Olives in Style

by Rudi Adam

Since the Olea species (africana, capensis, ex asperata) used in Bonsai are small trees or shrubs with a rounded outline, any trunk style can be created, with any branch formation, be it ascending, descending, horizontal, in a straight line, curved or naturally proliferating.

Oleas in the Single trunk style

Most Oleas (europaea subsp. africana and capensis subsp. capensis) that are sold as young trees in nurseries are of the single trunk variety, usually sparsely branched in the lower region (the nursery man strip the lower branches in order to get a Standard (tall) tree) with a more or less tubular trunk. By cutting back drastically, new branches and a new apex can be forced at almost any time of the year. At this stage it may be advisable to leave the new tree in its original container, the abundant root system will ensure quick and strong regrowth. Selection of future branches at an early stage and nipping of over enthusiastic growth may be necessary. Now and again an Olea will display a natural tendency to weep. This would be an excellent plant for semi and full cascades or may be used in semi-weeping styles.

Oleas in all their diversity can also be collected from their natural environment with the permission of the land-owner of course.

Oleas as Multi-trunk styles

Twin or triple trunk Oleas are seldom found in nurseries but when they are, it is usually because of some mishap in the plant's early life or due to their natural tendency of 'suckering'. In many cases the trunks are of equal thickness but with careful pruning and height adjustment, retaining of few branches on the shorter trunks, gradual differentiation over the next number of years can easily be achieved.

Cutting the trunks of the young Oleas short may also result in the Sprout Style since they have the ability to sucker. Some of the best trees in the multi-trunk style are of the collected type since you can select what you want from the start. One rarely makes use of oleas with more than 7 trunks. Olea exasperata is often ideal for this type of style due to its relative flexibility and slenderness of trunk.

Multi-trunk plantings

Two tree, three tree and forest plantings are highly successful especially with Olea europaea subsp. africana (smaller leaves). Take care to select olea with identical or at least similar leaf size and growing habits for this type of planting. Observe the trees over a period of 1-2 years {while preparing smaller root systems in identical soil conditions}, before making your planting.

Oleas on or over rocks

Root over rock style must be created with 2-3 year old Oleas before the roots become too stiff. Affix roots to the rock by means of twine or plastic tubing. Adhesion to the rock can only take place during rapid growth of the three and it is therefore imperative to bury the rock with the tree affixed in a deep container, covering all the roots with soil. There it should remain for a period of 3-4 years being pruned only once per year in order to foster rapid growth but still retain control over the eventual size.

After this period, gradual lifting of the rock (thereby exposing the roots) and judicial pruning and styling, will result in a superb root-rock Olea. Rough old looking bark will form due to the thermal energy of the rock, in half the time it usually takes.

Young Oleas are extremely adaptable as Saikei.


Oleas in general like a sunny position and although they may thrive in a vast variety of soils, a slightly finer semi-rich mixture seems to favor the development of a fine even root structure. Soil with a good water retention will ensure a bountiful leaf crop. Occasional fertilizing with 2:3:2 alternated with fish emulsion (Seagro) and liquid chicken manure seems adequate to ensure even growth and leaf gloss.

After the first few biannual re-potting sessions (to ensure fine and even root structure) re-potting should and can be delayed for 4-7 years, depending on pot size and age of the tree.


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Distant mountain heights...

Lonely trees clinging...

In the hollow of my hand

Random Bonsai Tip

Use vinegar and water to remove moss but it is not as effective as using Limestone Ammonium Nitrate (LAN) and water. Be very careful not to spill any of the LAN on the roots of the bonsai tree as it may burn them and may in the worst case cause the tree to die. Carefully paint the LAN and water mix on the trunk of the bonsai tree and within days you should see the moss turn brown and die.