at 2 week intervals with Bayer 3-in-1 Insect, Disease, Mite Control, or use a soil drench with 1.47% imidacloprid as required, just before bringing them indoors in Sep. Add 1-2 tsp of the 1.47% imidacloprid per quart/liter of water and completely drench the soil. You should use the drench 1 month before bringing it in, then again the week you bring it in.


    This ^^^ is about $10/qt/L at box stores. It will say Imidacloprid 1.47% on the label. Imidacloprid is approved for indoor use, but no directions for the dilution rate are given on the pkg. For the Bayer product, follow directions and do all spraying outdoors and allow the tree to dry before bringing it indoors.

    BTW - if you want to round off the ht at 5', the two taller trunks will need to be pruned shorter than what your marks illustrate.

    Al

  • Elena Nuta
    Original Author
    last year

    Hi Al,

    That's great, I had to read the comment several times but I think I understand most of it. Or maybe not, you can probably take one look at my photos/drawings and figure out if I'm out to lunch!

    I do use Foliage Pro 9-3-6 for most of my plants at about 1/2 tsp per gallon, but I think there are slow-release granules in the potting mix, should I be worried about over-fertilizing?

    Thanks for the recommendation about that product to treat the soil before bringing back inside!

    Should I do the pruning right away, or a few weeks after I move it outside?

    Ok on to the pruning!

    Let's switch the longest trunk then, the one I choose before leans out more so I think it would be best to make that one shorter.

    On the attached photos, blue is the longest trunk, green is the middle one, and red is the short trunk. I agree the red/short trunk should be a bit more vertical.

    The green (middle) already has a branch going back on one side of the red trunk.  Does that look like it's at a good height?  Should we keep that branch or prune lower?

    The blue (tallest) doesn't seem to have a good option as far as leaf axil directions.  I've drawn one option in blue (almost parallel to the red/short trunk) and one in purple (almost perpendicular to the red trunk). This is fairly consistent across several leaf nodes.  Which would you say is the better choice?  Also how much taller than the middle trunk should the tall trunk be?

    See my last photo (or rather, drawing), is that what you mean as far as the three masses of foliage? 

    Thank you again, I really appreciate your advice and help!

    Elena

  • tapla
    last year

    That's great, I had to read the comment several times but I think I understand most of it. Or maybe not, you can probably take one look at my photos/drawings and figure out if I'm out to lunch! I'm actually very surprised at how well you understood what I was describing. It's not an easy concept for most growers to understand, so strong work!

    I do use Foliage Pro 9-3-6 for most of my plants at about 1/2 tsp per gallon, but I think there are slow-release granules in the potting mix, should I be worried about over-fertilizing? Sort of difficult to answer that with any kind of certainty. However, the FP dose you described isn't high at all, and the initial charge of fertilizer in potting media that advertise they already contain fertilizer is usually very minimal, so I seriously doubt you'll see any issues - especially if the plant is outdoors.

    Should I do the pruning right away, or a few weeks after I move it outside? You could do either, though it would favor the plant if you waited until it's outdoors and you see it getting serious about back-budding, which it's sure to do within 1-2 weeks.

    Ok on to the pruning! Great - you nailed it. The only thing I'd change is the spatial position of the middle trunk line in the last image. Your tree will have it's best side - the angle from which it's viewed. It would be better if the green trunk was guided to the right slightly, so it's between the blue and red trunk line. It should probably be about 2/3 of the distance between blue and red, and closer to the blue trunk line.

    Let's switch the longest trunk then, the one I choose before leans out more so I think it would be best to make that one shorter. I noted you made that change.

    The green (middle) already has a branch going back on one side of the red trunk. Does that look like it's at a good height? Should we keep that branch or prune lower? It's fine to leave it as is in the image. You can always remove a branch; putting them back on is considerably more work.

    The blue (tallest) doesn't seem to have a good option as far as leaf axil directions. I've drawn one option in blue (almost parallel to the red/short trunk) and one in purple (almost perpendicular to the red trunk). This is fairly consistent across several leaf nodes. Which would you say is the better choice? Also how much taller than the middle trunk should the tall trunk be? You'll have plenty of options to consider when the plant starts to back-bud, so all it would take to change things is another pruning cut to node in a better position. Because the leaves are arranged in opposite pairs, you'll be getting 2 branches from every node, which is great for producing balance branches. In most cases, you're going to want to remove 1 of every pair of branches that occurs, except when they form a bifurcation at the terminus of a branch of the next lower order. People have a great deal of difficulty pruning jades because they get heavy branching very quickly at the top of the plant where branching is usually fine/twiggy. You'll need to do that to keep the plant "airy", which is something you mentioned.


    See my last photo (or rather, drawing), is that what you mean as far as the three masses of foliage? Yes. I don't want to change horses ...... but you could also do what in bonsai would be a mother and daughter tree.

    See how the mother tree leans protectively over the daughter tree on this mountain maple (Acer palmatum)?

    Al

  • Elena Nuta
    Original Author
    last year

    Hi Al,
    I'm so excited about all this :)

    That I understood your concept is simply a reflection of how well you described it! I'll stick with the 3 trunk configuration though, but the mother-daughter is interesting.

    I'll be moving the plant out tomorrow and probably prune next weekend. Is this it for pruning this year, or am I meant to watch it and prune as new growth emerges?

    There is one thing you said that I can't quite grasp:
    "In most cases, you're going to want to remove 1 of every pair of branches that occurs, except when they form a bifurcation at the terminus of a branch of the next lower order."
    I don't understand the "except when they form a bifurcation at the terminus of a branch of the next lower order." I think I understand that you don't want trifurcations, but what do you mean "nexta lower order?

    A couple more things...

    I've seen you say lots (in other posts/comments) that once the plant is in full sun, new foliage will be perfectly adapted to that light condition. What happens then when the plant is brought indoors?

    And would your recommend a higher dosage of Foliage Pro? I'm using that for all my stuff (some ficuses, Croton, draecena, schefflera, and lots of smaller) plants).

    Thanks so much,

    Elena

  • tapla
    last year

    I'll be moving the plant out tomorrow and probably prune next weekend. Is this it for pruning this year, or am I meant to watch it and prune as new growth emerges? There is one thing you said that I can't quite grasp:
    "In most cases, you're going to want to remove 1 of every pair of branches that occurs, except when they form a bifurcation at the terminus of a branch of the next lower order."
    I don't understand the "except when they form a bifurcation at the terminus of a branch of the next lower order." I think I understand that you don't want trifurcations, but what do you mean "next lower order?
    I meant to mention before that beyond making the effort to ensure there aren't any glaring structural issues as far as branch position goes, initially, you'll likely be doing a fair amount of removing 1 side of each opposite pairs of branches. Your tree has the same growth habit as jades and maples in that as the main branch extends, multiple pairs of branches of the next highest order will occur along that branch up to the point where the branch is terminated, which stops extension of the lower order branch. When you terminate a branch by cutting through the branch immediately distal to a node, you end up with a bifurcation. The little stub left by the terminal cut will never again be able to extend, and it will die back to the node immediately proximal to the terminating cut. You have the option of choosing to remove the through branch or either of the next highest order branches any one of the 3 branches, this, in order to control the direction the branch grows. Your pruning work will essentially revolve around pruning so every branch grows toward gaps in the canopy where light is most available. IOW, prune so the branches grow into gaps in the foliage. Ideally, you would be looking for opportunities to structure branches like so: The first (proximal) node on each branch will have either the left or right side pinched off, the next node would have the opposite side removed, and the 3rd node would have the center pinched out. So, you have all bifurcations along the branch. The image in my post above this offering illustrates how it looks/works. This recommendation of all bifurcations can sometimes be ignored in lower order branching, but should probably not be ignored in the top 1/3 of the canopy, where the tree naturally wants to expend 2/3 of its energy. You'll always need to prune the branches more vertically oriented and in the upper third of the tree, harder than the lower and more nearly horizontal branches.

    I've seen you say lots (in other posts/comments) that once the plant is in full sun, new foliage will be perfectly adapted to that light condition. What happens then when the plant is brought indoors? The degree to which a leaf can 'acclimate' to changes in photo load is limited. IOW, you can't expect a leaf that emerged under a full sun light load to acclimate to light levels in a dim corner, any more than you can expect a leaf that emerged in a dim corner to acclimate to a full sun site; this, no matter how long you allow for acclimatization. Too, the plant's ability to adapt to higher light loads is greater than its ability to adapt to lesser light loads.

    Using a 1-10 numerical example (1 is low, 10 is high light) to illustrate: If a leaf emerges where the light level is measured at 5 units, it's range of adjustment might only be 3.5 on the low side, but 8 to 8.5 on the high side. When you bring the tree in come fall, it's likely it will shed some foliage; but overall, the tree will be (or at least should be, because the opportunity to realize more of its potential outdoors is soo much greater) much healthier with higher energy reserves than if you had kept it indoors for the summer. Your tree spending summers outdoors should allow it to produce at least 3-5X the mass it normally would in the average indoor setting. Regular repotting + root pruning along with summers outdoors can produce trees with >25X the mass as trees left indoors and only potted up.

    And would your recommend a higher dosage of Foliage Pro? I'm using that for all my stuff (some ficuses, Croton, draecena, schefflera, and lots of smaller) plants). When summer temps are in the 65-80* range, I try to fertilize weekly, and I have settled on the rate of about 3.5 tsp in 2.5 gal of water, because my watering cans hold 2.5 gallons. So, I'm using about 1.4 tsp/gal or 1.75ml/ L, which is much higher than suggested. Olives are fast growers and genetically vigorous, so they should handle that dose every 4th time you water. Why not start at 1 tsp/gal and see how that goes? Did I talk to you about linking fertilizer frequency to the number of times you water and how to keep track of when it's time to fertilize, on a plant by plant basis?

    Al

  • Elena Nuta
    Original Author
    last year

    Al,
    Thanks for the explanation on branching, I think I get it. The 3D aspect is hard for me to visualize, so hopefully it will be more clear as the plant grows.

    I don't really have a fertilizing schedule... My original plan when I got the Foliage Pro was to fertilize at every watering, but then life gets in the way and that doesn't always happen, yet I haven't changed my fertilizer dosage. I was doing 1/4 tsp / gallon during the winter and I'm now at 1/2 tsp /gal. But instead of using that every time I water, that probably happens in every 2nd or third watering. What tricks have you got to make this easier or more consistent?

    Elena

  • Elena Nuta
    Original Author
    last year

    Hi Al,

    I did it!  I think the plant was already sprouting some new branches just in the last week of being outdoors.

    I have a question about pruning.  I understand that if you shorten a branch, one or more new branches will emerge at the remaining nodes on that branch.  What happens if you fully cut off a branch?  Does that induce any back budding further down the trunk?

    I also have some questions about the 5-1-1 mix, though it's unrelated to the olive tree plant in this discussion.  I managed to find pine bark mulch, screened it to <3/8", and mixed up a batch of the 5-1-1 mix.  I really like it :).

    With 5-1-1 mix, can or should I water on a schedule?  Will a wooden dowel tell work with this mix? Also, when I'm potting a plant in 5-1-1, is it okay to compress the mix?   Also, are there any plants that you wouldn't put in this mix?  Succulents, peperomias?  Actually peperomias are epithytes so I imagine they would love this mix. I guess I'm thinking of plants with very tender roots.

    Thanks,

    Elena

  • Elena Nuta
    Original Author
    11 months ago

    So we've come to the end of the summer and I realized I've been ignoring this plant, and it's grown kind of out of the bounds I had in mind for it. Should I just let it go till next summer? Or prune it now?

  • tapla
    11 months ago

    Somewhere above I probably encouraged you to do your pruning in the summer; this for the single reason that all growth subsequent to the pruning session would be tight growth, i.e., short internodes. If you prune now, all subsequent growth will be lanky due to short days/lower photo load. Pruning out of sequence ensures your composition will be composed of the growth you wouldn't want if you gave yourself the choice.

    If you feel the tree is out of bounds, do some minimal pruning now, but prune back only so far you can prune again next June, proximal to any cuts you make now ...... so you're removing the lanky winter growth. While it might not ever be important to you or the tree, making sure you keep only the tight growth affects where the plant back-buds, too. Fortunately Olea is a prolific back-budder, so that's not much of a concern, but it is for the lion's share of other tropical/ subtropical trees we commonly grow indoors.

    Al

  • Elena Nuta
    Original Author
    11 months ago

    thanks, Al. My intention WAS to prune during the summer but it got away from me.

  • Elena Nuta
    Original Author
    2 months ago

    Continuing this old thread...

    My olive plant wasn't doing so well lately and I decided to repot. It turns out I had overwatered and many of the roots were rotten, so I did quite a severe root pruning and repotted. This was probably a month ago It hasn't recovered and actually I fear it's dead for good. Is there anything I could/should do to save this one? I'll share some photos tomorrow, but any advice would be very much appreciated!

    I'm also curious for future plants in case this one dies, are olive plants more sensitive to root pruning?

  • tapla
    2 months ago
    last modified: 2 months ago

    Is there anything I could/should do to save this one? Scrape the bark and look for live tissue underneath. If it's still green, make sure the soil is damp/moist only, not wet/soggy, and tent the plant in shade. Make sure the tent is not contacting the branches or leaves as this virtually ensures problems with fungaluglies.

    I'm also curious for future plants in case this one dies, are olive plants more sensitive to root pruning? Just the opposite, in fact. Bonsai practitioners often cut large trees with bonsai promise along rail and power right-of-ways, prune them hard and defoliate, then clean up the cut end with a sharp tool before potting and tenting. Cuttings 6" or more can be rooted this way, so olive and willow are two of the trees least sensitive to root pruning. It's likely the issue your plant is dealing with is destruction of the vascular connection between the top of the plant and the root system by any of several fungi commonly listed under the heading of damping-off diseases. IOW, the disease plugged the plumbing.


    Al

  • Elena Nuta
    Original Author
    2 months ago

    Thanks, Al, it's definitely still alive, I just don't know how to promote it to root... I've done what you suggested, I hope it works, it had no fine roots left, all the roots were just very Woody. Should I have cut them to promote it to root?

  • tapla
    2 months ago

    I just don't know how to promote it to root... I've done what you suggested, I hope it works, it had no fine roots left, all the roots were just very Woody. "Rotten roots" pretty much means there is a fungal pathogen thrown into the mix, which is unfortunate as that would mean the vasculature has been compromised. Still, it's worth trying to set it on the road to recovery. The only other thing I could think of to help things along would be to apply a systemic fungicide like Tebuconazole as a soil drench. Does the plant still have leaves persisting? Should I have cut them to promote it to root? Only if you could determine that the distal ends of some or all roots were rotten, but the root could still be trimmed back to sound tissue. I'll keep my fingers crossed for you.

    Al

  • Elena Nuta
    Original Author
    2 months ago

    There are still leaves that haven't fallen off, and they don't fall off if I touch them, but they look very sad. None of the roots left are rotten, but they are just hard branch-like roots, somehow I can't imagine new roots sprouting from there.

    Thanks for your help, Al!

  • tapla
    2 months ago

    My pleasure, E. Something to consider: Mother Nature has her own pace. You cannot change it, so look to adopt it if only for peace of mind, because it will never come seeking you. Instead, her pace will impose itself on you, so why not embrace it? I promise you'll be glad to have thrown off the measured and monotonous ticking, the imposed rhythm of the clocks, and replaced it with the sense that time passes day to night, night to day, and season to season, even if that sense lasts only for a small fraction of a day.

    No need to consider it as advice - just me musing. Keep us posted.

    Al