Olea europaea (‘Little Ollie’)
Olive trees conjure up images of ancient, twisted trunks and wind-swept Mediterranean hillsides. Mature trees add character and interest to many landscapes and are often chosen for character and fruit production. Full-sized olive trees are not large by tree standards but will quickly outgrow small sites, and fruiting varieties can necessitate messy cleanups on patios or sidewalks.
Not all gardeners seek out large trees nor have interest in fruiting olive varieties, and many do not anticipate the production of a crop for curing or pressing olives into oil.
- Those who prefer to have only an olive tree without the fruit do not welcome a messy annual clean-up when olives appear unexpectedly.
- 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.
- If some fruits develop, their numbers are minimal and easy to manage.
- Although there are other choices for fruitless olive trees, ‘Little Ollie’ offers a small size that can be managed as a shrub or pruned as a hedge.
- ‘Swan Hill’ and ‘Wilson’ cultivars are described as completely fruitless but they are not dwarf and reach 20-30 ft. tall and wide.
- Evergreen olive trees grow beautifully in Sonoma County, providing four seasons of interest with grayish green foliage and silvery-gray trunks. Small leaves provide visual drama on windy days when they display their white undersides.
- All olives prefer full sun and can take high summer heat, even that reflected from pavements or driveways.
- They adapt to any soil, including a rocky site, as long it is well drained. Olives are far less fussy than many other evergreen species.
- Olives withstand salt air in coastal locations, mild microclimates, as well as high inland heat.
- For the first 1-2 yrs. after planting, ‘Little Ollie’ requires a moist root ball but little water is needed once established. Both over- and under-watering will cause leaf drop.
- ‘Little Ollie’ has been known to grow less than 6 ft. but more often, especially if given summer irrigation, it reaches 10-12 ft. a few years after planting.
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.
- It may even be grown as a standard in patio containers, a treatment that depends on monthly trimming.
- With or without pruning, it may be treated as a clump of several plants or even as a hedge.
- In shrub form, ‘Little Ollie’ is a compact plant with a round shape that grows at a moderate pace, eventually reaching 10-12 ft. 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.
- Fruitless varieties, when grown in proper conditions, are generally immune to insects or disease.
- Their gray-green leaves are small and rigid and easy to clean up from a solid surface.
- When grown on a mulched surface, leaf and minimal fruit drop add to the mulch.