If you enjoy growing your own herbs and veggies, you may want to give avocados a try, too. Imagine how convenient to always have a few avocados within your reach every time you crave guacamole, or a simple healthy salad, or a dip, or salsa, or ice creams and popsicles, or your own experimental master-dish. Okay, that list is endless!
Growing avocado at home, however, is not as simple as buying a sapling and planting it just about anywhere. The tree that blossoms and bears this superfood needs special care. So, get ready to know the right steps to enjoy the fruit of your labor.
Two Ways To Plant Your Own Plant
- Buy a young tree and plant it in a non-lawn area of your house.
- Use avocado seed to let it germinate as a sprout and then plant it in a pot.
But First, A Word About Avocados
Height, Texture, Shape, Oil Content
The avocado tree is an evergreen tree that can grow to a height of 40 to 80 feet, but it can be pruned to 15 feet to fit in a small area. This tree has many branches and the flowers are green. The fruit may be round, pear-shaped, or oblong, and its skin varies in texture and color depending on the variety. The moisture and oil content can also vary from less than 5 percent oil to more than 30 percent.
Races And Hybrids
There are three distinct races of avocados: Mexican, Guatemalan, and West Indian. Commercial cultivators use hybrids of various races. The Mexican race is most tolerant to cold weather, and the West Indian type is best suited for warmer climates.1 Keep these facts in mind to choose the avocado variety appropriate for your geographical location.
The most popular avocado variety is Haas—a black-skinned fruit from the Guatemalan race that accounts for about 75 percent of the production in California, the state popular for its extensive avocado production. Some other varieties are Sharwil, which is a Mexican and Guatemalan cross, Reed, which has less width, Pinkerton, which is a shorter spreading tree than the larger and vigorously spreading Hass, and Fuerte.2
The shorter and less dense variety of avocado can be grown even in a greenhouse. An avocado farmer will be able to give you good advice on which variety will be good for your home.
Where Should You Plant
Avocados are grown on a wide range of soils, with a pH of around 6–6.5, but require good drainage as the tree cannot withstand water-logging. So make sure you elevate the tree in a mound for better drainage while planting.
Avocados do best at moderate warm temperature of around 60–85 degree F, with moderate humidity. Once firmly rooted in the ground, it can adjust to around 32–28 degree F.
Places with high winds are not suitable for the development of the avocado tree because avocado wood is very brittle and the flowers and fruits are too delicate to resist strong wind. Areas along the shoreline, too, are not ideal for avocado because these trees are sensitive to salt, which is found aplenty in the salty wind of the coast.3
When Should You Plant
Plant your tree from mid-February to June. The ideal planting dates begin from February 15 and last till May 1 to maximize the benefits from the growing season and to give the tree enough time to harden up before winter arrives.4
How To Plant A Sapling
Once you choose the plant, dig a hole as deep as its root ball. Be careful while planting. Don’t drop the tree into the hole because it may damage the sensitive roots. Lay it gently inside the hole.
The tree needs to be watered around 2–3 times a week. While watering, soak the soil well and allow it to dry out before watering again. Check the soil before watering. If the soil from around the roots can still hold the impression of your hand when squeezed, it has sufficient water. Also, remember that a full sun is best for the growth of avocado trees.5
For mulching, that is covering the surface of the soil to retain moisture and improve soil fertility, redwood bark or cocoa bean husk and shredded tree bark work well.
A research on mulching in avocado orchards showed that mulched trees had lower leaf temperature, delayed seed coat browning, and other positive effects that lead to larger fruit size. Mulching with suitable organic materials, ideally those with a carbon and nitrogen ratio of 30:100 is recommended.6
How To Grow It From The Seed
To grow an avocado from its seed may sound like a far-fetched idea but it’s possible and doable. Save some avocado seeds for the purpose and make sure they don’t dry out.
But have realistic expectations because avocados planted from seed will take around 5 to 13 years to flower and produce fruit, so patience is of essence. You also need to be aware that the seed is the result of cross-pollination, therefore, the resulting tree may be different from the parent tree of the seed.
Remove The Seed
Remove the seed from the avocado, without cutting it, and wash clean any avocado stuck to the seed. An easy tip is to soak the seed in water for a few minutes and scrub it thoroughly. Just make sure you don’t remove the brown skin of the seed, which is the seed cover.
Put The Bottom End of The Seed In Water
Identify the avocado seed’s bottom. Yes, all avocado seeds have a bottom, where the roots will grow, and a top, from which point the sprout will grow. The wider part of the seed is the bottom and the pointed part is the top.
To get your seed to sprout, place the bottom end in water. Now stick four toothpicks at a downward angle into the avocado seed and space them evenly around the circumference of the seed. Half submerge the avocado seed in a clear glass of water and place on a windowsill with sufficient sunlight. Change this water every four or five days to prevent any growth of fungus and bacteria.
Then it’s time to wait for your little avocado to sprout, which typically takes anywhere from two to four weeks and sometimes, even longer, about seven to eight weeks.
This Is What You Will See Meanwhile
The top of the avocado seed will dry out and form a crack whose bottom will have a tiny taproot. Keep the taproot submerged in water because if it dries out because of lack of sufficient hydration, the seed will not sprout again.
The taproot will grow longer, and eventually a small sprout will show through the top of the seed. When the sprout is around 6–7 inches tall, consider it ready to be potted in the soil.
Pot The Sprout In A Terracotta Pot
Pot it in an 8–10 inch diameter terracotta pot in a way that the top half of the seed is exposed. Place the pot in a sunny area because avocado trees love to soak up the sun.
Keep watering the sprouted plant frequently. The soil should be kept moist but don’t over-water: yellowing leaves are a sign of over-watering and if you find this, then let the plant dry out for a few days before you water it again.
To encourage growth and have a rounder and fuller plant, crop out the two top sets of leaves when the stem is 12 inches tall.
Watch your plant grow and wait for it to bloom and bear fruit.
Pest Control Is A Must
Making pests stay away from your growing avocado plant is imperative for its survival and growth. Many types of mite, including the avocado brown mite and six-spotted mite are attracted to the undersides of avocado leaves. A few mites are not really harmful for the plant/tree, but large colonies of mites can destroy the leaves. A good idea is to go easy on high-nitrogen fertilizers that encourage fast growth and attract pests.
Chemical sprays can be used in extreme cases. But before spraying, try these natural alternatives:
- Wash your plant to keep it free from dust as dust interferes with beneficial insects
- Control ants. They don’t eat leaves but they do drive away insects beneficial to the plant.
Avoid chemical sprays and let beneficial insects such as brown mite and other bacteria prey on harmful insects to maintain the natural ecological balance of the tree. In extreme cases, if chemical sprays are a must, only use chemicals registered for use on avocados.7
To get rid of aphids, or plant lice, wash them off your avocado plant and spray it with a teaspoon of neem oil. Keep checking the plant and re-clean after six or seven days or when required. Your efforts will soon bear “fruit.”
|↑1, ↑2, ↑3||General Crop Information: Avocado|
|↑4||Frank D. Koch, Avocado Grower’s Handbook|
|↑5||Dr. Mary Lu Arpaia and Dr Ben Faber, Questions on avocado culture. University of California Agricultural & Natural Resources|
|↑6||Wolstenholme, B. N., C. S. Moore-Gordon, and A. K. Cowan. “Mulching of avocado orchards: quo vadis.” South African Avocado Growers’ Association Yearbook 21 (1998): 26-28.|
|↑7||Avocado Pest Management. University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources, Agriculture and Natural Resources Ventura County|