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Often Asked Questions About Olive Trees and Olives

The Q&A below is based on questions I am often asked by people who take a tour of Sandy Oaks Olive Orchard.  If you think of a question I did not answer, email me at saundra@sandyoaks.com and I will post the question with the answer. 

Question:  Does this variety of tree produce green or black olives?

Answer:      There is not a variety that produces just green or black olives.  Olives on all olive trees start out green, then ripen to rosy, and finally to black.  Unripe olives are green, partially ripe olives are reddish-purple (rosy), and ripe olives are black.  Pickled green and rosy olives are firmer than black olives, with a more pungent taste.  Black olives are softer and have a subtle, yet fuller taste.  Olive oil is pressed from a blend of unripe, partially ripe, and fully ripe olives. For a sweeter flavored oil, the mix is ¼ green, ½ partially ripe, ¼ black.  For a sharper flavored oil, use ½ green olives ¼ partially ripe olives and ¼ fully ripe olives in the mix.  This mixture will also have more polyphenols and hence a greater shelf life.

Question:  Can olive trees survive freezing temperatures?

Answer:     Olive trees can survive freezing lower temperatures down to the upper 20-degree F range.  Some varieties can survive temperatures in the upper teens.  (See the chart to determine the varieties in the Sandy Oaks Nursery that are cold hardy) 

                  Olive trees grow well in zones 8, 9 and 10.  The lowest temperature for zone 8, for example is 10 to 20 degrees.  It rarely drops to 10 degrees in zone 8 in Texas.   Cold hardy olive trees can survive 15 degrees, but not 10 degrees.  The upper temperature is not critical, as olive trees thrive in areas where the summer temperature reaches more than 100 degrees.  Each state has a zone map.  (Show the zone map for Texas).

                  Often people will try to grow olive trees in pots in zones that are colder in the winter.  They will put the tree in the garage for the winter and bring it out for the rest of the year.  Unless your garage gets full sun during the day, this is not a good practice.  If you have a greenhouse, that is a different matter, especially if you keep the temperature in the 40 degree-range to insure adequate chill hours.

Question:  Do olive trees lose their leaves in the winter time?

 Answer:     Olive trees are evergreen. 

Question:  How many chill hours do olive trees need in order to bear fruit?

Answer:     Olive trees need 200-300 chill hours (e.g., the number of hours below 45 degrees F) to produce fruit.  Once the tree has flowered, a temperature of 90 to 100 degrees F and above can burn the flowers.  This will limit your level of production.  However, if the olive tree has fruit on it already, the higher temperatures will not affect the fruit.

Question: Can I plant a tree in a pot?

 Answer:     Olive trees have a root structure that does not lend itself to remaining in a pot over time.  The roots of the olive tree are shallow and grow horizontally well beyond the drip line of the tree.  The important roots (i.e., the feeder roots) are located in the one-foot area below the top of the soil. The remaining roots reach down 4 feet.  When the roots are confined, as they will be in a pot, they will begin to wrap around the boundary of the pot and finally girdle the tree which will kill it.

 Trees planted in a very large pot will thrive until the drip line goes beyond the boundary of the pot.  When this occurs, either move the tree to a larger pot, or if that is not an option, trim the roots back and the top to match – similar to turning the tree into a bonsai, but on a larger scale.

Question:  Can olive trees be grown indoors?

 Answer:      Olive trees require full sun.  Most houses do not provide full sun, even in front of a window.  If you have a garden room or an atrium, then the tree will grow in the house. 

Question:  Does soil type matter for olive trees?

Answer:      Yes, but the pH is not nearly as important as soil drainage.  Olives can grow in almost any soil that is well-drained (water flows downward through soil, never standing in the soil for a long period of time).  Olives grow better in rocky or sandy soils because those soils are usually well-drained.  When growing in clay or other heavy soils, it may help to make use of slopes so excess water runs off.  Underground hardpans if less than five feet below the top may create poor drainage conditions and so it would be best not to plant there.

Question:  Does soil pH matter:

 Answer:     Olive trees can grow in soils with a pH between 5.0 (acidity level) to 8.5 (alkalinity level).  Additions of dolomitic limestone may be required in very acid soils so that trees receive enough calcium.

                            

Question:  How often should olive trees be watered?

 

Answer:      After planting, trees should be watered frequently enough so the roots are kept moist, but not soaking wet, until established.  Frequency of watering will depend on soil type, rainfall and temperature.  If soil holds water, it may not be necessary to water for a week or more should it rain ½ inch.  Sandy soils do not hold water, so ½ inch of rain buys you only a few days of not watering.

                  Usually, if the soil holds water, the best way to judge whether to water is to check to see if the soil is wet down to 12 inches.  If dry, water.  In sandy soil, the trees need to be watered more frequently, especially when hot.  My orchard is planted in sandy soil.  I need to water in the summertime, between two to three times a week.  Watering in soils that are primarily clay based is usually necessary only in really dry periods.

                  Just looking at the tree to see if it needs watering is not a good way to judge if a tree needs more water.  An olive tree looks wilted when it does not have enough water and when it is overwatered.  The best way to judge is by testing the soil to see if it is dry 12 inches below the top of the soil.

                  Warning:  Do not overwater olive trees, they do not like wet feet!

Question:  Is Irrigation really necessary, after all they do grow in the desert?

 

                  Although olive trees are drought tolerant, an irrigation system is really necessary for several reasons:

  1. To insure consistent production. Though trees are not irrigated in some parts of the world, they do not produce on a commercial basis.  The production varies from year to year depending on the amount of rainfall per year.
  2. To preserve the fruit on the tree. When the trees are laden with fruit, trees that dry out will go into self-preservation mode.  They will drop the fruit first and then begin to defoliate.
  3. To protect the tree during a cold front. In the winter, when a cold front is predicted, the best way to protect the trees from damage is to irrigate them thoroughly before the cold front moves in.  You might still have tip burn on the limbs of the tree, but the roots will survive and the tree as well.

Question:  Can you diminish production by overwatering the last two months before harvest?

 

 

Answer:     The meat of the olive is composed of water and oil.  In some parts of the world, farmers will cut back on watering a few months before the harvest to increase the amount of oil in the olive.  We cannot do that in Texas, because our summers are very hot and often very dry.  Therefore, in order to preserve the fruit, we water until harvest.

Question:  How often should trees be fertilized?

 

Answer:     Olive trees do not require heavy fertilization compared to other fruit trees.  Trees grown in sandy soils require more fertilizer than those grown in soils with more clay in them.  Fertilizer labels usually have three hyphenated numbers (e.g., 4-3-3).  These numbers represent the level of the macronutrients N (nitrogen), P (phosphorous), K (potassium) in the fertilizer.  Nitrogen is required for leaf and stem growth and is needed in greater quantity for young trees in the first few years to help them establish.  Phosphorous and potassium are essential for flowering and fruiting.  The macronutrients, as well as micronutrients and trace minerals are required for the olive tree.  At Sandy Oaks, we use organic fertilizers that provide nutrients in liquid and solid form.  Our go to fertilizer is a combination of liquid seaweed and fish emulsion. We use the following list of fertilizers depending on the needs of the tree: 

  • Fish emulsion is a fast-acting organic fertilizer that is rich in nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, plus micronutrients and trace elements such as calcium, magnesium, sulfur, chorine, and sodium.
  • Liquid Seaweed contains the three major nutrients, but it also contains a vast array of trace minerals. It improves the productivity and overall health of the olive tree.
  • Bat Guano or Chicken Litter are good sources of nitrogen, especially bat guano
  • Chicken Litter returns nutrients and fertility to the soil. It contains all of the macronutrients plus calcium, magnesium, sulfur, and many micronutrients.
  • Alfalfa Tea contains many macro and micronutrients, but more importantly it feeds beneficial soil organisms as well. It also contains a growth hormone, tricontanol.  It can increase the tolerance for cold.
  • Azomite is used to improve depleted soils. It is a natural source of micronutrients and trace elements.
  • Worm Castings help plants absorb the nutrients in the soil. They contain humic acid which stimulates plant growth.
  • Humic Acid is a plant stimulator because it helps trees absorb more nutrients. It like seaweed encourages strong root development.
  • Boron is necessary for fruit production in deficient soils. We apply it as a foliar spray once at the end of January and again at the end of February before flowering.

Question:  Do olive trees need another tree to be pollinated?

 

Answer:     Many olive trees are self-fertile, i.e., they fruit by planting only one tree.  However, there are some trees that are self-sterile or partially self-fertile.  In this case another variety is needed to produce fruit. Orchards benefit from planting at least three varieties to improve cross-pollination.  This can improve production by at least 10%.

Question:  How does pollination occur?

 

Answer:     Olive tree pollen is carried by the wind.  Bees are not necessary to insure pollination.  The pollination period lasts for about two weeks.

Question:  What is the season in Texas for olive production?

 

Answer:     The season begins in late February or early March when fruiting shoots, inflorescences, occur.  These occur at the axil of the leaf.  An inflorescence can contain 15 to 30 flowers.  The inflorescences after about 10 days to two weeks become flowers.  After the pollination period of 10 days to 2 weeks, the flowers drop and behind about ¼  of the flowers there will be a small olive.  The olive will grow on the tree for about 6 months until harvest time.  (Show picture of Stages)

From the end of February through the middle of March, the olives trees begin to bud. 

Flowers emerge from the buds and are on the tree for about 10 days. The trees are wind pollinated. Flowers drop and a small olive is formed.

Olives continue to grow for five to six months changing from green to rosy to black.

In Texas, the harvest season is from late August through October.

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Question:  What are shot berries?

 

Answer:     Sometimes olive trees will produce tiny fruit that isn’t pollinated, called shot berries. 

 

  • This can occur when they did not receive enough water.
  • Another reason is that they do not have a pollinator.
  • Weather can affect the pollination. If it rains too much when the trees are being pollinated the pollen might be trapped in the flower.
  • There may be a deficiency of boron in the soil. Boron helps the fruit to set.

Question:  What determines the size of the olive?

 

Answer:     The variety of the tree determines the size of the olive.  Olives range in size from extremely small to the size of a quail egg.  Size does not determine flavor.  Bigger in this case is not necessarily better.  

 

 

Range of sizes

Question:  When is the best time to prune olive trees?

 

Answer:      The best time to prune an olive tree to reshape it is in the spring, after there is no longer any danger of frost.  The olive tree at this time can be opened up so that it resembles a vase shape to allow the sun to reach all of the branches of the tree and to allow pollination to flow freely.  Some branches cross other branches as the tree grows.  You will need to select one branch that crosses the other branch and remove it as it will rub against the other branch as the tree grows. When shaping the tree, or hard pruning, as it is sometimes called, prune no more than 1/4th of the tree at a time.  This means that a tree may have to be pruned over several years if it needs significant shaping.                                           

 

You can prune suckers and dead branches from the tree at any time of the year.  If you buy your tree from Sandy Oaks Olive Nursery, it has been shaped for you and you will not need to prune it, except for suckers, for a few years.

 

Suckers grow at the base of the tree and will take over the tree, preventing nutrients from reaching the top of the tree if left on the tree.  Therefore, it is important to remove these low growing branches.  We prune our trees in the orchard so that the canopy starts about three to four feet above the ground. 

 

 

 

Question:  Are olives propagated from seed?

 

Answer:     Olive trees can be propagated from seed, but the resulting tree is characterized by a very long period before it begins to produce, i.e. a long period of juvenility.  Professional olive growers, propagate by using two and three-year old wood cuttings to produce new trees.  This achieves uniformity, quality and early production.

 

 

 

Question:  How tall do olive trees grow?

 

Answer:     About 15+ to 20+ feet, depending on the variety.  Trees can be topped to keep their growth within the desired height for picking.  If you see centuries old trees, the trunk will be huge, but the trees will often have a few branches and not be that tall.

                  This is because they have been topped over the centuries so that they can be easily harvested.

 

Question:  How fast do olive trees grow?

 

Answer:     Olive trees grow at varying rates depending on the variety, if they are watered and if they are fertilized.  All things being equal, they grow about 18 inches to 24 inches a year.  Production occurs in the last 12 to 24 inches of last year’s growth.

 

Question:  When is the best time to plant a tree?

 

Answer:     Spring is usually the best time to plant a tree.  But they can be planted in other months of the year, except for the winter months.  If you choose to plant in the summer, plant in the early morning before it becomes too hot.  Fill the hole with water, let it drain so the hole is muddy.  Plant the tree, water thoroughly.  Water every day for the next week and then begin to gradually level off so that you water only when the soil becomes dry.

 

Question: What pests do olive trees have in Texas and how are they treated?

 

Answer:     There are several insect pests that affect olives in Texas.   

 

  • Web Worms During February web worms will appear weaving webs that encase the tips of the tree. This can affect pollination.  The trees should be sprayed with BT (Bacillus Thuringiensis) which kills web worms.
  • Scale  Another pest is scale.  It resembles a black tick on the bark of the tree.  This usually occurs when circulation between trees is poor.  It thrives in warm dry climates.  One scale can reproduce 30,000 scales.  If left on the tree, it will develop black sooty mold.  We mix water, seaweed, olive oil, cloves and insecticidal soap in a spray bottle and spray the trees with this mixture.
  • Leaf Cutter Ants are prevalent in sandy soils. We have not found a pesticide that will kill them outright, so we just have to manage them.  We use a mixture of copper sulfide and boron.  We spray their main nest and auxiliary nests with this solution.  This seems to slow them down. 
  • Cotton Root Rot Some soils are infested with Cotton Root Rot. Trees will not thrive in soils infested with this fungus.
  • Verticillium Wilt is another soil born fungus that affects the olive tree. Verticillium wilt lives in the soil for years.  An infected tree will have whole branches of the tree die off.  It can be treated by watering regularly and fertilizing with a low-nitrogen, high-phosphorous fertilizer.
  • Anthracnose Nose is a fungal disease that affects olives. The fungus forms a large brown spot on the olive and renders it useless for oil or the table.  Spray the trees with copper about three times spread over 6 months when the olives are maturing on the tree, to control this fungus.

 

Question:  How many olives will an olive tree produce when mature?

 

Answer:     An olive tree will give mature production in about five years from when first production occurs.  On average a mature olive tree will produce between 35-45 pounds of olives.  This is about ½ to ¾ of a gallon of olive oil.  It takes about 57 to 70 pounds of olive to produce a gallon of olive oil.

 

Question:  Are some olive better for oil than others?

 

Answer:     The meat of the olive is comprised of oil and water.  Some olives contain a high oil content and these are preferred for oil, because it takes fewer olives to make oil than an olive that has a greater water content.  However, even though the oil content is high, these can still be brined to make table olives.  In this case, they are classified as dual-purpose olives.

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Tree Planting Tips

Tree Planting Tips & Care

Tree Planting Tips 

  • Olive Trees have shallow roots and should be planted so that the roots grow one foot below the soil.  Olive tree roots, unlike most trees, grow horizontally.  At the point on the trunk just above the roots, the trunk flares.  This is called the root flare and should be level with the ground when you plant the trees.  Look to trees in nature for your guide.
  • Wet the soil thoroughly where you are planting the tree. 
  • Dig a jagged hole, no larger or deeper than the size of the pot the tree is in.  If you have mycorrhiza fungi (can be purchased on line or at a really good nursery) throw a handful in the bottom of the hole before putting the tree in the hole.  Mycorrhiza fungi attach to the roots and enable the roots to mine the soil more effectively for nutrients.  This in turn results in a healthy tree better able to deal with stresses in the environment.  No other amendments to the soil are recommended.  It is best for the tree to grow in the soil that it will remain in.
  • Place the tree into the hole, fill with soil and press the soil gently around the tree to make sure there are no air pockets in the hole.
  • Water the tree thoroughly once it is planted.  If you see bubbles as you water, this indicates the tree has air pockets and you may need to add a bit more soil and pat it down again, still leaving the root flare level with the soil. 
  • As you water the tree for the next few weeks, check the soil with your finger to make sure the soil dries out between watering.  When the soil is dry about 3-5 inches below the top of the soil, WATER.
  • If you are planting the tree during the summer months be sure to plant your tree early in the day while it is still in the 70s to 80s.  You will be happier at that temperature and so will the tree.

Tree Care Once It Is Planted

  • Once the tree is in the ground fertilize to stimulate root development with a mixture of seaweed, fish emulsion and a drop of Super Thrive.  There are products that are premixed with this blend.  Medina Hastagro is one of these products.
  • It is also a good idea to top dress the tree with some form of aged manure.  At Sandy Oaks we use chicken litter.  Five pounds per tree is a good amount to use.  Scatter this along the drip line, not next to the trunk of the tree.
  • At the orchard, we top dress once a year and fertilize with the seaweed/fish emulsion mix every two weeks.
  • During the end of January and February, we fertilize using boron and manure to promote fruit growth and set.  Boron should be used only if your soil is lacking this nutrient. 

Tree Guarantee

  • Sandy Oaks does not offer returns or exchanges of trees.
  • Once trees leave Sandy Oaks, we do not have the ability to guarantee that the weather, plant predators, airborne plant diseases, soil diseases, the appropriateness of soil selected to plant the trees, or the care they receive will ensure that the trees selected will thrive or survive.  It is up to the individual gardener or farmer to pay attention to their trees’ needs and problems as they arise.
  • What we can do is supply you with healthy trees that have received our tender-loving care, are correctly identified as far as their variety, instructions for care and planting of the specific trees, and advise to help each tree do its best in its new home.  Once trees leave our nursery, we can take no responsibility for the health and lifespan of the trees, including whether they produce fruit or not.
  • Trees that are bought by our customers hold a huge and wonderful potential to bring life, beauty and inspiration to not only the landscape but to the gardener as well and will only come into their full glory if properly cared for.
  • Our trees are packaged and shipped with extreme care and loving concern for the trees and their new parent.  Sometimes, however, the shipper does not show the same level of concern.  If you receive trees that have been damaged in transit, you must contact us immediately and send a photograph of the shipping box and the condition of the plants when you received them.  We cannot help you unless you follow these steps and do so immediately.  If you wait beyond two weeks, then we will not replace the trees.  Moreover, if we judge that the trees were fine when you received them, but for some reason have not thrived under your care, we will not replace the trees.

For More Information, visit us at sandyoaks.com or call 210-621-0044

HOW TO BRINE OLIVES

Look for the recipe to brine olives under the Kitchen at Sandy Oaks.

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From Frost to Recovery: The winter season of 2016-2017

COLD SINKS

That’s what we learned from observation this year. We watched temperatures wildly fluctuate, punctuated by damaging cold snaps. The trees planted in the lowest part of the orchard were the most damaged. That’s why our new motto is “plant high.” We advise everyone in Texas to plant olive trees on the most elevated parts of a property.

Protecting the trees from our South Central Texas freezes.

Mature olive trees can resist frost, younger trees are more vulnerable. Either way, sustained cold below 22 degrees F can be very damaging. The tree’s leaves turn brown and fall off, but what the grower must protect most are the roots of the tree. When the roots of the tree are damaged, it’s gone.

Pay attention to the weather forecasts. Gradual cooling is better than a sudden freeze because it gives the trees a chance to gradually acclimate. But in South Texas we rarely experience that. Freezes happen within a few hours and are usually over as quickly.

Being alert to those sudden drops is your best defense. Watering the tree before the cold front hits can help save the roots of the tree. Adding the water before the temperature drops makes it easier to protect the tree’s shallow root system by keeping the ground a little warmer.

After the freeze, the most important thing to do is known as “hard pruning.”

HARD PRUNING

The trees affected by the freeze will look horrible – they turn brown and lose their leaves  – but they survive. You can prune olive trees in the spring or in the summer. No more pruning after September.

The best approach is to prune the tree after the last freeze. Hard pruning is dramatic and will require you to be fearless and ruthless. You might have to lop more than 3 feet off the tree, but removing the brown leaves and deadwood will give your tree new life.

Cutting the tree back has real benefits. Consider it an opportunity to top the tree and open it up so that the sun can reach all parts of the tree. The practice also increases pollination, boosting your harvest.

BRINGING THE ORCHARD BACK

Install irrigation to properly water the trees. This saves money and helps the trees flourish, especially the young ones that need more support. Fertilize the olive trees using only organic fertilizers, like compost (Chicken litter composted for six months is what we use here). We also recommend spraying with seaweed.

Keep in mind a healthy tree will survives a cold snap and will do better in the next chilly assault – as long as you work to keep the trees healthy throughout the spring, summer and fall. Water and fertilize regularly and consistently – being consistent is most important.

According to local experts, make sure the root flare is exposed. They explain that the root flare is actually part of the trunk, not the root system, and that trees don’t do well when the flare is covered.

The root flares should be checked regularly because over time, you’ll find the trunk is buried too deep again.

Coming up this Fall: From tree planting and management to irrigation, stay tuned for our 3-part video series on all the changes applied to the orchard to ensure better resistance to cold temperatures and a more successful harvest.

— From Sandy Oaks Olive Orchard Owner, Sandy C. Winokur

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Lessons from Mother Nature:  The Importance of Microclimates and Spacing

Recently I wrote that the rains during flowering had an adverse affect on pollination and consequently production. To recap, olive trees are wind pollinated, and when we have drenching rain, the pollen is either trapped in the flower or is swept to the ground. High humidity also presents a problem as most of the pollen does not disperse but rather stays in the flower.

Sandy Oaks Olive Orchard is planted on rolling hills. In March and April last year, the majority of the trees in both the lower and upper areas of the orchard were loaded with buds, followed by flowers. Then the rains started accompanied by high levels of humidity even on those days when it did not rain. After the rains in May, I walked and drove the entire orchard; I discovered the affects of microclimates and spacing on production. The higher parts of the orchard were not affected at all. Pollination succeeded despite the rains and high levels of humidity.

Not so in the lower altitudes of the orchard. Just as cold sinks to the lower areas of a property, so does humidity. Moreover, there are fewer breezes so that the humidity lingers.  Consequently, our historically most productive part of the orchard, the lower area, is not producing at its usual level. The higher part of the orchard, is always breezy, humidity does not linger as the breezes force it out. There, olive production is greater.

Second, spacing is critical. Trees planted on a grid with more space between trees and rows fare better. This promotes circulation necessary to move the humidity out.

The trees in the lower part of my orchard are planted in a partially super high­ density grid, 5 feet between trees, 20 feet between rows. The trees at the upper part of the orchard are planted 16 feet to 20 feet between trees and 20 feet between rows.

Arbequina olive trees are the major variety planted in the lower orchard. A­ more diverse number of varieties, including Arbequina are  planted in the higher  parts of the  orchard.  Arbequina, along with many other varieties planted in the  upper orchard  are loaded with fruit.

The rains forced me to look at my ranch with a new set of eyes. My conclusion: Expand Sandy Oaks Orchard to the uppermost parts of the property and space the trees 16 feet between trees and 20 feet between rows.

~ Sandy Winokur, Owner

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Starting an olive orchard

Soil Type

The olive tree is a tremendously adaptable plant that can grow in almost any soil that drains well. an extremely ph tolerant plant, olive trees grow successfully in ph ranges from 5.0 (acid level) to 8.5 (alkaline level). Since the trees don’t require a lot of organic matter in the soil, they even grow successfully in sand and gravel. a soil that is underlain by a shallow hardpan or a layer of clay could create drainage issues for the trees if water becomes trapped in pockets due to poor absorption. This will result in the roots rotting. Olive trees do not like wet feet.

Download the full factsheet

Water Supply

Olive trees are extremely drought-tolerant. actually, more trees suffer damage due to over-watering than to drought. it’s difficult to state a general rule for the amount of water your trees will require since the amount varies according to the water-holding capacity of the soil in which they are planted. The suggested range is 24 to 52 gallons a week per tree, with sandy soil (sugar sand) requiring the most water, and sandy loam requiring the least.

Olive trees are shallow rooted. The roots range from a depth of 1’ to 4’ below the surface and spread well be- yond the canopy of the olive tree. The roots at the 1’ level are the feeder roots and the most critical roots to the tree. it is crucial to supply a sufficient amount of water so that it will permeate or soak the soil down to the 4’ level and to spread well beyond the canopy. This encourages the roots to reach for their water and thus spread and grow to the appropriate depth. a soil moisture sensor or meter that reaches a depth of 4’ is a beneficial tool in an olive orchard, since it allows you to verify that your trees are receiving sufficient water to grow to their maximum potential.

Olive orchards around the world use flood, drip, or spray heads to irrigate. Flood irrigation is an option that will work with any type of soil. drip irrigation will work in your orchard if your soil is sandy loam or rocky. If you are planting trees in sand (as at Sandy Oaks) you will need to use a type of spray head such as a frame jet emitter. Drip irrigation won’t work with sugar sand because the water does not spread; it tunnels straight down to the aquifer. as a consequence, the roots will stay near the water source at the base of the tree and fail to spread. They will girdle the tree, wrapping around each other and forming an impenetrable ball. This eventually causes the tree to strangle. Spray heads such as frame jets spray a gentle mist that covers a wide area around the tree.

Most drip or frame jet emitters are calibrated to provide a specific amount of water per hour. emitters adjust to the level of pressure (the psi) necessary to deliver the amount of water they are designed to deliver. This is im- portant because the level of pressure needed at the start of the line that is closer to the water source is different from the level of pressure required at the end of the line. Note: When you receive ½” or more inches of rain, it is not necessary to irrigate for a week.

There are parts of the world where irrigation is not used in the orchards. in this case, the plants are spaced widely between trees, as much as 45 feet between the centers of the trees. if you don’t intend to use irrigation, make certain that your area receives a minimum average rain- fall of 30” annually. also, the rainfall should be spread out over the year. in Texas, we can have 30 inches in one week and then a drought the rest of the year. keep in mind that it is generally accepted that olive trees pro- duce more olives when they are irrigated, and alternate bearing (fruit production one year heavy and one year light) isn’t as pronounced in trees that are irrigated as those that are not.

It should be noted that, just as with any other plant, new- ly planted olive trees require more frequent watering in order to establish their roots. Usually, newly planted olive trees should be watered every other day, but when in doubt, you can test the soil by putting your index finger into the ground to see if it is dry the depth of your finger.  if it is, water. again, a soil moisture sensor is the most accurate method to use to assure that your trees are receiving the correct amount of water. Once the roots are established, you can refer to the guidelines stated above.

For a more specific and precise dissertation on your own individual watering requirements, we suggest that you consult pages 61-69 in the Olive Production Manual, which is available in our gift shop and by phone or email order in our online gift shop.

USDA Temperature Zone

Olive trees grow best in Zones 8 and above. except as a decorative plant in a pot, which can be moved to a protected area in the winter, olive trees won’t survive in Zone 7 or lower. There are varieties of olive trees that are extremely cold hardy and can withstand temperatures as low as 10°F. however, most varieties suffer damage when the temperature drops below 20°F and remains at that level for a period of days. The greatest damage oc- curs when the temperatures fluctuate between warm for days and then cold for several days.

If you spray your trees with water when the temperature is predicted to fall below freezing, the ice that forms on the leaves and branches insulates the tree and holds the temperature at freezing, a level of cold the olive tree tolerates. additionally, a good watering before a hard freeze helps the root system retain heat. Smudge pots can be used if they are allowed in your area or butane heaters can be used. There are also fans that can be used to circu- late the air and keep the cold air from sinking around the trees.

We’ve heard that in Sicily they use strings of outdoor christmas tree lights throughout the orchard to provide heat for the trees during cold snaps. While we cannot verify that the christmas lights actually keep the trees warm, we can imagine that they must make an orchard look incredibly beautiful!

Finally, healthy trees survive the cold better than un- healthy trees.  So, keep your orchard healthy!

Planting Density

The layout of the orchard is based on a number of considerations from how you intend to harvest to what varieties you intend to plant. another factor affecting density is whether or not you intend to irrigate.

Certain varieties of olive trees that top out at 12’ to 15’ high, such as arbequinas, koroneiki, and arbosanas, adapt well to hedgerow (super high density) planting, where each row is set 13’ apart and each individual tree in a row is set with 5’ between trees. With hedgerow planting, olives can be picked mechanically with grape harvesters or hand harvested; there is not adequate room between trees and rows to use a tractor-mounted shaker.

If grape harvesters are used to harvest the trees, the trees must be pruned to the shape of christmas trees and topped to maintain a height of 8’ to 10’. This type of planting also requires using more water and fertilizer in the orchard to accommodate the closeness of the trees.

The number of trees that can be planted in the super high-density configuration is 670 trees per acre.

All other varieties of olive trees are planted in 12’x16’ grids (high-density) or 20’x20’ grids (traditional). in the 12’x16’ grid, the trees are planted 12’ feet between trees and 16’ between rows. The 20’x20’ grid is self-explana- tory. Trees planted in these two configurations can be machine harvested by using a tractor-mounted shaker. There are also handheld harvesters that work by shak- ing only the limbs and not the trunk. They can also be harvested the old fashioned way — by hand, of course.

The number of trees that can be planted in the high-den- sity orchard is around 300 trees per acre and the number of trees that can be planted in the traditional orchard is between 120 to 150 trees per acre.

If you do not plan to irrigate your orchard, you will want to plant the trees at least on a 30’x30’ grid. in the desert, the trees in orchards without irrigation are planted 45’ between trees and 45’ between rows.

copyright  © 2011 Saundra Winokur.

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More than just olives

As the saying goes about pigs, “you can use everything but the squeal!”

The same can be said about olive trees, except for the squeal. indeed, like a pig, every part of an olive tree can be put to good use.

FRUIT

Growers either pickle their olives or press them to make oil. according to an ancient proverb, “Olive oil makes all your aches and pains go away.” ancients actually had many uses for olive oil in addition to curing ail- ments. To name a few, they used it as a form of money, as fuel for lamps, and even to grease axles. While you probably won’t be greasing any axles in the near future, keep in mind that you can use olive oil to grease hinges on doors or on your butcher block and wooden cutting boards to keep them in top condition. Of course, we’re all well aware of the health benefits of cooking with and eating olive oil. however, it may be news to some that olive oil has been used for centuries as a cosmetic to promote healthy skin. Soap made with olive oil has long been prized for its benefits to the skin. creams, lotions, salves and scrubs made with olive oil provide those same benefits. For the myriad uses of olive oil refer to our link From the kitchen to the Spa.

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LEAVES

Fresh or dried leaves produce a tea that is not only delicious, but also touted for its curative powers. Olive leaves have twice as many antioxidants as green tea. Folk cures include olive leaf tea as a remedy to reduce fever and to lower blood pressure. here at Sandy Oaks Olive Orchard, we make olive leaf jelly, and we consider crushed olive leaves and olive leaf tea essential ingredi- ents in our soaps and other skincare products. We also sell the leaves for tea.

WOOD

Through the years, carvers and sculptors have prized the fine grain wood of olive trees for its beauty.

The results are exquisite furniture, bowls and objects of art. larger pieces might used to fashion a tra- ditional bulto (Mexican devotional sculpture), while even the slender- est branches can become durable wooden spoons, salad servers, butter molds, or the molinos which churn Mexican hot chocolate to a froth. So, when you prune your trees, or cut them back to let new shoots sprout from the stumps, or gather dead- wood knocked down by storms,

save the wood and stack it carefully to season. you might want to create a masterpiece, or in today’s wor- risome world, who knows to what uses the traditional olive branch can be put, perhaps as a symbol of Peace?

POMACE

Don’t forget about the pomace! after crushing and draining the oil from the pomace, the remaining pulp can be used either in bulk or in cakes. in many countries, dried olive pomace cakes serve as briquettes for grilling. Growers often use bulk pomace as a fertilizer. But, hold onto your hats, cowboys and cowgirls, did you know that both pomace cakes and bulk pomace make excellent cattle feed? We tried it, and our cows absolutely love it!

So, until some agricultural wizard comes along and develops an olive tree that squeals, rest assured that not a single part of the olive tree is useless.

At Sandy Oaks Olive Orchard we’re always exploring new possibilities for using olive trees and olives. Our products are available online, at our gift shop, or at any of the upcoming events you’ll see listed on our calendar of events page on our web site.

copyright  © 2011 Saundra Winokur.

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Olive Tree Care

Whether you’re planting one tree or thousands, the care of your olive trees begins with the planting. Below are the steps we follow and recommend to you.

Site Preparation

Let her rip?

Some people recommend plowing or deep ripping the soil to prepare the site for planting. deep ripping of the soil is not required unless you are plant- ing on solid rock and then you will need to break up the rock for planting. When you plow the soil you expose seeds that have lain dormant for many years and so you increase the number of weeds you will have in the future. At Sandy Oaks, we mow the land with the blades very close to the ground and then plow very lightly. We disturb the soil as little as possible.

Setting up the irrigation system and the layout of the orchard

The next step is to set up the irrigation for the orchard. The spacing of the emitters goes hand in hand with how you plan to space the trees in the orchard. So, you will really want to mark off the spacing of the trees in your orchard at this point. if you are using drip irrigation, you can either bury the lines (there are irrigation lines that have the emitters within the pipe, spaced for the distance between trees) or you can put them above ground. Spray emitters or frame jets must be placed above ground. It is best to set up the irrigation system before planting the trees.

You are now ready to dig your first hole.

Dig a hole the size of the container in which the tree is planted – no deeper and no wider. Ideally, the best time to plant a tree is after a gentle rain. Since that can’t always be arranged, if you’re planting in an irrigated orchard, turn on the irrigation before you plant the trees to wet the soil. If you’re planting a single tree or your orchard isn’t irrigated, make sure the tree is very wet in the pot, and that the soil in the hole is also wet. If you’re planting multiple trees, please click here for information on planting density.

Setting out the tree

A tree that’s planted too deeply will not thrive. The roots will reach up for air rather than spread laterally as they should. This causes the roots to wrap around the trunk, girdling it, and eventually strangling the tree. Place the tree inside the hole, making certain that the root flare is level with the soil line. Using the soil from the hole you dug, fill in around and over the roots of the tree until you’ve reached the same level as the soil surround- ing the hole. Tap the soil gently around the tree to eliminate any air pockets.  Water the tree to see if there are any air bubbles. if there are, you need to add a bit more soil. Again, tap down the soil around the tree gently, water again, and follow the same process until there are no more air bubbles.

Staking the tree

We use green plastic flexible plant tape and 1/2” Pvc placed over 4’ rebar that is 2’ under ground in our orchard. We used bamboo stakes at one time, but they rotted and broke. insert the rebar in the ground about 1” from the tree. Take the lead branch and tie it loosely to the stake so that the tree will still sway slightly with the wind. The swaying motion stimulates the tree’s roots, causing them to grow, which makes the trunk grow as well. The tree should remain staked until it is sufficiently established to stand on its own – usually when the trunk size reaches ½” in diameter.

Another option, especially for super high-density planting, is to set up the orchard with fence posts spaced such that guide wire attached to the posts will remain taut. The tree is staked to the guide wire. The irrigation line can also be staked to the bottom wire. This is very like the manner in which grape vines are planted.

Applying mulch and fertilizer

Next, we apply the fertilizer. (adding the fertilizer on  top of the ground creates a “slow release” fertilizer.) We fertilize with manure that is composted. You can use chicken or turkey litter or cow or horse manure. Just keep in mind that all manure must be well seasoned, or it will burn the roots. next, irrigate the tree immediately to water in the roots.

You can also fertilize with liquid fertilizer. The liquid fertilizer can be delivered through your irrigation line, or by using a sprayer hauled behind your tractor or truck, with a gun that allows you to spray the tree and the root. a good liquid fertilizer mixture is a combination of sea- weed, fish emulsion, and molasses or manure tea. apply the mixture early in the morning or late in the afternoon to prevent leaf burn. Just make certain that when you do apply the liquid mixture, the temperature is below 85° and more than 45°F.

Some people like to use mulch around their tree. We don’t mulch in our orchard. But, if you do decide to mulch, all of the elements of the mulch should be broken down into small chunks. nitrogen breaks down the large chunks in the mulch and it will rob the tree of nitrogen while the chunks are breaking down.

After care for your tree

Watering

Newly planted olive trees require more frequent watering than older trees to help them establish their roots. regardless of the tree’s age, soil moisture sensors are the best method for determining that you’re watering your trees sufficiently, and that the water is reaching the correct depth. For newly planted trees you’ll need a soil moisture sensor with a probe that reaches 1’ below the soil line. as the tree matures, you’ll need sensors that reach down 2’, 3’, and finally 4’ below the soil line, to assure that sufficient water is reaching the deepest roots.

Fertilizing

The manure based compost we put around our trees acts as a slow release fertilizer and should be replaced at least once a year. The foliar and root feed mixture of sea- weed, fish emulsion, and molasses added to water or the manure tea work best when applied every two to three weeks. Olive trees tend to be heavy boron users. We feel that using the seaweed combination is preferable since it allows a steady, small dosage of boron without the risk  of forming a toxic boron level. in addition, seaweed gives the plant the ability to deal with both cold stress and heat stress, and in the winter it gives the trees a 5° edge against the cold.

Pruning

During the first two years after planting, your olive trees should not be pruned except for suckers or water sprouts. Branches growing near the root line of the trunk are suckers.  Branches that grow on a limb and are green and shoot straight up are water sprouts. Suckers or water sprouts can take over the tree, becoming stronger than the growth that is already established. Once the trees have two years growth in the ground, you can prune some of  the lower limbs, but we recommend that you don’t prune above 4’ up the trunk. The canopy of the olive tree protects the shallow roots of the tree during winter and summer. if the canopy begins too high up the trunk, it won’t afford the tree the protection it needs. additionally, the more leaves a young tree has, the more roots it will develop, which will result in a bigger trunk size. you will, however, always want to cut away one of any two limbs rubbing against each other. choose the more viable of the two limbs and remove the other. Furthermore, anytime there’s dead wood on a tree this needs to be pruned back until you see green wood.

Although you can prune olives trees at almost any time  of the year, fall is not the best time to prune your trees, since pruning does encourage growth. if you prune in the fall, any new growth that results might not be hardened (hardy?) enough to endure a freeze. also, always remem- ber to use good sanitary practices when pruning. after you’ve trimmed a tree, dip the pruning shears in either alcohol or hydrogen peroxide. Otherwise, if the tree is diseased, you can spread the disease to the next tree by using contaminated pruning shears.

You can also grow the olive tree as a bush. keep in mind that olive trees started out thousands of years ago as bushes, and they’re happy and produce well with a bushy growth. a good source for more specific information on this topic is, Pruning and Training Systems for Modern Olive Growing by Riccardo Gucci and Claudio Cantini, Csiro Publishing.

Protecting your orchard from uninvited dinner guests although trees are listed as deer resistant, if the deer are hungry enough, they will eat young and tender saplings. We found this out the hard way! additionally, when the trees are older, deer might use them for rutting, which will girdle the trunk and can destroy a tree. Therefore, if you are planting in an area with a heavy deer population, we suggest you use game fencing to protect your orchard.

copyright  © 2011 Saundra Winokur.

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How to Harvest Olives

Olive trees are pollinated by wind and not by bees. Some varieties are self fertile, others need another variety or two of the same variety for pollination. inflorescences appear on olive trees in February and March in Texas. Within a few weeks, the inflo- rescences become tiny white to green flowers. The flowers drop about 76 hours after they appear, leaving tiny olives, which grow over the spring and summer. In some areas of Texas, olives are ready for harvest in late august. The Texas season for har- vesting olives is from late august thru late October.

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All olives start out green, then turn to a rosy color and finally are black in color when they are fully ripe. The exact time you choose to harvest your olives depends on whether you want the majority of your olives to be green, rosy, or black. The point of maturity at which you pick your olives determines not only the taste of the olives you intend to pickle, but also the taste of the oil produced from those you intend to press. an oil that is pressed with ½ of the olives green, 1/4th rosy and 1/4th black will have more of an after flavor that is sharp. If the oil is pressed with a mixture of 1/4th green olives, ½ rosy olives and 1/4th black olives, the oil will have a milder after flavor. Keep in mind that olives must be brined or pressed into oil within three days from the time they are picked. If you hold them any longer than that, the olives oxidize and the resulting product is inferior in quality.

See the following link, how to Brine Olives, for how to pickle your olives.

As we discussed earlier, you can harvest by hand or by machine. Shakers mounted behind tractors can be used for orchards that are planted either in a high-density or traditional configuration. Grape harvesters can be used for super high-density orchards.

Take care not to bruise the olives when you pick them, and discard any damaged olives. Pick all of the olives off your trees, and never leave olives on the ground to rot. rotten olives are hosts for the olive fruit fly. This insect has ruined many crops in California. So far, the olive fruit fly has not appeared in Texas.

We are finding at our orchard, that it takes about 80 to 100 pounds of olives, depending on their ripeness, to make 1 gallon of olive oil. Sandy Oaks Olive Orchard buys freshly harvested olives at fair market value.

copyright  © 2011 Saundra Winokur.

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FAQs about olives and olive trees

What is the difference between green olives and black olives?

Olives are green when they are unripe, mottled reddish-purple (rosy) when they are partially ripe, and black when they are fully ripe. Pickled green olives and rosy olives are firmer than black olives, and most people find them to have a sharper more pungent flavor. Pickled black olives have a softer texture and a fuller, more subtle flavor. Preference for either is a matter of individual taste.

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Olive oil is pressed from a blend of unripe, partially ripe, and fully ripe olives. For a sweeter-flavored oil, the mix is 1/4 green, 1/2 partially ripe, and 1/4 black. if you prefer a sharper-flavored oil, you would use more green olives than either fully ripe or partially ripe in the mix.

How cold-hardy are olive trees?

An olive tree isn’t fazed by 32°F. a few varieties of olive trees are extremely cold hardy and can withstand temperatures as low as 10°F. however, most varieties suffer damage when the temperature drops below 20°F and remains at that level for a period of days. Usually, the most likely damage your trees will suffer at that temperature range is tip burning, and they will recover. however, an olive tree is not likely to survive below 10°.

you can spray your trees with water when the temperature is predicted to fall below freezing. The ice that forms on the leaves and branches insulates the tree by holding the temperature to 32°. additionally, a good watering before a hard freeze helps the root system retain heat.

What soils will olives grow in?

The olive tree is a tremendously adaptable plant that can grow in almost any soil that is well-drained. an extremely ph tolerant plant, olive trees grow successfully in ph ranges from 5.0 (acid level) to 8.5 (alkaline level). Since the trees don’t require a lot of organic matter in the soil, they even grow successfully in sand and gravel. in some desert areas, it may be necessary to set the trees in holes drilled through the imperme- able layer. also, a soil that is underlain by a shallow hardpan or a layer of clay could create drainage issues for the trees if water becomes trapped in pockets due to poor absorption, thus drowning the deeper roots.

How soon will my trees produce olives?

The length of time it takes for an olive tree to produce fruit depends on the variety of tree. dwarf varieties (arbequina, arbosana, koroneiki) have been bred to produce as early as two to three years after planting; others may not produce a full crop until they’ve been in the ground for four to seven years.

Weather is one factor that determines production. Olive trees need 200-300 chill hours to produce fruit. Once the olive tree has flowered, a temperature of 90° to 100° F and above, can burn the flowers. This will limit your level of production. however, if you already have fruit on the tree, the higher temperatures will not affect the fruit. The USda is experimenting with products such as Surround and comparable products. Spraying the trees with Surround or a like product right before they are ready to bud insulates the tree against extreme heat.

Water conditions also affect production. after flowering, the trees need adequate water; however, before budding, you can stress the trees by reducing the water slightly. a little stress will promote fruiting.

Missing nutrients in the soil can affect the amount of fruit and the shape of the fruit your trees produce. For example, if you don’t have adequate boron in your soil, your fruit will be misshaped. also, olive trees require adequate levels of potassium and phosphorus for fruiting. There are other macronutrients and micronutrients that can affect whether your crop will be heavy or light, or whether your trees will produce any fruit at all. For a more thorough explanation of adequate nutrient levels, consult The Olive Production Manual.

How much water do olive trees require?

Olive trees are extremely drought-tolerant. actually, more trees suffer damage due to over-watering than to drought. it is difficult to state a general rule for the amount of water your trees will require, since the amount varies according to the water-holding capacity of the soil in which they are planted. The suggested range is 24 to 52 gallons a week, with sandy soil (sugar sand) requiring the most water, and sandy loam requiring the least. For more detailed information on this topic, please click here.

What is Extra Virgin Olive Oil?

It is all about the acidity level. Olive oil that is .08% or less is classified as extra virgin olive oil. if the oil has an acidity level over .08%, but less than 3%, it is classified as virgin olive oil. any oil with an acidity level over 3% is simply olive oil.

What is Cold Pressed Olive Oil?

When you press olive oil, a paste, pomace, is formed.  Once the olive oil has been extracted from the paste, it can be reheated and run through the machine again. The oil resulting from the reheated pomace, it is not considered cold press and is of an inferior quality.

What is first-pressed olive oil?

This means that the oil results from pomace that is fresh rather than used a second time to make oil.

What is the best variety to grow in Texas?

So far we’ve found fifteen varieties of olive trees that are suited to Texas. These are listed in our nursery sec- tion of our website.   Some do better in USda Zone 8 and some do better in Zones 9 and 10. We’ll continue  to experiment, trying new varieties and growing acclimated stocks of those varieties we’ve proven suitable.

Does Sandy Oaks Olive Orchard offer consulting services?

We do offer consulting services at the rate of $125.00 per hour. This is an opportunity for individuals to meet with the owner one on one and is especially suited to those individuals who want to grow olive trees com- mercially. This consultation is the nuts and bolts of entering this new Texas industry. In addition, we also routinely offer a free tour on Saturdays at 11:00. during the tour we discuss the care and planting of olive trees as well as their commercial value. We answer our customers’ questions on such matters as testing and amending their soils, fertilizing, and selecting appropriate varieties of olive trees.

We’re happy to share our experience with our customers who run into problems with their trees. Give us a call (210-621-0044) or email us to outline your problems.

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The Causes of Bark Splitting on Trees

Bark splitting can occur in response to various environmental factors at different times of the year. Splits can occur on the trunk of the tree as well as on branches. Trees that are most susceptible to this type of injury are those with thin bark, such as certain fruit trees.  Newly planted trees or young trees are more prone to bark splitting. Bark splits are not likely to be fatal to trees, although they will, in some cases, allow entry of disease organisms, which can cause decay.

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During late winter and early spring, sharp temperature changes between day and night can freeze the water within the trunk causing it to explode or split open in a symptom referred to as “frost-cracks.” Frost cracks are also called southwest injury since this is the side of the tree most often affected. Frost cracks can also start from a wound inflicted earlier in the tree’s development. Sometimes the crack may remain in the internal wood, but frost can cause the crack to expand and split the bark. Excessively late growth in the fall stimulated by warm temperatures, high humidity, and high nitrogen levels can increase susceptibility of trees to frost cracking.

Fluctuating growth conditions may also cause splitting of bark. Dry weather (which slows growth) followed by wet growth conditions may cause an excessive or vigorous amount of growth leading to splits in the bark.

Sunscald, especially in winter months, can cause bark injury to thin barked or young trees.  Although an exact split may not be seen immediately, the outer layer of bark will peel away from the affected area in the summer following winter damage. Sunscald injuries to tree limbs can be minimized by avoiding heavy pruning of trees which have dense canopies. Gradual thinning of limbs over a period of years is preferable, particularly on thin-barked trees.

Certain trees are more susceptible to splits than others, especially Kwanzan cherry, maple, and fruit trees. To avoid splitting on newly-planted trees, especially of a thin-barked species, be particularly careful to avoid fertilizing trees late in the growing season, as this may promote new growth and predispose the tissue to winter injuries (including bark splitting). Autumn fertilization following leaf drop and dormancy should not lead to this problem.

When a split occurs on a tree, what should you do?  In recent years, quite a bit of research has been done on closure of tree wounds. These investigations have indicated that tree wound paints are of little value in helping a tree to callus over. For this reason, do not paint or try to seal a split with paint or tar.

Cleaning the edges of the wound, known as “tracing,” can be very helpful in aiding healing. Do not enlarge the wound any more than necessary to clean the edges! With a sharp knife, starting from one end of the split, trace around one side of the wound, no more than one-half to one-inch back from the split bark. Stop at the other end and do the same procedure on the opposite side of the split. Knives should be sterilized between cuts by dipping for several minutes in a 1:10, bleach: water solution or a 70 percent alcohol solution to avoid contaminating the cuts. Carefully remove the bark from inside the traced area.

You should now have a bare area with smooth edges. Remember to leave this untreated. A tree growing with good vigor usually calluses over quickest. Encourage vigor in the tree with spring fertilizer applications-but only if the tree exhibits signs of nutrient deficiencies-and be sure to provide adequate irrigation in hot, dry weather. Bark splits will often close over completely leaving a slight ridge in the trunk where callus tissue has been produced. Some trunk cracks may open and close for many years depending on weather conditions.

Excerpted from Chautaugua Living, Cornell Extension, by Thomas Kowalsick, Juliet Carroll, and Margery L. Daughtrey. Edited by: Greg Patchan, MSU Extension – Oakland County Horticultural Agent

July 2000

Oakland County

Distributed by MSU Extension-Oakland County, 1200 N. Telegraph Road, Pontiac, MI 48341, 248/858-0880, www.msue.msu.edu/oakland

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