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Climate Impact on Orchards


By Caroline J. Beck

We are often asked about the best climate conditions for growing olives. If you are planting a new olive orchard, geographic considerations are the first and most important factor to understand. While California continues to be the dominant source for domestic olives, states like Georgia and Texas have joined the trend in recent years with much success. Based on climate zones, there could be many more states that might find olives to be the next cash crop. So, where are the ideal places in the U.S. to grow olives?

Olive trees need a subtropical climate and do best with mild winters and long, warm, and dry summers. They are sensitive to hard freezing environments. They will grow in climate zones 10 and 11 (see map below). Some varieties are hardy enough for zone 9 or even 8. Temperatures below 22ºF (-5ºC) will kill small wood and branches. Freezing conditions lasting days or a hard freeze, below 15ºF (-10ºC), will kill or severely damage an olive tree. It is best to avoid planting olive trees in situations where there is a high risk of frost during bloom (late April to mid-May) or where freezing conditions are likely before harvest. Summer rainfall can cause fungal and bacterial infestations.

Finally, there can be substantial microclimate differences within one orchard. Small valleys, in particular, can be substantially colder than more open areas and may make a difference between having frost damage or not. Study the year-round conditions before planting to avoid problems like discovering your orchard is situated in a high wind area that only presents itself during bloom time.

Get to know your local agriculture extension office where expert advice on microclimate conditions might be available. If available, local agricultural colleges and universities are also often well-versed in the nuances of climatic conditions that you might face when planting olives for production.

Zone 1
Below -46ºC (below -50ºF)?
Zone 2
-46 to -40ºC (-50 to -40ºF)?
Zone 3
-40 to -34ºC (-40 to -30ºF)?
Zone 4
-34 to -29ºC (-30 to -20ºF)?
Zone 5
-29 to -23ºC (-20 to -10ºF)?
Zone 6
-23 to -18ºC (-10 to 0ºF)?
Zone 7
-18 to -12ºC (0 to 10ºF)?
Zone 8
-12 to -7ºC (10 to 20ºF)?
Zone 9
-7 to -1ºC (20 to 30ºF)?
Zone 10
-1 to 4ºC (30 to 40ºF)?
Zone 11
Above 4ºC (above 40ºF)

For more information, see Site Selection at The Olive Oil Source.