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Saturday, June 15, 2013

Pruning an Olive Tree With Two Leaders

Q. I have a non-fruiting Wilson Olive tree that was planted  last fall. It is approximately 5 ½ feet tall. I would like to prune it to be less like a bush and more like a tree with one trunk and a canopy. Since it is non-fruiting, I am not interested in pruning for better olive production and all advice on the internet seems geared toward that.

I have attached some photos of the tree. Here are some questions:

1) There are two main leaders growing up in the center. I would prefer one but am afraid if I take one out it will cause a big hole in the canopy. If I removed one leader would it eventually fill back in? I understand that olive trees are fairly slow growing so I am afraid the tree would look unsightly for quite some time.
2) There are smaller branches trying to grow horizontally from one of the leaders but the other leader is in the way.
3) Since the upright leaders are already touching, what will happen if I leave both of them as is?
4) Some of the leaves have brown tips-was this just from transplanting? Not enough water?

Would appreciate any advice you could give. Thank you.

(To the readers of this blog I apologize. I accidentally eliminated the photo from this reader. But the tree did have two leaders growing from the same area and  nearly the same size. The tree was already fairly large. Each occupied about half of the tree canopy. When trees  have two leaders in the center ,co-leaders, they both fight for the same light and usually have very weak attachments to the trunk due to what we call "narrow crotch angles.. As the tree gets older, these places where they attach to the trunk can become weak and one, usually the smaller of the two, will split from the trunk. If this is a large limb then this might create damages sto property. Regardless, if it splits when it is large it will definitely leave an ugly tree! My reasoning in this answer was that the tree did not have a heavy fruit load to support so that was not an issue. If two leaders are to be maintained as the tree gets larger and limbs become heavier, it is best to drill a hole through both co-leaders and put a threaded, stainless steel bar through both and secure with washers and nuts. Make sure it is clearly obvious as the tree gets older. You do not want someone with a chainsaw discovering a large, hidden steel bolt!)

A. I really don’t think it’s that bad. I would leave both leaders. You are right, it will leave a big hole and it will be unsightly for years to come. All your pruning cuts will be to eliminate branches so remove them at the source. Do not just cut limbs back. Remove branches at a crotch. All you have to do is remove crossed and broken branches. If two are crossed, remove the one which is more offensive. If you have new growth growing straight up, remove it at its point of origin. If there are limbs in the center interfering with each other, remove one or both if you have to. Do not leave stubs.

The brown leaf tips are from a lack of water. The tree is drought tolerant but will be nicer looking with more water. I would give it about 25 to 30 gallons each time you water. Water once a week now, deeply. In midsummer go to twice a week. In winter, once every two weeks or so. Fertilize the tree now by spreading some lawn fertilizer at the base and water it in with a few gallons. Spread the fertilizer under the canopy like you were salting a steak but the guy salting it uses way too much salt and has hypertension.

I hope this helps.

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