- Growing Arbequina Olive Trees in Containers
- How To Grow An Olive Tree Inside
- The olive oil industry takes root in Southeast Texas.
- Can you really grow olives in Texas? Jack Dougherty of Bella Vista Ranch reveals his secrets
Growing Arbequina Olive Trees in Containers
Extending an olive branch is easier when you have the tree in your own backyard, but if that’s not possible, a container will do just fine. Perfect Plants has exactly what you need – Arbequina olive trees are heavy producers when mature and easy to grow, either in the ground or in a large patio container. These statuesque beauties thrive in Mediterranean climates where sun is plentiful and adapt to periods of drought once established. Best of all, you can count on a bumper crop of antioxidant rich olives. While heat and sun are necessary for the tree to flower and fruit, Arbequina is one of the more cold tolerant olives, withstanding short freezing temperatures as low as 22 degrees Fahrenheit (-5 C.).
Arbequina olives are self-fruiting trees prized for their dark brown, tart fruits. The plant gets 12 to 20 feet tall (3.5 to 6 m.) tall with a spread of up to 15 feet (4.5 m.). The Arbequina variety is hardy in United States Department of Agriculture zones 8 to 11 but can be grown in zone 7 with some protection. Even northern gardeners can grow this tree if it is planted in a container and brought indoors for winter. Trees thrive in containers for years and will even fruit in such a confined space with careful pruning. The tree is semi-deciduous, but will keep its narrow blue-gray leaves in warmer climates or when the plant is overwintered indoors.
This is a fast bearing olive tree that can produce within one year if propagated by cuttings. In springtime, the plant produces dainty white flowers that develop into the fruit. The thumb-sized fruits are green initially, but gradually ripen to purple, and finally a deep glossy black. The effect is quite enchanting during its late summer fruiting. Harvest time for ripe fruits is in autumn, usually around October to November. Harvest only deeply colored fruits, as olives will not ripen off the tree. Over time, the plant will develop a charming gnarled appearance with an aged character, while still providing heavy harvests annually.
Olive trees need little care once established. Choose a location for the potted tree having at least 6 hours of full sun and plant in well-draining, loamy to gritty potting soil. Container grown plants thrive in clay and unglazed pots that can evaporate excess moisture. Although young plants need to be watered deeply for the first few years to help establish a vigorous root system, it is best to keep an olive tree a bit on the dry side. Soggy roots can damage tree health. Prune trees near the end of winter, but before flowering. Pruning is only necessary to open the canopy, remove dead or diseased wood, and enhance light penetration. You can also prune to contain the size of the plant, but be careful to preserve fruiting shoots.
The Arbequina olive tree comes from Arbeca, Spain. It has been in cultivation since the 17th century, showing how beloved this variety of olive has been historically. In order to enjoy your olives, brine them in a salt and water solution for a month, replacing the brine weekly. Add lemon, bay leaves, or other flavorings, and preserve them in a half strength brine solution until the flavor is at its peak. Then bring out the charcuterie board and enjoy!
The above article was sponsored by Perfect Plants. The information contained in this article may contain ads or advertorial opinions.
How To Grow An Olive Tree Inside
It’s no secret that houseplants are all the rage right now. Potted succulents, hanging air plants, and Fiddle-leaf figs make several daily appearances on my Instagram feed and for good reason! They are a great way to brighten up a room and bring some fresh oxygen indoors.
Did you know you can grow an olive tree indoors? It’s the perfect way to bring life and a peaceful, Mediterranean touch into a room. Here’s how to plant and maintain your indoor olive tree:
Olive trees are very resilient when it comes to weather. They can survive very dry climates, and are perfectly adaptable to grow inside. If you’re a fan of olive trees as much as we are, then adding these beauties to your home decor is a no-brainer. Just follow these simple, easy steps to start growing your own olive tree today!
1) Choose your variety of olive tree wisely. There are many varieties of olive trees, and some can grow well over 20 ft tall, which as you can guess probably would not work out very well inside. It is best to choose a dwarf variety, since they only grow to about 6 ft tall and can be pruned to be kept shorter.
2) Sunlight is key when growing an olive tree inside. Choosing a spot in your home that gets at least 6-7 hours of direct sunlight is essential. Make sure that the leaves are not touching the glass, as they may burn up from the intensified heat.
3) Use the right soil and potting. We recommend cactus potting soil, or another sandy mix that will drain easily. Be sure to use a pot with drainage holes, and to elevate the pot so that water can drain easily.
4) If you need to transfer the olive tree from a nursery container, begin by filling the pot halfway with the cactus soil. Then gently tip the tree upside-down and tap the tree out of the container. Gently place in the pot and add more soil, keeping the tree at the same depth as it was growing in the original container.
Do you want to know more about olive trees? Here are 9 Divine Facts About Olive Trees
5) Initially water thoroughly to settle the soil. The easiest way to tell when it’s time to water again is to stick your finger about 1 inch deep into the pot. If the soil feels dry, then it is safe to water again. Make sure that you do not over water, as the olive tree grows slowly, especially during the fall and winter seasons.
6) Now that you’ve got your olive tree planted and watered, it’s time to begin fertilizing! Using a houseplant fertilizer, feed the olive tree once a month in fall and winter, and twice a month once spring returns. Follow the directions on the fertilizer for how much to give the tree.
7) Since the olive tree will be inside, keep an eye out for sap-sucking insects. You may see things such as sooty deposits, or white waxy eggs on leaves and scales, on the stems and leaves. If you notice any of these things treat the tree by spraying an insecticidal soap.
8) You may be required to re-pot your olive tree once a year, since the roots may outgrow the pot it is currently in. If re-potting is required, move up one pot size every time you re-pot.
So there you have it! You’re well on your way to growing your own beautiful olive tree right in your own home. You may be wondering if your olive tree will grow olives inside. The likelihood of olives growing on an inside tree is unlikely, so if you want to see some olives, try planting your tree outside. Take it from us, they grow very well outside in Arizona!
Will you try growing your own olive tree inside?
Let us know in the comments below!
Above: Fresh pressed olive oil. Photo: Texana Olive Ranch.
The olive oil industry takes root in Southeast Texas.
Oil comes naturally to Texas; some claim it’s in Texans’ blood. If you’ve grown up in East Texas or the Permian Basin, talking about that black ooze from the earth is as natural as breathing.
But in the last couple of years, talk has emerged about a different variety of oil—that golden green oil that comes from olives. With Texas’s range of microclimates, this ancient Mediterranean fruit is taking root here to a degree that has California noticing. Texas now ranks as the second-largest producer of olive oil in the United States. In the Houston area, a risk-taking group of growers is turning their hayfields and cattle pastures into olive groves.
In his weathered boots, spurs, and pearl-snap denim shirt, Randy Brazil looks more like a cowboy than an East Texas olive grower. Instead of mounting the horse waiting in his corral, Brazil and his wife, Monica, who run Southeast Texas Olive, stroll to the barn, grab a bottle of their award-winning oil and pose with the trophy that proves it. In 2017, extra virgin olive oil from their property competed among entries from 26 countries, winning second place in the New York International Olive Oil Competition. Partnering with fourth-generation farmers Rhonda and Steve Devilliers and their son and daughter-in-law Culley and Melissa Devilliers, the Brazils have turned their former neighbor’s 40 acres of Arbequina olive trees into an operation that produced 11,660 bottles in 2015, their first harvest. This is not Tuscany. This is Devers, Texas, 56 minutes from downtown Houston.
There’s no shortage of water for the Liberty County farm. A creek runs nearby, and with a turn of the tap, 34,000 Arbequina trees can be drip-irrigated from the ranch’s pond. Orchard trees have been planted atop rows of three-foot-high berms to tolerate the prevalence of water and to mix the gumbo clay soil. Three harvest seasons into Brazil-Devilliers’ management, these Arbequina are thriving, producing an extra virgin olive oil that’s 100% certified organic.
Above: Flowering olive trees. Photo: Texana Olive Ranch.
“Olives can grow in the worst soil in the world,” says Randy Brazil. “In the Middle East, you have rocky soil and 1,000-year-old trees in Israel still producing oil. Climate is key. If you have a 6 to 8 pH and keep the feet dry,” he says, you can grow in East Texas gumbo clay without a problem.
To help with the harvesting, the Southeast Texas Olive partners rely on an Oxbo harvester owned by Texana Brands and a Texas Mobile Olive Mill owned by Lone Star Olive Ranch. Both were designed to kick-start the Texas olive oil industry for orchard owners who can’t capitalize heavy equipment or hand-pick their crop. As the massive Oxbo harvester moves over the olive trees, fruit drops in a bin below, the crated fruit is either milled on site in the mobile mill or moved to a chilled truck.
The Texas Mobile Olive Mill operated by Lone Star Olive Ranch’s Christine McCabe and Cathy Bernell is a trailer-mounted, all-in-one milling facility for the field that can move from orchard to orchard within days and process olives to oil in the middle of the night. Since 2016, they’ve serviced 17 orchards in Texas, plus some in California.
McCabe and Bernell’s venture started 10 years ago when they purchased their 80-acre Madison County farm with the idea of becoming olive oil producers. People thought they were crazy. Olive trees had never been planted 100 miles north of Houston. No one knew what the weather would do, or if the soil would be right. It would be at least three years until the first crop if any. The partners had just come from running a cattle ranching operation. “We determined we were not ranchers,” McCabe says. “We needed to be farmers, instead.”
Before the purchase, they tested their idea in the property’s sandy loam/clay loam soil with a trial planting of Arbequina. It was a safe bet that bore fruit three years later. They also planted blocks of 26 varieties to see what would work. At the time, says Bernell, “there was no information available for our region. We wanted to find out what was going to work for us; that’s why we started experimenting.”
From that, they’ve found that Arbequina, Koroneiki, and Amfissa olives work best for their oil business. While their orchard produces small quantities of other varieties, their product consists of these three. “We have a couple of French varietals that are doing very well, like Picholine. And we have about six Italian varietals that are growing very well, but these do take a bit longer to come into production.”
Above: Olive groves in Texas. Photo: Janice Van Dyke Walden.
With 50 acres under cultivation, McCabe and Bernell have decided to hand-harvest. “It produces a better fruit,” says McCabe, “which produces a better oil. It is more expensive to hand-harvest, but the process is much more delicate than mechanical harvesting, so we’re not bruising the fruit.”
Picking olives by hand “sounds really sexy,” says McCabe, “but it’s not.” Harvest time is September, or sometimes even August. It’s hot. To beat the heat, picking starts at sunrise. “We’re subject to bees and wasps and snakes and spiders and rain. Folks come out and volunteer; they last an hour, then they’re gone.” So she’s developed a crew to get the job done. The fruit has to be picked before it heats up in the sun and starts to break down. Then, it has to be crushed and processed within 24 hours. In their fourth year of production, 2016, they picked and processed for almost four weeks and yielded three tons per acre. Three months later, during a mild winter, the temperature suddenly dropped from 75° to 15°. The freeze lasted four days, affecting every tree and killing 15 acres of saplings. “It was a very long process of recovery and hard pruning,” says Bernell, “taking back all the dead wood on the trees. It took nutritional management, trying to get them back into good health; a very long window of time to see if any survived.”
McCabe and Bernell were thrilled when, eight months later, their hard work yielded one ton per acre in a harvest that only took 10 days. By 2018, the orchard had fully recovered. “Year after year they said it couldn’t be done,” McCabe says of the naysayers, “but year after year we’re proving that it can be done.”
Just 30 miles from the coast, the orchard at Southeast Texas Olive faces different challenges. “The Gulf breeze keeps us from hard freezes in the winter, and from it being too hot in the spring,” says Randy Brazil. But in August 2017, Monica and Randy found themselves standing in water. Hurricane Harvey flooded their home and four feet of water stood in their fields for days. They had just planted 7,000 trees; they lost 4,000. 2019 will be their first harvest in two years. “Mother Nature, she can be so cruel,” says Brazil, who has income from working at the nearby Covestro plant for over 30 years and from working as a cowboy in the community, running 7,000 head of cattle on his ranch.
“A lot of people who do this, do this while they are doctors or lawyers or have an air conditioning business, but this is what we do,” says Michael Paz, who runs Texana Olive Ranch in Cotulla with his wife, Mary Rose, and his brother-in-law, Stephen Coffman, Jr. The farm has been in the family for 125 years. Cattle grazed and watermelon grew until activity slowed down and mesquite took over. Then, a well came in a few years ago, and “we made the ballsy decision of planting an olive orchard in South Texas,” says Paz.
To make it as full-time olive growers, they learned the business from those who were already doing it. They invested in the Oxbo harvester, built a mill in Cotulla, purchased a production facility in Kyle, and gradually established 150 acres of Arbequina, Arbosana, and Koroneiki olive trees. They’ve learned about other growers’ experiences from traveling to orchards in Australia, and from working their Oxbo harvester during Texas and California harvests. Since their first planting in 2012, the family has planted 200,000 trees in alternate years and formed some basic management practices that allow them to consistently produce the industry standard of three tons an acre per year.
“We farm olives. We make olive oil,” says Paz. “Lots of capital investment, lots of time investment, truly lots of blood, sweat, and tears; we’re in it too far now.”
Even if it takes two generations to turn a profit, for this group of Texas olive growers the rewards come in special forms and often unrecognized signs: recovery from disaster, improving the farm, having your olive oil grade better than USDA standards, or simply seeing, in late summer, the olive limbs so heavy with fruit that they bend low to the ground.
“I love it,” says McCabe. And moments like that are worth their weight in gold.
*This story was originally published in Edible Houston.
Can you really grow olives in Texas? Jack Dougherty of Bella Vista Ranch reveals his secrets
With the publication of Tom Mueller’s Extra-Virginity: The Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil, the seemingly benign subject of olive oil is a hot topic. CultureMap caught up with Jack Dougherty, the owner of Bella Vista Ranch in Wimberley, one of the first to plant and grow olives in the state of Texas.
Dougherty offers his insight on quality olive oil, the trials of growing olives in Hill Country and the supposed olive oil “industry” here in Texas.
What is one of the biggest misconceptions about olive oil?
Freshness is critical. But most people really don’t understand why it is important or what it is. Whether an olive oil is made in California, in Texas, Florida or wherever is irrelevant.
Freshness really has to do with a length of time after the pressing, when the intensity of what is valuable in the olive oil goes down. The integrity of the chemistries that make olive oil good for us are only going to be there when it’s fresh. And the aromatics and flavors that we care so much about are only going to be there when an olive oil is fresh.
“This is not an industry. It’s either people doing something that they think it will make them rich or it’s a passion.”
It has been said that Texas has a growing olive industry. What do you think?
This is not an industry. It’s either people doing something that they think it will make them rich or it’s a passion.
This is the most upside-down business plan. You have an insecure source of product, it may or may not be there or and when it is, it may not be of the quality you expect. And the product has a very short shelf life that begins to turn against your quality standards.
There is intense competition with low-priced import olive oils and no rules or regulations for what is required on the label. People go to the grocery store and buy a big bottle of olive oil that appears to be extra virgin cold-pressed olive oil — but that is only on the very edges what it really is.
And then there is the market: How many of the 25 million people in Texas really buy olive oil and use olive oil? Not very many. And how many of those people use really good olive oil? Now we are getting infinitesimal.
Finally, what defines an industry? You have to have a source of product, producers, buyers and a distribution system that works. None of these are in place today.
So why do you do it?
In 1994 I was going to put in a vineyard but couldn’t, at the time, because of liquor laws. I saw a reference for growing olive trees and found it interesting. I’d grown up around olive trees in California, but never farmed them.
When I called A&M to get some advice about growing olive trees in Texas, the man I talked to basically said, “You can’t do it.” That was enough to stimulate me and inspire me to say, “Hey, that’s probably not true.” I recognized early on that it would be a difficult project with a high degree of failure.
“When I called A&M to get some advice about growing olive trees in Texas, the man I talked to basically said, ‘You can’t do it.’ That was enough to stimulate me and inspire me to say, ‘Hey, that’s probably not true.'”
You get to a stage in life when you want to do something different. I worked in computers in Silicon Valley for 29 years, and I wanted a change in lifestyle.
I had three things in mind: I wanted to be able to do the things I did as a kid — go out into the orchard and work. I love doing that. When I started learning about olive oil in the early 90s, I thought it was really a stunning product in terms of all the benefits it brings us. And I like challenges and this was a real challenge.
For me, growing olives has never been about making money. It simply was the medium in which I could achieve a certain lifestyle. It was either olives or grapes… and it ended up being both.
You planted your first trees in 1998. Fourteen years later, have you proved the guy at A&M wrong?
It will take one whole generation to prove that we can grow olive trees consistently in the state of Texas — 20 years. For thousands of years in and around the Mediterranean, the statement was: If you grow olive trees, you work hard and die poor. Your kids work hard and have a decent life. And your grandkids don’t work very hard and make a fortune because they sell the property. That put’s it all in perspective.
At Bella Vista Ranch we are going on 14 years, but we are not there yet. Today, I would not stand up and say that we can grow olive trees in the state of Texas. I don’t think that will be possible to say for another 6-10 years.
What needs to happen in the next 6-10 years?
We need to go through a couple of more severe winters. And we need to have some representation of more than one or two orchards that produces more than one crop every other year.
There has to be consistency. You have to show that you can do it more than one time. You have to produce commercial quantities and the product has to be consistent in its quality. If you don’t have all those things, you don’t have a business. And if you don’t have more than one or two businesses, you don’t have an industry.
You mentioned that olive trees don’t produce consistent and high-quality fruit until they are about 12 years old. Why is this?
When fruit trees are young, their main goal is to grow and be strong. So, all of the energy that is produced through the cycle of the year goes toward producing roots, leaves and branches. When a tree gets to a certain age, which varies from tree to tree, the energy that is being produced from the roots, leaves and the structure begins to be more than what the tree needs to make it grow. It starts putting that surplus energy into fruit production and two things will occur: You will have more fruit, and the fruit will be of better quality.
“Every year we try, depending on the supply that comes from the trees, to make an estate-bottled olive oil, which is one-hundred percent grown, pressed and bottled on this ranch.”
It’s expected to have inconsistent output in the first 10 years. We have some olive trees that did not produce an olive for 12 years. It is very important to get olive trees through these early years. In other parts of the world, this is not so difficult, but here in Texas it is because of the irrational changes in temperature in the wintertime.
So tell me about the olive oil you produce here at Bella Vista Ranch.
Every year we try, depending on the supply that comes from the trees, to make an estate-bottled olive oil, which is one-hundred percent grown, pressed and bottled on this ranch. We also produce a blend of olive oil with olives from this ranch combined with olives custom-harvested in California. The olives from California are from older orchards. Both the orchards, the only orchards I buy from, are the source of my trees. I know that these olives are being grown and harvested by a gentleman that has the same quality standards that I have.
What are the challenges to growing olives here in Texas versus California, Spain or Italy?
I can’t speak for Texas at large, because I don’t know. Besides weather, which is almost 90 percent of all your challenges, you have to maintain your trees so that you are productive on a consistent basis. You need to do all the things that a farmer does: Make sure the trees aren’t damaged by insects, fungi, etc. Make sure the trees are properly pruned and fed.
This idea of being a farmer is critical. I don’t think a lot of people actually want to be farmers, but they want the romance associated with being a farmer. There is a lot of romance associated with making wine, growing olives and organic gardens.
When it comes to high-quality and fresh olive oil, what is your advice to consumers?
- Focus on identifying olive oils that are fresh. Stores like Central Market and Whole Foods will often allow you to taste certain olive oils. If you have the opportunity to taste the olive oil before you buy it, take it.
- We have a tendency to think of olive oil in its fresh form as being a consistently good product. Olive oil is a fresh fruit product and like wine it is going to differ every year. It’s an unfair expectation to think that every bottle of olive oil, even from the same producer, is going to be the same as the one before it.
- Really good olive oils are difficult and expensive to manufacture. In the truest sense, they are handcrafted products. For small growers and producer there are no economies of scale.
For more information on Bella Vista Ranch’s tasting room and gift shop, click here.
Spring’s arrival has us thinking of our beginnings. Fifteen years ago, Jim Henry planted the first of what would become 40,000 olive trees in Carrizo Springs, Texas. Texas Olive Ranch has since blossomed and grown into the largest producer of extra virgin olive oil in all of Texas.
But how did Jim achieve this? And how does our Olive Ranch maintain its founding family values as we grow?
We believe you should know the story behind everything you eat: where your money goes when you shop, who the individuals you’re supporting are, and what standards they’re committed to.
Read on to learn about our founder, Jim, and rest assured that our extra virgin olive oil is not only pure in taste but pure of heart.
The Early Years
Jim was destined to be a farmer. He smiles when he tells the story: “You know, when I was ten years old, living in Nevada, the schools made us take aptitude tests. The results of my test predicted that I should be a farmer.”
He had other plans for his life at that age, however. He worked long hours at his grandparents dairy farm in Wisconsin all through his childhood and didn’t plan to follow in their footsteps. Splitting his time between his hometown of Fort Worth and the farm, Jim developed an entrepreneurial spirit, the knowledge, and the work ethic necessary to run a farm.
He led a successful career in retail before coming back to his roots. Once he realized his true passion for olive oil, he traveled the world acquiring insights and learning from experts. He traveled extensively around the Mediterranean, to the birthplaces of olive oil in Italy, Spain, and Greece. He acquired the knowledge and the skills to cultivate different varieties of olive trees.
But realizing his vision still took some trial and error. Jim first bought land near Marble falls and Devine, Texas. The land was too wet and the climate too cold, and one winter a freeze killed the trees. This only made Jim more determined, and he learned from his mistakes.
The early foundation began when Jim met Don Delanardes, a third generation American-Italian and olive grower in Visalia, California. Delanardes became his mentor, and Jim learned heritage farming methods that he took back with him to Texas.
Founding Texas Olive Ranch
Jim learned about the agricultural history of Carrizo Springs and ventured that olive trees would flourish there. The area reminded him the Basque region of Southern Spain, famous for its Arbequina trees. He found four olive trees in Asherton that had been there for almost 100 years.
Southern Texas is located between the longitudinal parallels, 45th and 28th latitudes, that are fit for growing olives. Olive trees can grow in a wide range of terrain but need the perfect climate the flourish.
It turns out, Carrizo Springs was once known as a “poor man’s heaven” because the land was fertile and water, wildlife, and grazing land were abundant. By the Great Depression, drought hit and the land became deserted. Water all but disappeared and farming went with it.
Yet, Jim was willing to bet the land remained fertile.
While many others doubted Jim and the potential production of olive oil in Texas, Jerry Farrell and his wife Penny believed in the region’s potential. They too believed in the land of Texas.
Jerry Farrell had read about people who had started planting olive trees in Texas and become intrigued; he’d been considering starting a venture to fill his time after retiring, and investing in olive trees would be a way to honor his Italian roots and his grandparents’ farm.
The Farrells backed Jim, becoming partners, and helped his dream get off the ground.
With proper water management and the help of visionaries like the Farrell’s, the Henry family has been able to make olive trees thrive on this land. In 2009, Jim’s first Arbequina trees finally blossomed! He proved that South Texas could cultivate olives. We pressed these new olives, and the result was the truest and most delicious extra virgin Olive Oil ever produced in Texas. This was when Jim knew he had something!
Texas Olive Ranch Today
Texas Olive Ranch is now home to the largest crop of extra virgin olive oil in the Southern United States. We now produce 25,000 gallons of olive oil a year. In 2015, we expanded our business to beautiful Victoria, Texas, where 380 acres will eventually be home to a total of 300,000 trees.
Providing our customers with the most authentic and purest extra virgin olive oil anywhere remains our number one passion. Despite our growth, Texas Olive Ranch remains a family farm run by Jim, his sons Josh (“ tree wrangler”), and Matt. We remain committed to integrity and a tradition of doing things right. While dishonesty and product adulteration have become a common practice in the olive oil industry, we refuse to take part in anything that’s not honest.
We also maintain a strong belief in honoring the land of Texas. We get back what we put in. We do everything possible to leave as small a footprint as possible in order to express our gratitude. We feed our leftover olive mash to our ranch animals, who in turn naturally fertilize the orchard. Our olive oil is 100% GMO-free and grown with only natural methods, absolutely no chemicals or pesticides.
The Olives We’re Currently Growing
Currently, we’re growing six different varietals of olives at our Texas Olive Ranch. The varietals include Arbequina, Koroneiki, Picual, Arbosana, Frantoio, and Coratina.
Arbequina is one of the most popular types of olives and is most commonly from Spain. Arbequina olive trees are resilient and are able to adapt to different environmental conditions, which is why Jim chose this variety to plant first in Texas’ warm climate.
Arbequina olive oil has a ripe, pungent aroma and a fruity, peppery, creamy taste. It is extremely versatile but especially excellent for vinaigrettes.
Learn More About Our Arbequina >
In Greece, the Koroneiki is considered “the queen of olives.” This variety has been cultivated for over 3,000 years. Jim chose to transplant this grape for its rich green color and its aromatic properties.
It is smaller in size than Arbequinas and requires extra labor and love, but the high quality and unique olive oil it produces are well worth it. It has a fruity scent and a deep peppery taste. The high concentrations of polyphenols and oleic acid in Koroneiki olive oil grants it numerous health benefits.
Learn More About Our Koroneiki >
Picual olives are the most widely grown olives for olive oil production, found primarily in Jaén, Spain. They’re packed with natural antioxidants, are buttery in taste and smooth in texture. Picual olive oil shines as a replacement in recipes that call for butter.
Learn More Our Picual >
The Arbosana olive is also native to Spain. Although it’s similar in appearance to the Arbequina, the trees are smaller, and the fruit matures much later and is more robust. Arbosana trees thrive in hot climates, so they’re perfect for Texas.
Arbosana olive oil is complex and bright green in color. It has a nutty and robust flavor of strong pepper, almonds and fresh green tomatoes, so it’s especially good on bruschetta and biscotti. It also pairs well with red meats and chocolate.
Learn More Our Abrosana>
The Frantoio olive is native to Tuscany, Italy. Frantoio olive oil is a balanced mixture of fruit, bitterness and pungency, It has floral, grass, and artichoke notes with some almond and green apple flavor. It’s the main component of the famous Tuscan blended olive oils.
Learn More Our Frantoio>
Coratina is another important Italian varietal, especially common in Puglia. It is also grown in Argentina, Australia, and Northern California. Its high levels of polyphenols make for a robust olive oil that’s herbaceous and grassy with notes of green almond and cinnamon.
Learn More Our Coratina>
Hi Gabriel, your detailed question deserved a thorough answer!
In a nutshell, although average temperatures seem to allow for growing olives, the occasional deep freeze puts outdoor olive trees at serious risk.
Every few years, temperatures drop significantly, reaching 8 or 9 °F in Anniston, Alabama as it did in Jan 2018, 10°F (-12°C) in Jan 2015, 8°F (-13°C) in 2014, 9° (-12°C) in 2003. It always drops down to the lower teens 13, 14°F (-10°C) at some point almost every year. I took Anniston for reference since it isn’t too far from where you are.
Olive trees, even the hardier Arbequina variety, can cope with routine colds in the lower 20s (-4 to -6°C), but to survive anything colder like the lower teens or upper single digits 8 to 12°F (-13 to -11°C), special conditions need to be brought together:
• rather large tree already, at least 5 inches (15 cm) across. Younger trees are more vulnerable.
• no precipitations in the preceding 10 days. As said in the article, moisture kills more than cold.
• slow descent in temperature, over a week for instance. Sudden drops from 32°F to 10°F (0°C to -11°C) cause more damage than incremental low temps.
• crucial point is that the preceding months should have been quite cool to ensure the trees haven’t started their spring vegetation.
Even large olive trees suffer dearly when temperatures drop below 5°F (-15°C), losing leaf buds and twigs and entire branches.
Two cold fronts swept over Europe, the more severe one in 1956 and a lightly less severe one in 1985.
The 1956 one saw a mild December and January (temperatures barely around freezing), followed by a sudden snowstorm early Feb that brought temperatures down to 13°F (-10°C), which stayed for a week. A second cold front dropped temps down again to -5°F (-21°C) immediately after that, and a third cold wave meant that temperatures stayed below 13°F (-10°C) for an entire three weeks. That year, four out of five (80%) of all olive trees were cut down because entire trunks had died off – that was five million trees in France alone!
The 1985 cold front wasn’t as severe, but also resulted in nearly half of all olive plantations being abandoned again.
In many cases, trees cut down because the cold had killed the trunk were able to send new shoots up, so technically the tree wasn’t “killed”, but harvests were put off for around 4 to 5 years as new shoots grew and were pruned and trained.
When I saw that historical lows for areas like Anniston flirt with these extreme temperatures (I saw a record for -27°F (-32°C) in 1966 in New Market over in Madison county), I understood you’d be up to the occasional catastrophic devastation as well, if your olive trees were planted in the ground without any form of protection. If planted in containers or cloth sacs, they would be even more vulnerable because the cold would hit the roots, too.
So your horticulture store’s advice is well grounded in facts. Since you mentioned your grapevines were borderline surviving, expect the same from olive trees. What you can do is make cuttings from the twigs you prune off your olive trees and try transplanting those outdoors once they’ve grown a bit, that could be an interesting and not-too-costly experiment. But since you want to be 100% sure your actual olive trees survive, either keep bringing them in the garage in Jan and Feb, find some kind of well-insulated tent-like structure you can quickly set up that keeps temps in the lower 20s, or for a permanent solution get a greenhouse.
What is interesting, though, is that olive production increases on years that have a harsh (but not too harsh) winter. It’s said that micro-fissures in twigs and tree stems put the tree in “recovery mode” and it goes all-out in terms of blooming and fruit-bearing. This is actually one of the reasons pruning started being practiced on olive trees. So the saying “if it doesn’t kill you, it’ll make you stronger” is very true!
I’ll try to work this information into the article, so that it might not be misleading to readers in zones 7b and colder. For those in zones 8a and warmer, that extra 10°F means that olives are a welcome addition to any garden, whether in pots or in the ground, as long as basic winterizing with horticultural fleece is provided on wet, cold days!