Pruning olive trees is an art, an acquired and learned art. Each and every person who prunes trees has their own best way, and of course it works for them. Consult an expert to help you get started or have them prune your whole grove with you. But here is some basic guidance on pruning.
Prune in the spring after the danger of frost is over, or we hope it is over.
An Italian saying is that “you should prune an olive tree so that a swallow can fly through without touching its wings”. The inside of the tree must have sun and air to prevent the branches from harboring mold and scale.
Prune from the top down or the bottom up. Either way, prune so there are no branches touching the ground, and prune so that you can reach the top without using extra high ladders. Prune so that you can reach the top of the tree while spraying for olive fly. If you have a 30 foot tree and spray from the ground for olive fly you will not reach the top olives and your spraying will be ineffective.
Remember that every branch that produced olives this year will not produce again. So protect the offshoots that will bear olives for the coming year. An off shoot is the perpendicular sprout from a main branch. A few other tips:
- Only prune less than 1/3 of any tree each year.
- Cut out the wispy inside branches that are counterproductive to fruit production. Clear the inside of the tree so light and wind reaches the center of the tree.
- Prune the crossing branches so as to prevent rubbing and injury to the branch. Your goal is to have three to five main branches from the main trunk.
- Keep your shears clean especially if you have any olive knot on older trees. This prevents contamination to other trees in the grove.
- Keep your shears clean and lubricated to help protect your hand function. Carpel tunnel syndrome or just plain aching hands is not fun.
- Feed the trees in the spring after pruning.
If you are unsure, always consult an expert, someone who has years of experience and is willing to teach you their art and craft.