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.”
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