How to Plant and Grow an Avocado Tree
Avocados are delicious, nutritious and expensive. So, if you live in a region where avocado trees thrive, why not try growing your own?
Avocados grow well in most parts of Southern California so, chances are, you can successfully grow avocado trees right in your backyard. While it is pretty easy to plant and grow avocados, there are a few things you need to know that can make the difference between having a great harvest or having no harvest at all.
Can I Grow Avocados from Seeds?
Yes, you can grow an avocado tree from a seed. In fact, if you spent your youth in Southern California, you probably started at least a few avocado trees by using toothpicks to suspend a seed in a cup of water. After somewhere between two and six weeks, you started to see roots and plant growth, and you may have even planted it in soil a few weeks later to see if it would grow.
Avocado trees will grow using this method, but there is little chance that they will every give you fruit. And, if it did, it would take about 10 years before you would have a harvest. So, if you are more interested in growing an avocado tree for ornamental purposes – for example, to grow in a container on your patio or as a houseplant – then this might be a good option for you. However, if you are hoping to eat avocados from your trees, then it is best to skip the seeds and purchase young trees at a local nursery to plant in your garden or orchard.
Best Conditions to Grow Avocado Trees
Avocados do best in warm climates and do not tolerate freezing conditions well. Some varieties do a bit better in colder weather, so if you live in an area with frost or freezes, you may want to try them. You will have the most luck with Mexican varieties, such as Mexicola or Fuerte. To increase your chances of success, plant your avocado trees between other fruit trees, wrap the tree in burlap before freezes and mulch around the trunk to protect the roots.
Avocado trees require good drainage and prefer loose, loamy or sandy soil. If you are working with the clay soil that is common in Southern California, you will want to plant avocado trees in mounds to improve drainage.
One of the most important things to remember about creating the best conditions for growing avocados is that your tree will need a pollinator. This is usually not a problem in Southern California, since they are commonly grown in backyards across this area. Chances are, you have an avocado tree growing near you but, if you do not, then you will need to plant more than one tree to help ensure your tree will bear fruit.
How to Grow Avocado Tree: How to Plant Avocado Tree
After choosing a spot to plant your tree, create a mound that is high enough to cover the pot. Make sure there is a space in the middle of the mound where you can place your tree. Take the tree out of the nursery pot and place it in the hole in the center of the mound you built.
If you live an area where deer come in your yard to feed, place deer fencing around your young trees to protect them.
Young avocado trees prefer some shade to protect them from the sun. Once they mature, the will do fine in full sun.
How to Care for Avocado Tree: Care and Maintenance
You will need to water your avocado trees at least twice per week for the first year. After the first year, you should be able to move to once per week for irrigation. In times of drought or prolonged heat, your avocado trees will require extra water.
To help the soil retain moisture and to protect the shallow root system of avocado trees, mulch with a thick layer of organic material around the base of the tree. Be sure to keep your mulch at least six inches from the tree trunk.
Avocado trees do not require much fertilizer and fertilizing too much can damage their shallow, delicate root system. It is best to use citrus tree food or avocado food and to give just a little fertilizer at a time.
You can prune your trees lightly throughout the year, but if your trees need heavy pruning, do it in late winter or spring.
How to Care for Avocado Tree: Pest Control
Folks who grow avocados are fortunate to deal with fewer pests than many other fruit trees, but there are still a few pests you may have to manage.
According to the University of California Cooperative Extension Agriculture and Natural Resource Ventura County website,
“With biological control beneficial insects (predators and parasites) prey on harmful insects to maintain a biological balance naturally making the use of chemical insecticides to control pests unnecessary. When chemical sprays are applied to avocados, not only is this target insect killed, but also the natural enemies of other pests. This reduction of beneficial insects causes the eventual buildup of the harmful insects. Therefore, unless there is an extremely heavy infestation of harmful insects causing economic loss, it is better to sustain minor damage and wait for the beneficial insects to increase in number and begin attacking the destroying and harmful insects.”
This means that natural pest control methods should be used whenever possible, such as the release of beneficial insects that target the insect causing harm to your trees. For example, if you are having trouble with brown mites, release lacewings, or, if you are having trouble with omnivorous looper, you can use the beneficial bacterium, Bacillus thuringensis. If you are having trouble with thrips, control the population with black hunter thrips that will pray on the avocado thrips.
You may find that you have an issue with rats climbing your trees to eat the fruit. You can curb this activity by wrapping the trunks with metal sheeting, which the rats cannot climb.
How to Store Avocados
Avocados that are not yet ripe should be stored at room temperature in a well-ventilated area. On your countertop or in a your produce basket will work nicely. Once your avocado is ripe, you can use it right away, or you can store it in the refrigerator to extend it’s life by two or three days.
If you cut an avocado and only use one half, the other half will brown quickly if it is not properly stored. Your best options for keeping the remaining half fresh and usable is to either use water or lemon juice. To store your cut avocado using water, remove the pit, pour a small amount of water in a food storage container, place the avocado in the water flesh-side down, cover the container, and store it in the refrigerator for one to two days.
To keep your cut avocado fresh using lemon juice you first remove the pit then spray or pour fresh lemon juice on the cut side, wrap it in plastic wrap, and store it in the refrigerator.
If you need green avocados to ripen quicker, place them on a sunny windowsill or put them in paper bag with a banana or an apple. Bananas and apples hasten ripening by releasing ethylene gas, which is why you usually want to store them away from your other fruits and vegetables, but, in this case, their ripening capacity is helpful in making sure your avocados are ready in time for your next dinner party.
How to Use Fresh Avocados
Sliced, fresh avocados can be placed on salads, tacos, tostadas, sandwiches, burgers, or omelets. You can also blend an avocado into your morning smoothie, add it to your favorite hummus recipe or mash it on your toast.
Of course, there is also guacamole, which can be made with a wide variety of ingredients to make it sweet, spicy or tangy.
While there are lots of guacamole recipes that can be easily found online, here is a basic one to get you started. From here, you can experiment with adding other ingredients, such as tomatoes, mangoes, garlic, or chilis.
Basic Guacamole Recipe
2 – 3 ripe avocados (halved, pitted, peeled, and cubed)
1 small onion (diced)
Juice of one lime
Salt and pepper to taste
Mix the ingredients together in a bowl and serve with tortilla chips or crudité.
If you prefer your guacamole to be more like a salsa, cut your avocado into small cubes. If you prefer guacamole dip, lightly mash your avocado as you mix in the other ingredients. You can serve it right away, or you can chill it in the refrigerator for a short time (no more than one hour) before serving.