Q: We would like to move back to Texas and start an olive orchard. Is this a viable crop for the area? We found some information on the net but no hard evidence or history of it being successful or not successful. Is there someone we can contact in the region who may have experience with olives?
A: The problem with trying to grow olive trees is that they are not that well adapted to our conditions; if they were you would see many, many olive trees in the area. You can bet that folks have tried them and no doubt there are several trees growing in the area. It is not that they can't take the heat, drought or cold, rather it is the weather extremes which cause problems. When dormant the olive can take a lot of cold, but the warm spells that we get in February cause the olive trees to lose cold hardiness and then many times we get a hard freeze in March and the plants are killed to the ground. This may or may not be a problem. Since we are just trying to grow trees this may not be a problem, but if we wanted the tree to produce fruit, then the chances are not very good. Still you don't just pick olive fruit and eat it; it has to have the bitterness removed before becoming palatable. Currently there are several experimental orchard south of San Antonio. The trees look pretty good although we did have freeze damage on a few varieties this last year and you know what a mild winter we had. Some of the trees are approaching five years old and we have yet to see out first fruit. We are looking at several cold hardy varieties to see if we can find one that will do the best for us. However, the results of this test have yet to be written. So the best species to plant is a big question mark. Currently I know of only one place which is propagating olive trees. It is in south Texas near Dilley. Basically, if you went with olive trees you would have to go with what they had. Typically olives are grown from cuttings although they can be grown from seed, but the trees do not come true from seed. For an in-depth article on olives in Texas see the following Parson's Archive eb site:
I don't mean to be negative, but there are just so many unknowns about olives at this date. It may be that in the future, we will have a very adaptable variety. Another major concern is that olive trees are susceptible to cotton root rot, just like that those fast growing willow tree that are advertised. We have a lot of cotton root rot in the area.
So olive would not be the fruit of choice to date.
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