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Science Insight: Winter Pruning

As we move into February, we bring you a seasonal science insight. Pruning our olives trees is an essential and skilled operation, performed by expert hands and informed by ancient wisdom.

Pruning our olives trees is an essential and skilled operation, performed by expert hands and informed by ancient wisdom.

Like so many things in Italy, pruning olive trees is a combination of art and science. Timing and terroir specific know-how is essential. Each grove has its own microclimate that can only be learned by experience of working in that particular grove. Every cultivar, or type of olive tree, has specific needs and not all trees in a grove need to be pruned each year or in the same way. The individual tree’s age, vigor and prior pruning history must be taken into consideration, together with winds, soil fertility and water availability. Luckily here at Arsenio, we have a valuable and loyal team who know our groves and are trained to take care of them.

The winter pruning, or potatura secca, takes place when the tree is in a period of vegetative dormancy. Cutting stimulates metabolism and growth, which makes the plant tissue more susceptible to plant injury. We must be careful not to wake the plant too early and expose it to frost damage. Olives trees should never be pruned when it’s raining or after recent rainfall. The cuts can become an entry point for fungal disease and bacteria. In summer a second pruning takes place to remove excess branches and non-productive fronds.

We prune to manage the plant’s productivity and health. Like any plant, without pruning, the foliage would grow without restraint. That said, we also have to consider the alternate bearing habit of olive trees so the goal is the correct balance between vegetative growth and fruit production. If the tree is allowed to reach its maximum production of olives, next year’s yield is impacted. The more we cut, the more the plant responds so careful calculations are required.

Like sweeping a staircase, we cut from top to bottom, paying attention to each bough. First we cut the bigger branches, and then the smaller ones. Aesthetic considerations, like symmetry, are not a priority. Our main goal is to create maximum aeration and sun exposure in all parts of the tree. The sun must reach the inner branches or else flowers and fruit will not form. Areas in shade are not only improductive but they also drain strength from the tree. A local saying is that after pruning, you should be able to throw your hat through the tree’s branches without it catching.

During these February days of blue skies and rigid temperatures, our groves are receiving the best possible care for the growing season to come and our 2022 production.

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