Olive Tree Trimming Tips: How To Prune Olives, When and How To Cut Branches

Georgette Kilgore headshot, wearing 8 Billion Trees shirt with forest in the background.Written by Georgette Kilgore

Gardening | October 19, 2023

Man wearing a toga and holding pruners prepares for olive tree trimming after learning how to prune olive trees, cut back olive branches, olive pruning techniques, thinning, heading, and trim an olive tree steps.

Olive tree trimming is one of the most important tasks for maintaining healthy and strong olive trees.

Literally, the entire existence of an olive tree, or any other for that matter, depends on how well you take care of it, and pruning your olive tree is just as important as fertilizing and watering it.

The trick in olive tree trimming is to know what exact part you are going to cut and when is the right time to do it; this way, the tree stays intact, able to grow happy, stunning, and, most importantly, with more fruit production.

This complete guide explains how trimming an olive tree works, the techniques involve as well the best times to trim olive branches and how to know when to choose a professional arborist for help.

Olive Tree Care: Olive Tree Trimming Techniques

Olive tree trimming is designed to increase fruit production and the health of the tree.

Noticing where olive branches are budding is one of the first things to consider.

Graphic illustrating olive tree trimming techniques, showcasing three methods including heading, thinning, and drop-crotching, each with before-and-after tree graphics to show the pruning process.

But, there are some universal techniques as well. Note that each results in a totally different type of regrowth.


This is also called a topping cut, where the focus is on the tree regaining its vertical size and, by doing so, increasing the production of fruits. So, what you do is chop off the terminal limbs or the shoots, and that should actually trigger regrowth near where you have cut.

The result? Growth that is more vigorous and shoots that are more compact.4


Thinning is a little different from heading because here, the intention of olive tree trimming is to enable it to grow healthier and better. It means chopping off entire limbs from the main to the lateral branch.

This way, you will be able to improve exposure to the sun, and there will be better air circulation. There will also be more fruit production in the canopy, and the tree will have a better shape and form.


This form of olive tree trimming is more drastic than the ones above because the goal is to reduce the tree to a smaller, maybe more manageable size.

Here, you will remove an entire leader or a main branch, and you can do this by taking three main cuts so as to avoid hurting the tree.

Preparing for Olive Tree Trimming

Have you decided to take care of your own tree? You don’t have to worry even if you are a beginner because, with the necessary skills, you can do anything that an arborist would.

It works if you are on a tight budget or just want to personally take care of your trees. It all starts with finding the perfect gardening tools.

First and foremost, you will need pruning shears, which will come in handy for chopping shoots that are about an inch or less in diameter. On the other hand, if dealing with thicker tree parts, you will have to use a hand saw or loppers.

You have to go for the high-quality equipment and don’t mind the price tag because, in the long run, you are going for high efficiency and little or no chances of disease transmission.

So it will be worth the investment. Now, how to get the pruning tools ready.

Cleanliness comes first at all times, and you have to make sure that the tools are very sharp to get clean cuts in the shortest time possible. You can use a 10% bleach or 70% alcohol solution to disinfect the parts, then sharpen them using a stone or file, that is, each time you want to use them.

How To Prune an Olive Tree: Olive Tree Trimming Steps

You may have an overgrown olive tree in your hands, and you must learn how to prune it to make it look good and maintain its health.

If you are a beginner and have never done this before, don’t panic because you can get it all done in a few simple steps.

Graphic on how to prune an olive tree showing an olive tree with labels pointing to damaged, thin branches, popping shoots, and suckers, alongside a toolkit for pruning care set on a green background.

All you need to have is the tools and the skills below:

Step 1: Chop Off the Suckers

You will start by removing any present suckers that you see hanging at the foot of the tree, check for them at the base and the main crown of leaves.3

Step 2: Remove the Dead, Damaged, Thin, and Weak Branches

You will likely spot some branches that are discolored, damaged, or generally not looking strong or healthy enough to be on the tree, and you will go ahead and chop those ones off. The tips of the branches are also often killed off by extreme cold, so trim them to make sure that what is left in the tree is only living growth.6

Step 3: Remove Inward-Facing Branches

There may also be those branches that face inwards, growing towards the middle of the tree’s crown. Not only does trimming leave the tree looking neat, but it also reduces the congestion for better aeration.

Step 4: Remove the Springy Shoots Popping Out of the Crown

Once you are done with the damaged and weak shoots, and there is less congestion in the center of the olive tree, you can now go ahead and chop those hanging from the outer part of the crown to give it a better and cleaner shape.

Step 5: Post-Pruning Care

Aftercare for your tree is also essential because it will need to hydrate, and you have to boost its growth.

Luckily, the olive is one of the most popular drought-tolerant trees, but to be safe, you should water it and add a slow-release liquid fertilizer, which should keep it relaxed and healthy as it restarts its growth.

How To Trim an Olive Tree Based on Your Needs

There are certain reasons you would want to trim your tree, and those will ultimately determine the technique that you end up using.

  1. Open center pruning:7 Do you know how many leaves are on a tree? The olive is able to grow massive, and with that comes congestion.
    As a result, some parts are affected when it comes to sunlight exposure and air circulation. So, when you get rid of the center branches and the numerous leaves, the overall health of your olive tree improves.
  2. Rejuvenation pruning: By cutting back overgrown branches, you will be able to give your olive tree a new growth spurt, which is perfect when you want it to grow bigger within the shortest time possible.
  3. Maintenance pruning: This is purely for the tree to maintain proper health and shape. It usually entails chopping off the parts that are diseases or those that look sick.
    So, you will be on the lookout for weak, distorted, and unusually thin branches.

Best Time for Pruning Olive Trees

One more thing that you have to learn about is the best timing for olive tree trimming.

The last thing you want to do is to interfere with the growth of the tree or permanently ruin it.

A landscape of an olive tree orchard with mature trees spread out across green grass under a partly cloudy sky.

(Image: lem5811)

The best time to chop off the parts usually depends on how old the tree is, the growth stage that it is currently at, and lastly, the season.

Tree’s Age

When you are taking care of your olive tree, the best time to prune is when it is still young and still has the strength to grow right back, bigger and better than it was. You intend to get rid of any competition in the form of overgrown branches that are congested in the center of the crown.

But in the process of trying to rejuvenate the tree, you don’t want to prune when the tree is in its first year of life. A 2 or 3-year-old tree is the perfect candidate for pruning,5 but if the tree is too young, pruning could lead to stunted growth.

Stage of Growth

Younger trees are better for trimming because you will be certain that the regrowth will be impressive, but what about more mature trees? Even for trees that are older than three years, pruning will still come in handy to maintain proper health and, in some cases, increase the production of fruits.

So, the right time to prune older trees is just before they start flowering and immediately after flowering, and the best part is that pruning is not that frequent for older trees, sometimes once annually will do.

Season for Olive Tree Trimming

The best time for pruning will also depend on exactly where you live and the prevailing climate in that region. You should never prune on frosty days or if the weather forecast predicts that there is going to be frost in the coming few days.

So, when is the best time based on the season? Experts always recommend olive tree trimming early in spring or later on in winter.

At least, this way, you will effectively be able to control damage caused by frost and encourage more vigorous growth when the weather is more favorable.

What About Olive Tree Trimming for Shaping?

Are you thinking about an olive tree topiary? Do you want to base your pruning entirely on maintaining a particular shape for ornamental value?8

If so, you will appreciate the fact that olives make beautiful topiary trees. Trimming becomes more important in this case because the tree is known for its fast growth rate, so you will have to be very consistent with the pruning.

An olive tree standing on the side of a road, with stone walls in the background.

(Image: KatarzynaTyl12)

Your goal will now not only be to keep the fruit tree healthy but also to maintain its ornamental shape. And for this, you may actually end up conducting more maintenance because nothing should grow out of shape with topiary trees.10

If you are skilled in matters of tree sculpting and are patient, you will be able to make the most stunning art pieces out of your olive trees.

You can even have a massive tree as a centerpiece in your garden to serve as a focal point. There are many more gardeners like you who want to have the olive as a topiary in their properties, and the most common shapes that they use are the pyramid or ‘Christmas tree’ shape.

What Are the Benefits of Pruning Olive Trees?

Knowing how long does it take for a tree to grow, especially for fast-growing trees like the olive, you will embrace regular pruning so much more. This is because there are a lot of benefits and upsides to it.

  1. For aesthetic value: An olive tree can easily grow out of shape with the branches sticking out from the crown and growing inwards, and that is where pruning comes in. Your tree will look neat and beautiful each time,1 and it is particularly important for those growing it as a topiary.
  2. To eliminate or reduce the chances of diseases: Pruning is not only recommended for routine maintenance, but it could also literally mean life and death for your tree. You have to be very keen on looking out for indicators of diseases like yellowing/browning, leaves, wilting or curling, black spots, and wounds, then chop off the affected parts before they get the chance to spread to the rest of the tree.
  3. Decongestion of the tree: Rapidly growing trees often face one problem: the branches and leaves start overcrowding in no time. This is why trimming is important because decongesting improves the air circulation within the branches and reduces the competition for resources, especially sun exposure.
  4. Improves the rate of growth: The thing about tree trimming is that it invigorates growth. So, interestingly, you will be able to make your plant grow bigger and bushier when you start trimming it.
  5. Reduces the rate of growth: While olive tree trimming helps it grow better, it is also able to limit its size when necessary. Say you have a potted olive tree and want it to stay small, drop-crotching ensures that it doesn’t grow too big so that it is easy to care for.
  6. Increases the production of fruits: One more thing, if you want your olive tree to have a higher fruit production than ever before, you may want to consider trimming it.

How To Care for an Olive Tree Using Expert Help

Sometimes, you want to do the gardening, care, and maintenance on your own, but other times, you would rather seek help from a qualified arborist.

As a beginner, olive tree trimming is not such a big deal if you are handling a potted or relatively small plant,9 but when it comes to massive trees that need special equipment, it may be best to leave it to the experts; your safety depends on it.

A worker in a safety vest and helmet stands in a lift bucket, elevated among the branches of a tree, ready to perform olive tree care maintenance.

(Image: terski13)

If this is your first time seeking a tree trimming service, here are the factors to consider.

Experience and Reputation

The first thing to do is to only hire an arborist who has been referred to you or one who has got glowing reviews online or on their official website. This will put your mind at ease, knowing that they know what they are doing and have the required expertise.


Tree care can be dangerous, especially when dealing with a giant olive tree. Severe injuries could happen, and that is why you want to look for a company that always puts safety first, not just for the staff but for the clients and their property.

A reputable company will make sure that all the staff members are well qualified and they have all the safety gear and the right tools for the job. There should also be an ISA-certified arborist during the process.2


Of course, everyone wants a great deal when it comes to any rendered service, but if this is not your first time, you are fully aware that you are likely going to get exactly what you pay for. You will avoid the extremely cheap offers, but at the same time, get a great deal.

To give you a rough idea of how much it is supposed to cost, you can use a tree trimming cost calculator for a rough estimate, which is where you can start negotiating from.

The olive tree is obviously stunning and grows fast, and the best part is that it heavily fruits. With such abundant growth, you have to be very keen on overgrowth because the tree can easily grow bushy and out of shape, and that is not what you want for a landscaping tree.

This explains why you have to learn about how to prune your tree.

Apart from aesthetics, of course, pruning also has several more advantages. It helps the tree grow faster, have more fruits, maintain better air circulation, and increase exposure to the sun.

Whether you have a potted tree or a topiary, pruning will be a routine that you can either do on your own or ask an arborist for help.

Either way, olive tree trimming may be the best and most important care and maintenance that you will ever do for your tree.

Frequently Asked Questions About Olive Tree Trimming

What Is the Olive Tree Height?

An olive tree is able to grow to as tall as 20-30 feet high with an impressive spread of as much as 20 feet. Here is why you will need to be very religious when it comes to pruning, especially if you have a small space or have a potted tree; otherwise, you may have to call in an expert for help with the maintenance.

How Do You Go About Olive Tree Trimming for Potted Trees?

Potted trees also need regular pruning, and sometimes, it is even more important for them because the tree is a fast grower that needs more trimming to help maintain its size and shape. If you are keen on keeping the tree small enough for container gardening, then you will focus more on cutting back to leave a stronger lateral shoot; this way, the shape stays the same.

How Do You Prune a Leggy Olive Tree?

If you have a leggy olive tree, you can trim it by chopping off the extended shoots by at least half at the beginning of spring and then cut back the diseased, dead, or weak branches and those that grow inwards or cross each other. Your tree will now definitely grow back even stronger.


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2ArborGreen. (2016, December 26). 4 Things to Consider When Hiring a Tree Service or Arborist. ArborGreen. Retrieved October 4, 2023, from <https://www.arborgreentree.com/blog/4-things-to-consider-when-hiring-a-tree-service-or-arborist/>

3Holland, D. (2022, May 27). How to prune olive trees: the best ways and when to prune |. Homes & Gardens. Retrieved October 4, 2023, from <https://www.homesandgardens.com/gardens/how-to-prune-olive-trees>

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5McInerney, B. (2023, September 20). How To Prune Olive Trees: New 2023 Guide. Go Tree Quotes. Retrieved October 4, 2023, from <https://www.gotreequotes.com/how-to/prune-olive-trees/#Open_center_pruning>

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7Welsh, D. F., & Janne, E. (2008). Follow Proper Pruning Techniques. Landscaping Earth Kind. Retrieved October 16, 2023, from <https://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/earthkind/landscape/proper-pruning-techniques/>

8Lerner, H.-W. C. H. P. O. T. a. S. R., Daniel, K., & Purcell, L. (March, 2017). Pruning Ornamental Trees and Shrubs. Purdue Extension. Retrieved October 16, 2023, from <https://www.extension.purdue.edu/extmedia/ho/ho-4-w.pdf>

9University of New Hampshire. (2023). The Basics of Pruning Trees and Shrubs [fact sheet]. University of New Hampshire Extension. Retrieved October 16, 2023, from <https://extension.unh.edu/resource/basics-pruning-trees-and-shrubs-fact-sheet>

10Wikipedia. (2023, April 30). Topiary. Wikipedia. Retrieved October 16, 2023, from <https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Topiary>

11Photo by lem58. Pixabay. Retrieved from <https://pixabay.com/photos/landscape-olive-tree-trees-nature-7084991/>

12Photo by KatarzynaTyl. Pixabay. Retrieved from <https://pixabay.com/photos/the-european-olive-tree-2414450/>

13Photo by terski. Pixabay. Retrieved from <https://pixabay.com/photos/arborist-pruning-worker-job-7363144/>