The preservation of nutrient capital, soil fertility, and carbon (C) sequestration capacity in Mediterranean olive groves requires evaluation of agricultural practices beyond short-term productivity. We aim to contribute with a mechanistic understanding on the effects that the preservation of herbaceous cover and the use of chemical fertilizers have on the performance of olive trees and on the biogeochemical cycles of the agroecosystem. We compared nutrient fluxes and aboveground leafy stocks in an olive grove that had been organically managed for more than 60 years, in a treatment in which the annual spontaneous herbaceous cover was maintained (H), and after two years of shift to conventional management treatments in which the growth of herbaceous vegetation was avoided by the use of herbicides (NH), and where exclusion of the herbaceous cover is also combined with the supply of mineral fertilizers (NHF). Maintenance of herbaceous vegetation in H contributed to the retention of a high aboveground capital of C and nutrients, particularly nitrogen, (N), phosphorus (P) and potassium (K) that were about 2.9, 3.9 and 7.4 times greater than in NH, respectively. The permanence of herbaceous cover stimulated olive tree leaf litter decomposition rates by about 86 % and increased nutrient release. However, the H treatment led to a 37 % decrease in olive yield and lowered olive foliar N and P content as negative short-term effects. The addition of fertilizers (N, P, K, and Mg) in mineral and solid form in NHF resulted inefficient to improve olive tree nutritional status and olive production, and decelerated olive tree litter decomposition rates by 21 % and nutrient release. The nutrient retention in organic forms in the fast-growing species of herbaceous covers and the progressive nutrient release as litter decomposes may contribute to regulate and better adapt nutrient availability to the nutrient requirements of olive trees.