Heavy pruning of olive trees while fruiting
Question from Kathleen:
The condo complex I stay in started heavy pruning of all the fruiting olive tree today, 9-1-10. Is it healthy for the tree to be lose 80% of its leaves while developing its fruit? I do energy analysis and I thik the poor trees are in shock. Upcoming will be some heat waves that always hit in Sept. and Oct. How can I help the trees during these hard conditions when they have been so decimated?
Answer from Pat:
I can understand your dismay over seeing an olive tree stripped of eighty percent of its foliage. In most cases no tree should have more than 20% foliage removed at any one time. Nonetheless, in this case of olive trees, they will probably be fine. Olive trees are extremely resilient and they are able to withstand heavy pruning with no damage whatsoever to their health. In fact, these trees are customarily heavily pruned. The reason people prune hard in fall is to take off a lot of fruiting wood so it doesn’t make a mess, especially on pavement. Also a heavily pruned olive will develop a good shape quicker than one that is never pruned.
Olive trees live for hundreds of years in hot, dry climates where farmers sometimes cut off almost all their foliage. It is said that olive trees should be thinned out enough so that a bird should be able to fly right through the foliage and out the other side. This lets light into all parts of the tree. Italian farmers say that sun must fall on each olive every day in order for olives to be any good. Olives are also easier to pick if the foliage is not too thick. I think the trees you are worrying about will be fine and may look better eventually as a result of pruning. You shouldn’t worry too much. Olive trees do best in deep fertile soils but they can live fine in thin alkaline ones too. If you were to give the trees more water or fertilizer than usual this would be likely to harm them more than leaving them alone.
If you want you can (when no one is looking) go give each of the trees a hug and tell each one that you love it. It wouldn’t hurt the trees and it would make you feel good too. (I have hugged a bunch of trees in my life.) Or just go sit nearby and send good thoughts to them. I know this is unscientific, but it does no harm to the environment or anything else.