Q: I would like to try to grow a few olive trees in Gainesville. Am I setting myself up for failure? I am thinking of keeping them in large pots to give them very sandy soil.
A: I am always amazed at what can be grown “out of zone” so I won’t say you can’t grow olives in Gainesville. I will say, though, that it is unlikely. Olive trees are evergreen. They will suffer lots of damage at temperatures lower than twenty degrees.
Your solution of keeping it in a pot is a good idea. You could move yours indoors when it gets cold. But keep in mind that an olive eventually grows forty feet tall and twenty feet wide. Perhaps you could trim it regularly to keep it in bounds. I’ve heard that different gardeners have successfully grown olive trees in small courtyards in Atlanta so you are welcome to try it in north Georgia. With global warming, anything is possible!
Here are some further comments by Bruce Overstreet (Brandenburgs Greenhouse & Nursery, Franklin GA)
“There are a few varieties of Italian olives that are cold hardy. I have trees in my nursery with olives on them now. The olive tree does not like wet feet so planting outdoors in Georgia is a planting chore. Either dig a big, big hole fill with well-drained soil or plant on a well-drained hill side or slope. They like alkaline soil: pH 7.5 – 8.5 or 9. If growing for production of olives they prefer a site without a lot of wind. They can be grown as container plants, bringing them indoors if extreme cold were to hit. The Mediterranean olive “Arbequina” is cold hardy in zone 7 I believe. The ones I have for sale are self pollinators so only one tree is required. Olives will tolerate sub freezing temperature but do not like radical temperature changes such as a 100 degree day then a 35 degree night.”
Sources of Trees