Olive Grove Recovery After Brutal Winter At Exarchos

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olive grove showing some recovery after cold burnt leaves of winter
Olive tree showing recovery after brutal winter

As some may know, I purchased a small olive grove last year, more as a hobby than anything else. It had been abandoned for a few years and there was quite a lot of work to be done to try to trim and cut weeds that had literally grown so high and thick, the trees were not feeling any breeze or air circulation. After several days that included many hours each under the hot sun, we had the olive grove looking pretty good and high hopes for it this year.

Unfortunately, the winter of 2021/22 was brutal for many parts of Greece, including the Exarchos area of Phthiotis in Central Greece.

Lots of snow, many days of cold and in fact, the local horticulturalist told us that during the winter, the temperature dropped as low as -18C! He lost an entire olive grove due to the bitter cold – for this part of Greece, that’s a difficult temperature to deal with. Even back “home” in Orangeville, Ontario, -18C can be hard to deal with.

The result for my olive grove was that when we showed up in March to have a look and with plans to fertilize the trees, we were met with a very disappointing olive grove which was full of cold burnt brown leaves on all the trees.

Would the recover? Or would I end up with a plot of land with dead olive trees?

The horticulturalist advised against doing any spring fertilizing, but recommended a savage trimming of the trees, leaving only branches that appeared to perhaps offer some hope for a recovery. So we hired a man and his helper who has loads of experience in olive tree trimming, and went to work on that, in March.

Waiting For Access – But Purchasing An Adjacent Plot

Because of the way fields are owned and planted in Greece, it can sometimes be difficult to get into your own fields, depending on what is going on. I had hoped to go to the grove in June, but it would have meant at that time, driving over some fields that were fully planted in barley that had not yet been harvested. I was advised to wait.

However, I did manage to make a deal with a neighboring plot owner – a small strip of land between my olive grove and my companion’s parents small vineyard. This small plot had also been abandoned for many years, and as a result, the brambles, blackthorn, and other wild stuff had managed to slip its ways into the eastern(ish) border of my olive grove, as well as into the vineyard.

The plan is to clean it up to help stop the weedy and unwelcome brush from continuing its advances on both the olive grove and vineyard.

But by June, I still had not been able to see if there was any recovery for my olive trees.

July – Yes! Some Encouraging Signs

I returned to the olive grove about July 20th, after the barley fields had been harvested and could easily drive my Volkswagon Tiguan across the bumpy trail to get there, other than a short distance blocked by a field planted in cotton and not yet harvested.

As we approached the grove, there were some big sighs of relief – the vast majority of the trees seemed to have recovered and shed the burnt brown leaves, with lots of new growth of silvery-green going on. Some trees even had olives in them:

two olives in olive tree

The photo is not really in focus; I was in a hurry at the time and didn’t take more photos, but you get the idea that at least there is some production which is a good thing.

As you can see in photo posted at the top of this article, we also noticed a LOT of wild olive growth – suckers growing around the base of the trees, and from some of the branches as well.

Not exactly welcome, but not a totally bad thing either as it means the roots of the trees are fine and providing nutrition.

There are a small number – perhaps about 3 small trees, that seemed to be completely dead and have not shown any growth at all, but considering the alternative of losing all 65, I’ll take that.

Horticulturist’s Advice

Curious as to what we should now do, I made a visit to the local horticulturalist to tell him what we had discovered and ask for advice. The funny thing is that when you are asking for advice about olive trees, you might get ten different answers if you’ve asked 10 different people. And of course, there is the language difference here for me as well.

What I took away from the conversation is that:

  • come this autumn, before the rainy winter season starts, I should fertilize the trees, but there is no point right now – but definitely don’t wait until March.
  • trim the suckers on the trees that appear to be recovering which will allow the growth energy to be diverted from them and into the upper branches that are still trying hard to get better.
  • any trees that have had very little recovery in their main branches, do not trim the suckers. I think the idea being to let them continue to at least show some life without causing more stress, but I am not sure if this is correct.

My companion and I were not able to go immediately back to start trimming the suckers for a couple of weeks, but on Sunday July 31st, we were able to spend about 3 hours in the olive grove and completed about 2/3 of it.

It was interesting just how much more the suckers had grown in the two weeks, as well!

We’ll get to the rest of the olive grove probably in a few weeks, and then plan to fertilize in October.

I’ve also hired a local guy with a Caterpillar machine to clean out the wild trees and clear the adjacent plot. It will take him 2 days apparently, with a helper – and the cost to me will be 500 Euros. Which is exactly what I was told last year when others gave me an estimate of what it would take to get the job done. It is only half a stremma, but it is very quick with wild growth.

Now, to cross our fingers that Central Greece will have a much more milder winter than last year!

2 thoughts on “Olive Grove Recovery After Brutal Winter At Exarchos”

  1. Great to see the resilience, these trees can take a real beating. Otherwise I doubt any would make ut to 500+ years old.

    1. Hi Stijn!

      Thanks for reading and for the comment. Yes, olive trees can be resilient, but it’s tougher for them when they are still young. They have to be able to put down deep roots – as mentioned, the horticulturalist in the village lost an entire olive grove of about 60 trees this past winter. He also is the one that reported to me to that the temps dipped as low as -18C in the village during the cold spell.

      My father-in-law’s olive groves did fine however, but his trees are all 60+ years old. The horticulturist’s trees that were lost were around the same age as mine – under ten years old and I think probably even much less than 10 years old.

      How are things with you?

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