The Q&A Archives: Sweet Olive Root Rot?

Question: I purchased a sweet olive about 9 months ago. I planted the 20-inch shrub into a large concrete pot that has one large drainage hole, using good organic soil amendments. The pot is in full morning sun and part shade in afternoon. I have been watering the plant faithfully, and have fed it with fish emulsion, seaweed extracts, bone meal, and rock phosphate. With all this TLC, it still hasn't done well. The leaves are small; a large number of them have curled up, turned brown, then fallen off. A few blossoms appeared in early April but soon dropped. What is wrong?

Answer: Leaf drop of sweet olive is associated with waterlogged soil, and it sounds like the conditions have been too wet, especially since the planter has just one drainage hole. This plant requires excellent drainage -- allow the top 3 inches of soil to dry out between waterings -- and acid soil conditions. Concrete contains lime, which can leach into the soil and raise pH, which may be a contributing factor in the tree's ill health. If possible, transfer your tree to a plastic container or wooden barrel with several drainage holes. Sometimes it helps to prop the container up on some bricks so the water can drain freely. Use a potting mix with excellent drainage properties. Inspect the plant's roots when you transplant it, and remove any that are clearly dead. Allow the plant to grow a bit before offering it some acidic fertilizer, applied as directed on the product label.

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