Olive tree is a gamble

I recently returned from Greece with a small "airport-approved" olive tree and was curious how the plant will hold up in this region. Of course, the species flourishes in the Mediterranean Basin where summers are hot and dry and winters are mild and rainy, but here in Southern Oregon? Is there anything I can do to see that the tree lasts the winter?

— Emily R., Jacksonville

Emily, while the plant may survive, it is not likely to thrive.

In the last few years, local growers have endeavored to grow olive trees near Jacksonville, but the trees succumbed to winter freezes, said Philip Van Buskirk, administrator of Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center.

"Currently we haven't found any varieties that have done well," he said.

While some ornamental trees have withstood the elements, olive trees typically don't do well north of Redding, Calif., said Van Buskirk, referencing his colleagues' research.

However, the roots of older olive trees are more resilient and often survive even after the rest of the tree has perished.

"Depending on the age, they can with withstand different temperatures, nothing lower than the teens and, for younger trees, nothing lower than the low 20s," said Van Buskirk.

Emily, Van Buskirk advises you plant your tree in a warm place or next to anything that holds heat, such as the house or driveway.

While an olive tree makes for a great souvenir, you might want to send a quick prayer to Demeter, the Greek goddess of earth and agriculture, for your tree's well-being.

Send questions to "Since You Asked," Mail Tribune Newsroom, P.O. Box 1108, Medford, OR 97501; by fax to 541-776-4376; or by email to youasked@mailtribune.com. We're sorry, but the volume of questions received prevents us from answering all of them.

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