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Is it possible to dig up and pot olive tree?

susananwmssusananwms Posts: 213
Have had a few problems with my olive tree re position, pruning etc and am now considering digging it up to put in a pot.  I did not realise how big they can grow and although I can keep above ground pruned and cut back I cannot control the roots. It is quite near my patio so am a bit concerned at how far it will spread.  I have taken pic with mug alongside to give a clue to how thick trunk is.  Would I be able to successfully dig this up and put in big pot, if not, is there any risk to patio if I just let it grow? It is about 2 ft from patio and about 14 ft from house


  • ObelixxObelixx Vendée, Western FrancePosts: 28,587
    The general rule with trees is that their roots spread out as far as the canopy above.   Olive trees are also know for sending out deep roots to garner water and nutrients as they generally come from dry areas where the water table is low down.

    I expect you can dig yours out and pot it up as it is still quite small but not now while the sap is rising and it's in active growth.   Do it in autumn when it starts to go dormant for winter and be prepared to dig deep to get as much of the root ball as possible.

    You can do some advance preparation now however to help it along.   Mark a circle about 15" radius around the trunk.   Water that circle thoroughly and let it all soak in then use a spade, thrust in vertically and to its full depth, to sever the fine roots around the tree, following your circle line.   Water again and keep it watered throughout summer in dry spells.   

    This will encourage it to form a new network of fine roots inside the circle and these will help it recover more quickly from being dug up and either potted or re-located to a new spot in the garden.  If you're going for a pot, keep an eye out in garage sales, car boots and summer sales for very large pots as new ones are expensive.
    "We don't stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing." - George Bernard Shaw
  • NollieNollie Girona, Catalunya, Northen Spain.Posts: 6,559
    In a word, yes 😊

    Olive trees have shallow, spreading roots, not deep tap roots, often wider than the canopy, although soil type might be a factor in how deep those shallow roots actually go. Huge ancient olive trees up to ten times the girth of yours are grubbed up from groves regularly here when they have reached the end of their fruiting life. They are sold on as decorative trees through local nurseries in large, but surprisingly shallow pots. If some root pruning goes on it doesn’t seem to harm the tree. I looked for an illustration for you and this UK supplier popped up, you can see the relative size of tree to rootball:

    Olive trees ripen their fruit in autumn/winter so even though yours might not set fruit, they are still in active growth until fairly late in the year. I don’t really know when the best time to do it would be, but I think I would choose late spring to dig it up, ideally after last frost but before it flowers. That would be now, perhaps?
  • ObelixxObelixx Vendée, Western FrancePosts: 28,587
    Interesting @Nollie.   Chappy at the nursery near here that has lots of olive trees says they can be kept in large pots for years but, in the ground, they send roots down deep to get water, but not tap roots, hence my advice to encourage new roots to form in a smaller root ball before potting up.   It'll be less of a shock.
    "We don't stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing." - George Bernard Shaw
  • NollieNollie Girona, Catalunya, Northen Spain.Posts: 6,559
    It could well be the soil then @Obelixx, it’s heavy, rocky clay here, so maybe the roots don’t have the opportunity to burrow down? I’ve seen them being dug straight up by tractor and they weren’t deep rooted. I would follow your prep advice in any case, the less shock and stress the better.
  • ObelixxObelixx Vendée, Western FrancePosts: 28,587
    Could be that @Nollie.   The new rots will take all summer to form if the OP follow the prep advice so it's going to have be an autumn move so the roots have time to settle in before late winter when the sap starts rising in earnest again.
    "We don't stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing." - George Bernard Shaw
  • bertrand-mabelbertrand-mabel Posts: 1,907
    Yes take on board what you are saying but I think original comment was from the UK? Am I wrong?
    We have had olives in the ground and have never been able to then move them into pots the size that has been shown.
  • susananwmssusananwms Posts: 213
    Thank you all for your comments, yes I am in the UK, in the SW so we tend to have mild winters. Was going to try and dig it up but not sure what to do now.  I was thinking about getting someone in to do it as I do not trust myself.  From my understanding, I cut the roots down to fit into a large pot is that right? If that is the case and I will not harm the tree by doing that then I will go ahead
  • NollieNollie Girona, Catalunya, Northen Spain.Posts: 6,559
    Advice is certainly conflicting out there (and on here!). Most UK sites say plant out or repot in Spring when sap is rising:

    “The best time to repot or plant your olive tree is in late spring but make sure to protect the tree in prolonged spells of cold. This allows the tree enough time to establish in its new home for the summer and create a hardier specimen for the winter”

    (see )

    But digging up one from the ground and transferring to a pot is not quite the same thing.

    Depends on how desperate you are to move it away from your patio. If I were really keen to get it moved I would bite the bullet and just do it as I tend to take an ‘well it will either work or it won’t’ attitude. If it was an expensive specimen you are loathe to lose, plus you are prepared to wait a while, follow Obelixx’s advice, which is undoubtedly less risky!
  • punkdocpunkdoc Sheffield, Derbyshire border.Posts: 13,027
    It is not the size of the trunk that is important, but the size of the canopy, because that will give an indication of how big the root ball will be.
    There are ashtrays of emulsion,
    for the fag ends of the aristocracy.
  • JellyfireJellyfire SuffolkPosts: 1,139
    edited May 2022
    I would just add the cautionary note that there is unddoubtedly a risk of the tree dying it you dig it up, with a trunk that thick it must be a fair few years old, and moving any mature tree risks killing it. Without seeing the full tree its hard to know, but could you solve the problem by pruning the canopy quite hard? Mines in a pot, but has a similar sized trunk, and the canopy is only about 3ft across?

    Edit: added photos to show size of canopy on mine (added the standard unit of measurement for illustration, ie a  mug)
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