To aficionados of olives and olive oils planting fruitless olive trees may seem a pointless exercise. Yet there are good reasons to include these well-mannered trees and shrubs in summer-dry landscapes. Olives need little summer water and they blend well with other summer-dry plants. With a history going back thousands of years in the Mediterranean region and hundreds of years in summer-dry parts of the Americas, olive trees instantly evoke, on sight, nostalgic associations with sunny summer-dry lands. Fruitless olives do the same without the mess.

Olea europaea ‘Wilsonii’ at Huntington Botanical Gardens

Fruitless olives are cultivars of Olea europaea selected or bred for their tendency to produce little or no fruit. They retain the muted colors and intriguing textures of this evergreen species and are similarly slow-growing and long-lived. Leaves are lance-shaped or narrowly oval, pointed at both ends, and gray-green to dark green, usually with silvery gray undersides. Bark is smooth and pale gray on younger trees, aging to rough or furrowed and dark brownish gray. The flowers, if any, are small, creamy white, and fairly inconspicuous.

Olea europaea Little Ollie with lamb’s ears and miscanthus

About half a dozen fruitless or semi-fruitless olive cultivars are offered in nurseries or online. Most are mid-height and wide-spreading single- or multi-trunk trees. Two are smallish shrubs or patio-sized trees. ‘Swan Hill’, now trademarked Swan Hill Olives, ultimately reaches 20-30 feet tall and wide with a rounded canopy. This is one of the most reliably fruitless varieties. Majestic Beauty (‘Monher’) is similar and rarely produces fruit.

Young Olea europaea Majestic Beauty in home landscape

Olea europaea ‘Wilsonii’, at maturity 20-25 feet tall and slightly wider than tall, is usually offered as multi-trunk. This is one of the most commonly available tree-sized cultivars. It may produce some fruit in some years and is sometimes described as semi-fruitless. ‘Bonita’ and ‘Arizona Fruitless’ usually are offered as low-fruiting or nearly fruitless varieties.

Olea europaea Little Ollie as low hedge

Little Ollie (‘Montra’) and ‘Skylark’ are smaller, shrubby, fruitless or low-fruiting cultivars. Little Ollie is often described as 2-4 feet tall but without pruning may reach 6-8 feet over time. ‘Skylark’ can become an 8- to 10-foot patio or container tree and will produce some fruit in some years. Both are sometimes maintained as neat and attractive non-fruiting or low-fruiting hedges.

Olives need full sun and reasonable air circulation to perform well.  Most well-drained soils are acceptable. Water moderately until established or if grown in containers. Even at maturity, in-ground plants may need occasional summer water in hot, dry times of year.