Olea europaea — ‘Little Ollie’
Olive trees conjure up images of ancient, twisted trunks and wind-swept Mediterranean hillsides. And certainly, mature trees add character and interest to many landscapes. Those gardeners adventurous enough to plant fruiting varieties have the fun of harvest that produces a crop for curing or oil. But those who prefer to have only the tree without the fruit, face a messy annual clean-up. For the average home gardener who wants a manageable slice of a sun-drenched Italian olive grove, the solution is to plant ‘Little Ollie,’ the smaller sized, mostly fruitless version of the classic olive tree.
Olive trees grow beautifully in Sonoma County. As evergreens, they provide four seasons of interest, have agreeable silvery-gray trunks, require little water—especially once established—and the fruitless varieties, when grown in proper conditions, are generally immune to insects or disease.
Olives prefer full sun and can take high summer heat, even that reflected from pavements or driveways. Neither do they mind salt air in coastal locations. They prefer well-drained soil but are far less fussy than many other evergreen species. Their gray-green leaves are small and rigid, making a light layer of mulch when they drop and providing drama on windy days when they display their white undersides.
Full- sized olives are not large trees by tree standards but will soon outgrow small sites, and fruiting varieties can necessitate messy cleanups on patios or sidewalks. Fruitless ‘Little Ollie’ can be grown as a specimen and limbed up a bit to simulate a small tree, in which case, removing interior branches is recommended to create an open structure.
It must be sheared regularly to keep it smaller than its mature size. With or without pruning, it may be treated as a clump of several plants or even as a hedge. It may even be grown as a standard in patio containers, a treatment that depends on monthly trimming.
In shrub form, ‘Little Ollie’ is a compact plant with a round shape that grows at a moderate pace, eventually reaching 12ft. tall and wide when not pruned. Nurseries often sell ‘Little Ollie’ trained with many stems branching from the base. For tree forms, purchase plants trained to 1 -3 trunks.
Several other olive cultivars also claim to be fruitless, but most are not, some setting fruit only sporadically. ‘Swan Hill’ and ‘Wilson’ are said to be completely fruitless.