How to Care for Small Olive Tree: 9 Care Points

Imagine an indoor plant that can transport you to the sunny shores of the Mediterranean while also making your living room look like a fancy Italian restaurant. No stress -you won’t need a whole olive tree grove to make this happen! Just a little bit of space and a lot of love. With a bit of know-how, you’ll soon have a mini olive oasis right in the comfort of your own home.

After traveling the sunny shores of the Mediterranean region, I became no stranger to these hardy coastal olive trees. Not only do they provide countries with renowned liquid gold (olive oil), but they require very little effort. The thought of having an ornamental olive tree to keep in my home was simply irresistible. So, I decided to bring home a small olive tree sapling from a garden center as a souvenir.

But let me tell you, that little olive tree had a mind of its own. It refused to be just an ornamental piece – it wanted to be a full-fledged olive tree right there in my living room. It was like a tiny Hercules, flexing its branches and roots, determined to grow no matter what!

After some research, I found that there is a dwarf olive tree variety available, and I soon opted for a compact variety for my living room. This small version of the olive tree has been a treasure to look after too, and I’m excited to share the details with you!

small olive tree

Table of Contents

Do They Need Full Sunlight?

Olive trees need a lot of sunlight to thrive. So it’s important to place them near a window that receives plenty of natural light, ideally a south-facing window. This will ensure that the olive tree receives the maximum amount of sunlight throughout the day. 

If your window doesn’t face south, you can also consider using grow lights to supplement the natural light. Another essential factor to consider is the amount of time your olive tree is exposed to light. 

Unlike other houseplants that scorch in bright light, olive trees need at least six hours of direct sunlight daily. There’s no limit on the amount of sunlight these hardy olive trees can receive. Coming from the Mediterranean region, olive trees love to bask in the sun as much as possible. 

Just be mindful that if your small olive tree is kept in a super sunny spot, the soil may dry out quicker. We’ll get to the watering part next.

olive tree in corner of beige room

If you’re struggling to give your olive tree enough light, you’ll likely notice a few signs:

  • Slow growth: Photosynthesis will slow down, resulting in slow growth and development.
  • Weak branches: Branches become weak and thin, making them more prone to breaking and can reduce the amount of fruit the tree can produce.
  • Yellowing leaves: The olive tree isn’t able to produce enough chlorophyll, which is the green pigment that’s essential for photosynthesis. The leaves will turn yellow and drop off.
  • Disease and pest issues: More vulnerable to disease and pest issues. Their immune system is weakened, and the olive tree is less able to fight off attacks from harmful organisms.

How Often Should I Water?

One of the great things about olive trees is their ability to thrive in dry climates. In turn this makes them perfect for an ornamental house or office plant where the owner has a busy schedule. I water mine when the soil has dried out. To be honest, if I forget to water it for a week or two, it really doesn’t mind (especially in the winter). 

After the olive tree is fully established, you can water less frequently and just check the top 2 inches of soil or use a moisture meter. If the soil is dry and dusty, then it’s time to hydrate it.

When it is time to water, make sure you water deeply to give the roots a good soak. Let the water drain out fully, and avoid letting it sit in standing water. Olive trees are adapted to dry coastal conditions, where they are used to sandy soils and salty air. 

terracotta pot with olive tree next to books

Overwatering can do more harm than good. Root rot is a common problem with overwatering olive trees. It occurs when the roots of the tree are so wet that there is no oxygen left in the soil. The roots will turn a reddy brown color and give off a foul smell. 

Another problem with overwatering olive trees – especially when they are in a pot indoors, is leeching the nutrients from the soil. Too much water will flush out the soil. Eventually, the tree will become deficient in its essential nutrients.

Overall, I wouldn’t panic if you forget to water your small olive tree, nor if you are going on holiday for a week or two. You can water it before you go, and it’ll be in good shape when you return.

What Soil Is Needed?

When potting your olive tree, use soil that drains well and doesn’t hold water for too long. You can mix a combination of perlite sand and peat moss to improve the drainage. Use an all-purpose potting soil which will usually have a pH between 6.0 to 7.5; this is what olive trees love. This is actually a luxury soil mix if you have ever seen the native soils that olive trees grow in!

When choosing the size of your pot, go for one that is around 2 feet wide by 2 feet deep if your olive tree seedling is over three years old. They are slow-growing trees, which is why olive trees are great for containers and pots. As tempting as it may be to put it in a huge statement pot, you will likely suffocate the root system.

After getting my olive tree sapling home, I potted it into a 10-inch pot. A couple of years later, I potted it up into a 2-foot pot, and it continues to thrive. Slow and steady wins the race, as always!

olive tree in rock pot in living room

Can They Survive Cold Temperatures?

In addition to the bright sun, it comes as no surprise that the small olive trees love warm weather. They do well in temperatures between 60 and 85 °F (15 and 29 °C) and can tolerate some variations in temperature. Therefore, there is no need to stress during the winter. As with most plants, try to avoid any sudden fluctuations or prolonged periods of cold or heat.

If you want to protect the soil and trap some heat, you can add some mulch to the top of the soil as insulation. I’m sure if you keep your olive tree indoors, it will be happy at the same temperature that you are comfortable with.

During the winter, olive trees need time to rest and rejuvenate- exactly how I feel after a hot, active summer in the Med! 

small olive tree in woven basket

You’ll need to give your olive tree time to rest for about 4-6 weeks in temperatures around 50F to 60F (10C to 15C). Don’t worry if you live in a cold region where your winters get below this threshold. My olive trees outdoors have handled some bitter winters- not snowy but definitely frosty, with a max of 10 C in the day. It’s not ideal, but it won’t kill them. 

Does Humidity Affect Small Olive Trees?

When we think of typical indoor plants, we usually expect them to need a somewhat humid environment to thrive in, but not with the olive tree! In fact, olive trees can’t stand humidity. It can in fact affect their pollination and growth. 

So there’s no need to worry about misting your olive tree or running a humidifier for this one. They are quite happy to live in an average household humidity of 40%. For those of you who live in the tropics- growing a small olive tree may prove challenging. You can be faced with fungal diseases and leaf drops. 

As mentioned, high humidity levels can affect pollination, which will inhibit the fruit from setting on the tree. If you are super determined to grow olives in a sweaty, humid environment, arm yourself with some fungicide. You could also run a fan to improve air circulation.

young olive tree in wooden pot on wooden table

Do They Need Fertilizer?

Agggh fertilizing olive trees… this is something that can be taken seriously or not at all. Personally, I’ve seen the effects of fertilizing olive trees, and I can tell you that it’s best to do it.

In their natural environment, they are usually naturally fertilized by decomposed organic matter. I’m sure you don’t have that in your home, so you can use a balanced fertilizer like 16-16-16 NPK.

Apply it once a month during the spring and summer, and it will keep it going. In the Mediterranean region, they tend not to fertilize after October or before March, depending on how the summers are going. Unpredictable I know. 

many plants including small olive tree with decorative rocks

I’ve seen olive trees produce an abundance of olives when they are grown in a duck pen. On the other hand olive trees have provided a lesser yield when in a grove with no animals.

If you can get your hands on some well-rotted animal manure, your olive tree will love you for it. You can mix it into the top layer of soil and cover it with some mulch. I use straw from my chicken beds, and the olive trees love it.

What’s the Best Way to Propagate Small Olive Trees?

Olive trees can be propagated by seed, layering, and grafting. Each method of propagation has its advantages and disadvantages. The success rate can vary depending on the method and the specific conditions.

man holding two small olive trees outside

Stem cutting is the most simple and effective method of propagation with olive trees, and I will take you through the steps:

Stem Cuttings

  1. Choose a healthy olive tree with desirable traits such as disease resistance, fruitfulness, or aesthetic appeal.
  2. Take a cutting from the olive tree. Look for a branch that is young and supple, about 6 to 8 inches long, and has a few leaves on it. Make sure that the cutting is taken from the current season’s growth and not older wood.
  3. Remove the leaves from the bottom two-thirds of the cutting. You can use a sharp knife or pruning shears for this.
  4. Dip the bottom of the cutting into rooting hormone powder to encourage root growth. Tap off any excess powder.
  5. Prepare a pot with a well-draining potting mix, such as a mix of peat moss, perlite, and vermiculite. Water the mix so that it is evenly moist but not saturated.
  6. Make a hole in the center of the potting mix with a pencil or dowel. Insert the cutting into the hole, making sure that the bottom third of the cutting is buried in the mix.
  7. Water the cutting lightly to settle the potting mix around the stem. Cover the pot with a clear plastic bag or dome to create a mini greenhouse and maintain humidity around the cutting.
  8. Place the pot in a warm, bright location but out of direct sunlight. Keep the soil moist but not waterlogged.
  9. Check the cutting regularly for signs of new growth and roots. It may take several weeks or a few months for roots to form.
  10. Once the cutting has developed a good root system, you can transplant it to a larger container or into the ground.

Remember that not all cuttings will successfully root and grow. Due to this it’s a good idea to take several cuttings to increase your chances of success.

Do Small Olive Trees Suffer From Pests and Diseases?

There are a few pests and diseases that can affect small olive trees:

  • Root Rot: This can occur from overwatering
  • Crispy edges: This can be from under-watering
  • Pale, Lanky, Leggy Leaves: This could be from lack of sunlight
  • Yellowing Leaves: Perhaps nutrient deficient
  • Brown Spots, Nibbled Edges, Mold: Might be pests or infestations

Are They Toxic?

Olive trees (Olea europaea) are generally considered non-toxic to humans and animals. The leaves, fruit, and oil of the olive tree are safe to consume in moderate amounts and are commonly used in culinary and medicinal applications.

olives and jars of olive oil on table

About Small Olive Trees

Olive trees are native to the Mediterranean region, where they have been cultivated for thousands of years. They’re a symbol of peace, wisdom, and prosperity, and are even mentioned in the Bible!

Now, as for their size, small olive trees typically grow to be around 3-6 feet tall, making them perfect for those who want to enjoy the beauty and bounty of an olive tree without having to worry about pruning a giant beast. Plus, their compact size makes them ideal for small gardens, patios, or even indoor containers.

three olive trees from small to larger in corner

Small olive trees are surprisingly hardy and easy to care for. They’re drought-tolerant and can handle a wide range of temperatures, making them a great choice for gardeners who live in hot, dry climates. They also produce tasty little fruits that can be used for making olive oil, pickling, or just snacking on.

Pretty much anyone who loves the idea of having an olive tree in their garden but doesn’t have the space for a full-sized tree can own an olive tree. They’re also great for urban gardeners, apartment dwellers, or anyone who wants to add a little touch of the Mediterranean to their living space.


How big do dwarf olive trees get?

Dwarf olive trees grow to 2-6 feet and can be kept small by pruning the crown of the tree. If left unpruned, they can reach up to 10 feet.

What is a small olive tree called?

You can find a variety of small olive trees called Little Ollie. Or there is a compact variety from Tunisia called the Chemali olive tree.

How big is a 5-year-old olive tree?

An olive tree that is 5 years old can be approximately 3.5- feet tall.

Can you grow olives indoors?

You can grow olives indoors, provided that they have a full sun spot in your home. They can last up to nine years inside the home.

What is the best dwarf olive tree for indoors?

Arbequina olive trees are best for indoor growing. They only reach up to 6 feet and can be kept under control with clever pruning. Arbequina olive trees are known to produce fruit in their first year too, which is an added bonus.

Small Olive Tree: The Unexpected Houseplant

Overall, olive trees have become a popular hit as an indoor plant. Their delicate paddle leaf structure, paired with a silvery green hue, makes them a relaxing addition to your home. 

When it comes to caring for an olive tree- it is so easy, and even beginner gardeners can reap the aesthetic rewards of having one of these in their home. 

Olive trees are stunning plants. Whether you want to keep one inside your apartment or on your balcony, it will provide you with a lush, bold statement – and you may even get the chance to pick your own fruits!

Ready to Branch Out From Your Typical Houseplant Choices?

Head over to our houseplant hub, where we have all the latest info on keeping your leafy sanctuary looking its best. Whether you’re a seasoned pro or just starting out, we’ve got all the tips and tricks to keep you on your toes!

We’d also love to hear from fellow plant freaks, so feel free to drop us a line on our contact page and share your plant parenting journey with us. 

Photo of author
Alex Tinsman
An avid plant and flower lover! Ever since he was little, plants, flowers, and shrubbery of all kinds filled his life. Alex credits this fascination with nature's beauty to his mother and grandmother who were - and still are - dedicated gardeners. It's now Alex's mission to pass that same love for plants onto others and show them it's as easy as pie to bring nature inside.

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