Fruitless Olive Trees for California Landscapes – California Tree Series

Olives Without The Mess: Three Fruitless Olives for California Landscapes

Nothing evokes the romance of the Mediterranean like majestic olive trees. Their gray-green foliage and gnarled trunks are living sculptures in the garden. Olive trees are widely used in Spanish, Italian, and modern gardens.

Fruitless olive trees in the landscape are a possible test question on the California Supplemental Exam (CSE) for landscape architects

Olive trees in the landscape. Fruitless olives do not drop the messy fruit and require less maintenance in the landscape. Photo by Seán A. O’Hara.

Olive trees also produce tasty table olives and delicious olive oil. However, there is a dark side lurking in the canopy of any average olive tree. While foodies salivate at the thought of delectable olive, the messy fruit is a major nuisance in the landscape.

Olive pollen is also vilified because it causes allergy-sufferers weeks of agony in the spring. The wind-borne pollen is light and travels great distances, much to the dismay of many sensitive people.

 

Fruitless olive tree used as a focal point in a formal garden. Photo by Olive trees in the landscape. Fruitless olives do not drop the messy fruit and require less maintenance in the landscape. Photo by Seán A. O'Hara.

Olive Tree used as a focal point in a formal garden setting. Photo by Seán A. O’Hara.

Don’t despair. Select fruitless olive trees for your next planting plan to get that classic olive look without the maintenance  nightmare of messy fruit and allergy-producing pollen.

Fruitless Olive Varieties

Landscape architects can choose from three popular fruitless olive cultivars.

  • ‘Swan Hill’ Fruitless Olive
  • ‘Majestic Beauty’ Fruitless Olive
  • ‘Wilsonii’ Fruitless Olive

Let’s get a closer look at what each of these varieties of fruitless-olive have to offer the California landscape architect.

Olive trees frame an Italian-inspired garden. Photo by Seán A. O'Hara.

Olive trees frame an Italian-inspired garden. Photo by Seán A. O’Hara.

‘Swan Hill’ Fruitless Olive

 

'Swan Hill' olives tolerate reflected heat and grow well in large containers. Photo by Swan Hill Nurseries.

‘Swan Hill’ olives tolerate reflected heat and grow well in large containers. Photo by Swan Hill Nurseries.

The ‘Swan Hill’ fruitless olive grows and looks like a normal fruiting olive but does not produce the messy fruit. Since the tree doesn’t expend energy making fruit, it grows a little faster than fruiting olive trees and can reach 30 feet tall and spread its leafy canopy up to 35 feet in only 15 years. And unlike fruiting olives, ‘Swan Hill’ only releases 1% of the pollen other fruiting olives spread in the spring.

‘Swan Hill’ olives are available in 24″ to 60″ boxes. Landscape architects can specify true multi-trunked trees, low-branched trees, or single-trunked standards depending on the effect needed for the site.

‘Majestic Beauty’ Fruitless Olive

'Majestic Beauty' olive is a nearly fruitless olive tree introduced by Monrovia Nursery.

‘Majestic Beauty’ olive is a nearly fruitless olive tree introduced by Monrovia Nursery.

The ‘Majestic Beauty’ fruiting olive was introduced by Monrovia Nursery and was the first commercially-available fruiting olive. ‘Majestic Beauty’ has an upright growth habit and an open, airy canopy that is ideal for parking lots and pedestrian areas. The foliage is olive-green above and has silvery undersides. Occasionally, a few fruit will develop on the branches, but the tree is essentially fruitless.

‘Wilsonii’ Fruitless Olive

'Wilsonii' fruitless olive trees are nearly fruitless and are useful, low-water trees for California landscapes.

‘Wilsonii’ fruitless olive trees are nearly fruitless and are useful, low-water trees for California landscapes.

The ‘Wilsonii’ fruitless olive is a genetic mutation of the fruiting ‘Manzanilla’ olive tree. This fruitless olive typically grows 25 to 30 feet tall with an equal spread. The crown is dense and has willowy gray-green foliage. Once in a while, a few fruit are produced. Growth is slow to moderate. Tolerates desert heat and cold. Vary similar to ‘Majestic Beauty’.

Growing Fruitless Olives

Olive trees are native to the Mediterranean region of Europe and north Africa and adapt quite well to most of California.

The Sunset Western Garden Book suggests planting olive trees in Sunset Climate Zones 8,9 and 11-24.

Olives grow well in the desert and can tolerate some frost. Growth is slow to moderate.

Along the coast, olives require low amounts of supplemental irrigation. Moderate amounts of irrigation improve growth in inland valleys and the desert.

Olives can be planted in lawn areas as long as the soil drains well and the tree’s crown is slightly raised.

Olive Trees and the California Supplemental Exam

The California Supplemental Exam (CSE) for landscape architects has several questions about plant material that is adapted to California’s dry climate. Some benefits that olive offer California landscapes is that they are evergreen trees, use low to moderate amounts of supplemental water, and are generally free of serious pests and diseases in the landscape. These three factors qualify olive trees as “adapted plants” under the California’s green building code (CALGreen).

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John is a landscape architect who is currently preparing to take the California Supplemental Exam to become licensed in California. He is currently a licensed professional landscape architect in Georgia and Florida. John graduated from California State University, Pomona with a BSLA degree in landscape architecture in 1997 and has extensive practice experience in residential and commercial landscape design.

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Posted in Plants, Trees

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