In USDA zone 9 and warmer, tea olive matures to a larger size, 20 to 30 feet high. In cooler winter areas the mature height is typically 10 to 15 feet tall. When grown as a hedge, tea olive is often maintained 10 to 12 feet tall and allowed to grow up to 8 feet wide.
Do not prune branches of tea olive from mid-summer to mid-fall unless they are damaged, dead or diseased. Pruning late in the growing season encourages new shoots to grow and not mature in time before the fall frosts, killing leaves or tender stems.
Also called fragrant osmanthus or sweet olive, tea olive (Osmanthus fragrans) produces tiny, easily overlooked white or orange blossoms that release an intense but pleasant apricot fragrance. Gardeners use tea olive as a broadleaf evergreen hedge or screen in U.S. Department of Agriculture hardiness zones 7 through 11. Flowering occurs in autumn and again in spring on 1-year-old branch twigs. Continuous winter flowering occurs in mild climate regions. Pruning is best done in fall when the growing season ends or in early spring just before new growth begins.
Cut off any broken, dead or diseased foliage or branches from the tea olive, regardless of the time of year. Make the cut with hand pruners 1/4 to 1/2 inch above a lower branch junction, pair of leaves or dormant buds.
Trim back branch tips in late winter or early spring to shape the tea olive shrub. Make the pruning cut 1/4 inch above a lower pair of leaves, dormant buds or branch twig junction. Where branch tips encroach on a building facade, fence or other garden plant, trim the branch back farther so regrowth doesn't quickly put the branch right back into the wall or nearby plant.
Pinch back new growth in early summer with the hand pruners. "Pinching back" means reducing the length of tender, soft-tissued new growth so the plant's overall size doesn't enlarge as quickly. For example, if the new growth on branch tips in early summer is 6 inches long, pinching back results in new growth twigs only 1 to 4 inches long. Pinching back hedges in early summer maintains the shape and size of the plant heading into the latter half of the growing season. Don't remove too much new growth, as these twigs produce flowers later in fall and winter.
Trim branch tips, if needed, in late fall after frost occurs and no new growth follows pruning. Trim in fall or winter to remove dead or broken branches or leaves, and to remove any branch encroaching on a structure. Tea olive blooms in fall and winter, so pruning removes flower buds.
Jacob J. Wright
Jacob J. Wright became a full-time writer in 2008, with articles appearing on various websites. He has worked professionally at gardens in Colorado, Florida, Minnesota, New York, North Carolina and Pennsylvania. Wright holds a graduate diploma in environmental horticulture from the University of Melbourne, Australia, and a Master of Science in public horticulture from the University of Delaware.