` On the Importance of Olive Tree Pruning - Olive Oil Times

On the Importance of Olive Tree Pruning

Mar. 31, 2015
Ylenia Granitto

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An old Tuscan proverb says that an olive tree is well pruned only if a swal­low can fly in its branches.

In addi­tion to the grace that comes from the thought of springy Passeriformes that fly through the sil­very leaves, this proverb gives us a small and pre­cious truth: A good prun­ing should remove from 30 to 50 per­cent of the veg­e­ta­tive struc­ture of the plant.

Foliage and wood must always be in har­mony with one another.- Gianluca Benedetti

First of all, the prun­ing helps air cir­cu­la­tion and light pen­e­tra­tion through the foliage to pre­vent bac­te­r­ial and fun­gal dis­eases which grow more eas­ily in humid, stag­nant air. Secondly, it helps to remove the dead and unpro­duc­tive wood to fos­ter the devel­op­ment of new fruit­ing shoots and pre­vent the aging of veg­e­ta­tion. Also, it helps to decrease the alter­na­tion of pro­duc­tion which nat­u­rally affects the olive and, finally, to man­age the size of the plant to engage the har­vest in safe conditions.

Taking into account all these fac­tors, we under­stand that it is bet­ter for pruners to not impro­vise in order to avoid blun­ders that could dras­ti­cally reduce the pro­duc­tion of olives or cause dam­age to the health of the plant. The best way to learn how to prune — in addi­tion to the study of the the­o­ret­i­cal basis of olive grow­ing — is no doubt to take the field” in the strict sense of the phrase and see how the pruner behaves with the olive trees.

We met our Italian expert pruner, 38-year-old Gianluca Benedetti, in a beau­ti­ful estate on the edge of the Ancient Appian Way, one of the ear­li­est and most impor­tant roads of the Roman Republic that con­nected Rome to Brindisi (Apulia). The count­less sacred remains that dot the area pro­vide a sug­ges­tive atmos­phere — almost mystical. 

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Between tow­er­ing cypress trees lin­ing the main avenue of the wide house and mas­sive ancient olive trees scat­tered around the prop­erty, you have the impres­sion of step­ping back in time. One has the feel­ing that at any moment, a char­iot will appear from the hori­zon, pulled by two majes­tic steeds incited by a dri­ver dressed up in toga!

However, the noise of the chain­saw that Gianluca is using on a thick branch makes us sud­denly go back to this day and age. Scissors and hack­saws of var­i­ous sizes com­plete his toolkit. A scale is also essen­tial, but dur­ing the prun­ing he did not even touch it, because he climbed directly onto the olive tree. 

He lit­er­ally enters into the heart of the olive, gen­tly rests his boots on the branches – care­ful not to step on the shoots – and softly uses the branches as if they were the steps of a con­torted lad­der. He acts with agility like Tarzan in a more civ­i­lized loca­tion. It is fun­da­men­tal to live like the plant in order to under­stand what it needs,” he reveals. Watching him on the job, you have the impres­sion of a love rela­tion­ship between him and the olive tree, which he is tak­ing care of.

This is a full-time task for prun­ing the olive groves of Central Italy. But on the coast, where tem­per­a­tures are mit­i­gated by the action of the sea, oper­a­tions started in October. In the cooler and higher areas they will get started later in the year and can con­tinue until the end of April (just before the root sys­tem resumes its activ­i­ties pro­mot­ing the devel­op­ment of the sprouts due to ris­ing temperatures). 

For deeper cuts, the pruner rec­om­mends one wait for the arrival of spring because the rains can cause cracks in the wood and facil­i­tate access routes to the var­i­ous fun­gal and bac­te­r­ial diseases.

Gianluca has been doing this job in Italy for 12 years. This year,” he says, after hav­ing expe­ri­enced last year’s dif­fi­cult and lack­ing har­vest, a good prun­ing, com­bined with a light tillage, will be more cru­cial than ever to com­bat the dis­eases that pro­lif­er­ated since they were facil­i­tated by cli­matic conditions.”

Among newly planted seedlings and mas­sive hun­dred-year giants of Leccino, Frantoio and Pendolino, he explains that to ensure a good prun­ing, the man­age­ment of the fruity shoots is fun­da­men­tal, namely the pro­duc­tion units of the plant: it is essen­tial to renew and replace them when exhausted, to pro­mote the renewal of the vegetation.”

The more wide­spread train­ing sys­tem in Italy has always been the so-called dichoto­mous vase,” which pro­vides the cen­tral trunk with three or four pri­mary branches that split or branch out into fur­ther branches. This type facil­i­tates tra­di­tional man­ual har­vest since it allows a firm sup­port to the lad­ders. In the last fif­teen years, how­ever, a new train­ing sys­tem has been spread­ing: the poly­conic vase” that is more suit­able for mod­ern grow­ing and har­vest, and pro­vides for the devel­op­ment of fruity shoots directly from the main three or four branches.

In essence,” Gianluca says, cut­ting the last shoot gen­tly but with deter­mi­na­tion, once you have set the struc­ture of the plant, you must guar­an­tee neat­ness at the cen­ter of the canopy and cor­rect man­age­ment of the fruity shoots.”

He finally reminds us that the fun­da­men­tal fea­ture of a good prun­ing is the final bal­ance between foliage and wood, which must always be in har­mony with one another.”

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