Plants need enough nutrients and good soil to be able to grow into strong and healthy trees. The olive tree is not an exception to this general fact about plants. The olive is a plant that has been in existence for as long as 6,000 to 8,000 years. It can be said to be a plant that is native to most of the African countries, the central and tropical parts of Asia and the Mediterranean regions of the world. Fertilizers and amendments of soil is a very crucial part of planting and managing an olive orchard because olive trees do not need huge amount of fertilizers to grow simply because they are tough, semi-wild and hard plants that can do well even in poor growing conditions like that of low fertility. Olive plants can tolerate a huge rate of soil pH while it is in its growing stage. Fertilizers and amendments of the soil is crucial in an Olive Orchard as this will help in the production of healthy Olive trees and fruits.
Some Basic Essential Facts about Olive Plants
There are certain facts that are fundamental to know if you have the intention of owning an Olive Tree Orchard. The following are a few out of the numerous facts that are basic and essential to Olive plants:
- Choice Area: the area that the olive tree will be planted is one of the basic factors that are essential to the growing of a healthy Olive tree. The area has to be a place where the plant will have access to full sunshine and less of cold weather. The sunshine will help the Olive plant produce a lot of strong healthy fruits while the little cold weather will help the fruit produced to mature and be set for harvest. Olive trees will never do well in an area that the temperature can fall as low as -5 degrees centigrade as the plant will just get damaged and become frosted. During the flowering and fruit setting period, Olive trees do not like the dry air and hot weather conditions because it gets the fruit damaged. Leaf spot disease appears on an Olive plant in an area that is characterized with high humidity and low circulation of air.
- Rainfall and Manpower: this is another essential factor that will help determine how productive an olive Orchard will be. It is important that you have a lot of manpower on ground in an Olive Orchard most especially when it is time for harvest as the more men you have on ground, the more fruits that can be picked on time and this will help avoid the number of fruits that might get damaged. Also ensure that a processing area is not far from the orchard so that the fruits will not take much time before it can get to where it can be processed. Rainfall is another factor that you have to consider as a good Olive Orchard should have a good water retaining soil when the annual rainfall in the area is between 200mm to 300mm. There should be an adequate and good drainage system in area of high rainfall which is between 400mm to 600mm while specialized crawler tractors, caterpillars and other vehicles should be available in an area that is characterized with steep slopes because the mode of cultivation will be best if it is contour cultivation and it will be best done on terraces.
- Preparation of the Orchard: the area for planting has to be prepared before an Olive tree can be planted as this will help determine how good the production of the olive tree will turn out. Deep ploughing will be used to clear off all deep rooted weeds and this can be achieved with or without the help of herbicides. The land should also be uprooted to remove all bushes and trees before planting an Olive tree. When the soil is uprooted, it is necessary that you plant legumes or grains for a period of a year or two as this will help minimize or even prevent the decay of the Olive tree roots and it will also help to remove completely the remaining roots of other crops. The soil has to be leveled and the terraces constructed in preparation for the planting of the Olive trees. Potash and Phosphate has to be added to the soil when it is being ploughed for the last time as the young Olive trees can use it during the first and second years of their formation. A thorough soil analysis is important to be done before the application of any kind of fertilizer in the area where the Olive Trees will be planted. A thorough analysis of the soil can be done simply by taking about 30cm to 60cm depth of the soil from different areas of the orchard.
- The Layout of Planting: the way that you intend to plant the Olive trees should be planned before planting so as to avoid risks and hazards during the planting season. The planting style is based on the method of cultivation and that is whether it will be an intensive system of planting or a non intensive system of planting. The Olive trees can be planted densely in areas with sufficient rainfall or good irrigation system. 200 to 300 trees can be planted in a hectare or at times 300 to 400 trees can be planted in a hectare but the trees are usually replanted when they are grown. In areas with low rainfall or inadequate irrigation, the trees should not be planted densely. The dimension for planting in the traditional method is 7 X 7m while the dimension for the dynamic system of planting is 5 X 6m.
Planting Season: the planting of a young Olive tree should not just be done when it suits you, it should however be done with proper planning in order for it to yield a very good result. If the trees are to be planted in an area with mild climate condition, the planting should take place in the months of November and December. If it is to be done in a cold area, it is better to plant the trees in the months of February to March as this will prevent the young trees from suffering any kind of spring frost. The planting should be done in holes that have the dimension of 20cm X 30cm for holes that are mechanically dug and 60cm X 40cm for holes that are dug manually. The depth of planting should be 5cm to 10cm deep for areas that are dry. The trees are to be irrigated at regular intervals at the first two (2) to three (3) years of its existence and this should be combined with the fertilization of the young trees with Nitrogen.
Fertilizers and Amendments: before fertilization will take place, it is important that a proper and thorough soil analysis be done like have been mentioned earlier. The following are very important rules that need to be followed during fertilization of an Olive tree soil area:
- Phosphorous: this is one of the soil nutrients that is needed by an Olive tree for proper growth and formation. It is however not always necessary most especially when an "11-15-15 compound fertilizer" have been used on the soil area for quite a number of years. If it is however needed, it should not exceed one-third (1/3) or one – fifth (1/5) of the quantity of Nitrogen that has been added to the soil. When there is a widespread of Chlorosis of the leaves then you should know that there is a definite lack of phosphate nutrient for the trees. It is however safe to analyze the leaf for a proper diagnosis before applying this nutrient. Acidic soils and soils that are high with calcium carbonate will need Phosphate fertilization at intervals. Phosphate fertilization is good for soil that is shallow and has been fertilized with ample amount of Nitrogen.
- Nitrogen: this can be said to be the most important nutrient that is needed by the Olive plant for vegetation and fruit production. It is recommended that you apply Nitrogen that is within the range of 500g to 1,500g per tree. The amount of Nitrogen fertilizer that is to be applied to the soil of an Olive tree orchard is dependent on the amount of rainfall in the area. After the application of the Nitrogen fertilizer, a farmer can amend the fertilization by assessing the effect of the Nitrogen fertilizer by checking on any one of the following:
- By analyzing the leaf, the Nitrogen in the leaf during the winter period should be amended until it reads 1.5% to 1.8% on the leaf during analysis.
- The duration of the new vegetation; if the duration of the new vegetation is not sufficient, then the Nitrogen fertilizer should be increased and this is subject to where no other critical factor like root damage is in existence.
Excessive Nitrogen fertilization will be noticed in the size of the fruit produced by the Olive tree as it will be small in size while sufficient Nitrogen fertilization will result in a high rate of fruit production and enough green vegetation the year after the Nitrogen fertilization. It is essential that the trees should have enough Nitrogen during its period of floral induction and this is usually during the months of March to June. Foliar fertilization is a situation where 3% to 4% of Urea is applied along with Nitrogen during fertilization and this is to be done in critical conditions of lack of Nitrogen. This will aid in the fast absorption of Nitrogen by the trees.
- Potassium: this is a nutrient that needs to be added as frequently as it can be simply because it is very easy for the soil to lose this nutrient. It can easily be lost during the pruning period and the harvesting of fruits most especially when the harvest rate is very high. It is necessary to state here that the rate of Potassium that is to be added during fertilization should be determined by combining it with the rate of the Nitrogen that is added. Where Potassium fertilization had not been carried out at all, the rate of Potassium fertilizer that is to be added to the soil should be twice the equivalent of the quantity of Nitrogen that is added or to be added. After sometime, the quantity of the Potassium fertilizer that is to be added can be amended to equal the rate of Nitrogen. It is always good to increase the rate of Potassium fertilization after harvest but it is best to do a leaf analysis before you carry out any form of amendments.
- Boron: this is the last but not the least of the fertilizers and amendments of soil nutrients that will be mentioned here. Deficiency of this nutrient is always very rare because Olive trees are usually not very sensitive to the loss of this particular nutrient. Where there is a deficiency of this nutrient, it is important that about a pound of Borax be added to a tree. Care should be taken when the quantity of this nutrient is to be measured because excess of it will lead to toxicity of the soil. Deficiency of Boron in an Olive tree can be characterized by the shape of the fruit which will appear misshapen in shape and it can also be noticed through the shortness of the tree, the rough bark of the tree etc.
Foliar sprays should be avoided as much as possible as all the nutrients that are needed by an Olive tree are all available in the ground application method which lasts long because the nutrients are absorbed from the root. This ground application method can easily be amended or corrected when there is an excess or less of fertilization than the foliar sprays. Foliar sprays of nutrients do not last very long in the tree so it is only good to make use of foliar sprays when you need a fast and short lasting means of fertilization of Olive trees.
Fertilizers and Amendments are twin important factors that can never be ignored when it pertains to the proper and sufficient growth of an Olive tree.
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