Tea Olive Tree

Tea Olive Tree: Basic Facts

A favorite small old-fashioned tree of the south, the evergreen tea olive tree, or sweet olive tree, is best known for its fragrant white flowers whose scent can fill a small backyard.  The aroma of the flowers of the tea olive tree has been likened to the scent of a ripe peach, apricot, orange blossom, or jasmine.  It can bloom several times a year, in spring, fall, and even on some warm days during the winter.



The tea olive tree can be pruned to a desired shape and size and maintained as a shrub, or if allowed to grow freely, it can reach maximum heights of 20 feet tall and 6-8 feet wide.  However, on average, these trees will grow to 6-10 feet high.  If allowed to grow without pruning, it can appear somewhat “leggy” over time, having stems with few leaves except at the very ends of the branches.  Pruning will alleviate this problem.  Individual blossoms are small, but the scent of the tea olive tree flowers is exquisite.  It is a slow-growing tree (growing just 4 to 12 inches per year) and will live for many years.  The leaves of the tea olive resemble those of a holly bush, with their deep green, waxy appearance.  Their resemblance to the holly is what gave them the common name ‘false holly’.

Location: The tea olive tree is native to Asia, although it is regularly found in parts of the southern United States. It is hardy in zones 8-10 and cannot tolerate minimum winter temperatures below 10°F.  It can be grown in a container, but it must be taken inside during the cold winter months.

Cultivation:  These trees are able to adapt to a wide variety of soil types and qualities.  They will grow in almost any type of soil except extremely poor, sandy soil.  They prefer an acidic soil that is moist, rich, and well-drained, though, to grow to their fullest potential.

Light:  The tea olive requires full sun to partial shade.  It will not tolerate areas of full shade.

Pruning:  The branches of the tea olive tree may be cut back to encourage more branches to grow and a more compact growth habit.  The tea olive may be maintained as short as 4 feet in height as a hedge.

Propagation:  Wood cuttings are used to propagate the tea olive.  Cut an 8-9 inch long year old branch just above a node.  Dip the end into a root hormone and place it into a pot filled with a mixture of peat moss, perlite, and organic mulch.  Place a clear plastic container over the pot to retain humidity, and water until the medium is damp, not overly wet (or the cutting may rot).  Keep the growing medium moist, and the cutting should grow a viable root system within a few months.

Health: Tea olives are generally a healthy plant, having few pests and few diseases as regular problems.  In general, pests and diseases will only attack the tree in the most stressful conditions, such as when the tree is planted in extremely poor soil or in drought conditions.

Uses:  These trees are generally used as decorative accent trees or hedges.  Often, they are placed near areas of foot traffic, near patios, or near windows so that you can fully appreciate the scent of the blooms.

The tea olive tree can be a wonderful addition to your backyard.  This traditional southern plant has been a favorite for years for good reason.  The soft, sweet scent of the blooms will bring back memories for children of the south and the allure of their aroma is intoxicating.