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Generally I think it’s brilliant that olive trees are so tough. Although we tend to think of them nestled amongst sunny, rolling hills, they are not a delicate plant, and many varieties can tolerate short periods with sub-zero temperatures. Parts of Spain have had some snow this week, and this grower posted some beautiful photos on twitter (included here with permission from Steve Race @CampdEstrelles).

It’s just as well the trees are so robust, as I am still very much a novice in the pruning arena. I’ve been pruning away, trying to open up the canopies to the light, but not entirely sure if I’m taking too much… or too little. Lots of growers have told me that olive trees are difficult to kill, so I’m hoping that the worst that’ll happen if I’m over enthusiastic is that I may put them back a year or two in terms of olive oil production. The trees I pruned in October are still alive, and have new growth, which seems a good sign!

One of the reasons that olive trees are such good survivors is because of their propensity to put out lots of suckers at the base. In olive groves that have experienced a year with prolonged low temperatures, killing the main trunks, often lots of suckers emerge from the bases in the spring. These can be thinned out over subsequent years, eventually leaving perhaps three new trunks.

Suckers growing at the base of a pruned olive tree

Lovely open canopy 🙂 Lots of suckers 🙁

So, as I mentioned in my previous post, I feel as if I’m pruning away at the top, and the trees are responding to this grave injury by sprouting away at the bottom. This is the bad bit about their robustness! I don’t want the growth there. I want the energy, water, and nutrients to go into the canopy, to making leaves and fruit up top! So I have to go round again to get the suckers off. You can cut them off, but then you might get another ten suckers sprouting from that site. The preferred method for many is to kick them off with a boot! Sounds simple? I’ve found there’s actually quite a knack to it! I still need to practice, or maybe I need tougher boots. The suckers should be neither too young and bendy, nor too old and woody. Anyway, there’s no shortage of trees to practice on… There is a neat little gadget, kind of like multiple mini-nunchucks, which attaches to a battery pack and whizzes round, apparently whipping the suckers off – pretty cool. Some groves use sheep to nibble the suckers away, in addition to low hanging branches. I’d absolutely love to have sheep here, but it’s not practical at the moment. Anyway, going round the grove kicking suckers off trees is a good way of working off any frustrations! FFx