by AMANDA MOON
Every garden should have an olive tree. They are so beautiful… the way their narrow gray foliage dances in the wind – and, they’re perfectly suited to our hot and dry climate. Olives are hardy, drought-resistant evergreens, and are as easy to grow as crape myrtles.
They have been in this country for hundreds of years, from Georgia to California (and in between – in Texas, of course). Originally hailing from the Mediterranean regions of Europe, they were brought over to the United States by monks stationed at the Spanish missions throughout the southern part of our country.
However, they fell out of favor for a while, due to cheaper crops and loss of labor from the many battles fought on our soil in the 1700-1800s. But in the early 20th century, olives were planted again in south Texas.
These are still thriving, along with other olive farms that have popped up all over south and south central Texas. Many are now selling their olive oil at local farmers markets – including the original, Texas Olive Ranch, as well as Central Texas Olive Ranch, out of Georgetown.
Mission is the original olive tree grown in this country, and it is thought of as an American olive. It is a hardy olive tree for much of Texas, with a relatively quick growth rate. This variety takes some time to set fruit, but is considered by most to be self-pollinating.
It is used both as a table olive and pressed for oil. Other oil varieties that do well here and produce earlier, if fruit is your objective, are Arbequina, Arbosana and Koroneiki (which helps pollinate the other two).
The Missions typically grow to a height of 15 to 20 feet, while the other varieties tend to stay smaller. They prefer full sun and excellent drainage. It’s best if you can plant the tree in a south-facing location, as they can be knocked back in extreme winter temperatures.
In 2010, the Mission at It’s About Thyme froze back a little during an extended period of below-freezing temps, but popped right back out when the weather warmed up. When temps reached the low teens the year before, it wasn’t fazed at all. Aside from the occasional die-back, they’re evergreen most years.
If you like the look of an olive but don’t have much room or desire for fruit you have to do something with, then an option is a dwarf variety called Little Ollie. It is grown as a 3-foot shrub instead of a tree, so would be a great addition to a smaller bed.
Olives are great xeric-specimen trees that require little follow-up care once established and do not suffer from many pests. The biggest problem I have had on mine (and they are still low to the ground in pots) has been from leaf-chewing insects.
Because they are usually evergreen and grow relatively fast, they’re very effective as a quick-growing screen along fence lines or to block your neighbors’ second-storey windows.
Just driving around, I am now seeing olive trees in so many landscapes, parks and backyards – and it is so good to see that olives have earned their place (once again) in Texas landscapes.
If you have a question for Amanda or Chris, send it via email to firstname.lastname@example.org. Or mail a postcard to It’s About Thyme,11726 Manchaca Road, Austin, TX 78748 itsaboutthyme.com