Olive tree pruning

Whether you have a single olive tree in your garden or field, a small select production oil mill, or a large-scale production, pruning is a vital element when it comes to obtaining quality fruit and yields that allow it to be worth the effort of take care of it. Today we address the issue of olive tree pruning in all its variants.


I do not think it is necessary to explain the economic , social, and international image that the Spanish olive grove contributes as a hallmark of identity and quality. In particular (I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings with this comment), I think we still need a bit of an external outlet, to show that we are really serious and we produce an olive worthy of being awarded.

Traveling to foreign countries, you can still see on the supermarket shelves how the Italian product is seen more often. The numbers do not lie and in recent years, Spain has experienced an increase in olive production, as well as virgin olive oil . Compared with the next European oil producer par excellence (Italy) we can see the trends of recent years.

Production in tons of olives (Red: Italy, Blue: Spain)

Leaving aside this personal assessment a bit, let’s get right into the topic we are addressing today: Olive tree pruning.


With the pruning operation , we manage to direct the tree to where we want, with the vegetative density we want, the form of expansion of the crown, we restrict it and tell it where it has to go so that it gives us what we want. Pruning also helps us to balance productions (it is not always better to produce more), even to repair and restore damaged parts. Someone once said: Whoever plows the olive grove, asks for fruit; Whoever pays it insistently asks for it; the one who pruned it forces him to give it to him This quote belongs neither more nor less than Lucius Junius Moderatus (Columella for friends). Writer of treatises on agronomy, among other things, back in the early Christian era. Well, even today, that phrase retains all the meaning. Let’s see why.

Types of olive tree pruning according to the objectives discussed in the previous paragraph are:

  • Formation pruning
  • Production pruning
  • Rejuvenation pruning


The objective is clear. Form the tree . A general advice. Several studies have shown that severe formation pruning, not leaving the tree a normal development (known as Garrote), have not improved the productive capacities, unbalance the growth of the tree and the root system / aerial system relationship is unbalanced. So the best thing is a pruning respecting the free development of the tree. The number of feet will depend, among other things, on the type of collection.

One-foot pruning allows better management of mechanized harvesting. Some say that sometimes a single foot is too thick to vibrate. I think that this is a matter of experience and study because you also have to look at other aspects such as the planting frame, to avoid shading between specimens when they are in full production. The shading factor of glasses is usually quite limiting. In general, for large and intense productions it is the chosen system. Training on one foot in a free glass is the most widespread system in Spain for intensive productions. There are more formation prunings such as inverted conic, polyconic or balloon.

On the other hand we have the traditional Andalusian training pruning, which consists of pruning at two or three feet .This type of training pruning is done starting with a “matted head of feet.” Depending on the vigor of the species and its development after an average of 3 years (year up, year down), legs and branches with less vigor begin to be eliminated and the feet and better-formed branches are successively left, more vigorous and more separated. They are not pruned suddenly to leave only 2 or 3 feet. The removal and thinning of the feet and branches is done progressively over several years until finally leaving 2 or 3 feet as desired with an average height of the crosses of 1.20 m. Below in the scheme that I have worked in pencil (I don’t get along with drawing in paint…), you can see in a very simple way the evolution of this type of training pruning.

Evolution of the pruning of the olive tree to two feet


Taking into account what was mentioned in the first paragraph about the olive tree’s need to form “freely”, the pruning of production cannot be intense, but neither can we abandon them to their free will. We are going to give you some tips on what to do for a good production pruning :

  • Clean and thin branches to facilitate the entry of light to most of the crown. This will lead to better photosynthetic activity and higher and better production.
  • Keep the trunk and main branches shaded. Direct exposure will age these parts reducing the productive life of the olive tree.
  • Control productions. Cut dry and unproductive branches to make way for new ones.

After all this you will ask yourselves Yes yes, and how much do I have to prune? because a lot or a little is not saying something concrete. That is the big question. The only way to have a reference when establishing a production pruning is the so-called crown volume per hectare.

There is no magic formula or degrees of intensity of pruning better or worse. As with almost any crop, we depend on many, many factors. The variety (genetic component), the type of soil, the type of formation pruning, the availability of water, all of them influence the final quality of the fruit and therefore the volume of the cup that we must leave when pruning the olive tree. .



Regeneration pruning is essential if we want to maintain good productions for an acceptable number of years. In fact, the vecero character of the tree diminishes notably.

This is the pruning that prevents the specimen from showing symptoms of “tiredness” and aging too soon. Like any plant species, after maximum production it will enter a decline phase, a phase that can be mitigated in the olive tree in a very satisfactory way due to its self-regenerating property.

When a branch has buds, suckers on old wood, it can be a sign of decay. Sprouting these buds in a natural or forced way can give new branches, rejuvenating again and obtaining adequate qualities and productions.

In fact, it is highly recommended to maintain a continuous and staggered rejuvenation pruning to maintain a constant production for a long number of years.


If you have been attentive, you will have seen that what has been said so far are technical recommendations for productions with commercial purposes, whether on a small or large scale. And what happens if I only want to prune the olive tree that I have in my garden or orchard?

Do not worry. For things like that you don’t have to rage your brains so much. Pruning the olive tree for a few specimens does not require so much study. We give you some small recommendations that will serve you more than enough:

  • Branching height: Between 0.80 – 1m is acceptable for the trunk to begin to branch out. That may be the ideal height to start branching
  • During the first 3 years we will only prune the shoots and buds that come out below the branching height.
  • During the next 2 or 3 years , prune branches so that we have no more than 3 main branches. If possible 2 and start from a different point. In 6 years the olive tree will be formed.
  • In later years, do production pruning (removing branches that do not produce and dry).
  • Perform rejuvenation pruning if necessary after a few years. Don’t wait too long either.

Until here I can count. I want to mention that if someone with experience in olive tree pruning wishes to criticize (constructively ;-)), add or make any extra recommendation that I have overlooked, please do not hesitate to comment.

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