Growing Avocados

A Complete Guide to Growing Avocados

Avocados, the smooth, creamy, nutrient-dense fruit that’s the main ingredient in guacamole, can be pulled from the pit left over after the fruit is eaten. Although avocado trees are grown from seed and take a little longer to produce fruit (sometimes 7 to 15 years), growing an avocado tree is a fun, rewarding project that will leave you with a very decorative tree. Once your tree is fully grown, you can wait for it to bear avocados or speed up the process by grafting your tree with productive branches. Regardless of your chosen method, learn how to grow your avocados below.

Choose good growing conditions

Find a warm spot in partial shade.

As subtropical plants, avocados love the sun. Native to Central America, Mexico, and the West Indies, they thrive in warm, humid regions. Although avocados can thrive in far-flung regions like California, they always need plenty of suns to grow optimally. Paradoxically, however, young avocado plants can be damaged by excessive exposure to direct sunlight (especially if they have not yet had a chance to form large leaves). Therefore, while pitting an avocado, you should choose a spot that gets sun most of the day but is not constantly exposed to direct sunlight. Sunny windows are a good spot for avocados. This will ensure that they are not exposed to sunlight throughout the day and will allow you to control the temperature and humidity the plants are exposed to.

Avoid cold, wind, and frost.

Avocados don’t like harsh weather. Snow, cold winds, and rapid temperature drops can damage even much hardier plants and would kill avocados. If you live in a tropical or subtropical climate with relatively mild winters, you may be able to keep your avocados outside year-round. However, if you live in an area where winter temperatures fall below freezing, you should bring your plants indoors during the winter to protect them. Different avocado varieties tolerate cold temperatures differently. In general, common avocado varieties suffer severe frost damage at the following temperatures: West Indian avocado: -2.2 to 1.7°C Guatemalan avocado: -2.8 to 1.7°C Hass: -3.9 to 1.7°C Mexican Avocado: -6.1 to 2.8°C

Use rich soil with good drainage.

Like many other garden plants, avocados do best in loose, rich soil. This type of soil offers high nutrient levels, strengthening plants, reducing the risk of overwatering, and providing adequate aeration. For best results, have this type of soil (high in humus and organic matter) on hand for potting once the avocado’s roots and stem are well established. You don’t need to have the soil on hand when planting the pit, as avocado pits need to root in water before planting in soil.

Use soil with a relatively low pH.

Like many other common garden plants, avocados do best in soil with a low pH (in other words, acidic – rather than alkaline or basic – soil). For best results, you should plant your avocado in soil with a pH of 5-7. A higher pH means the plant has a harder time absorbing essential nutrients, such as iron and zinc, which stunt its growth. If your soil pH is too high, use techniques that lower the pH. This includes mixing in organic material or planting plants that thrive in alkaline soil. You can also get good results by mixing in a soil amendment like aluminum sulfate or sulfur.

Grow the avocado

Remove the stone from the avocado and wash it thoroughly.

Getting the pit out of a ripe avocado is easy. Using a knife, cut the avocado lengthwise and twist the two halves against each other to separate them. Get the stone out of one-half of the fruit. Wash away any clinging avocado flesh until the pit is clean and smooth. Don’t throw away the flesh of the avocado. Use it to make guacamole, spread it on a piece of toast, or eat it raw for a delicious, nutritious snack.

Suspend the core in the water.

Avocado seeds should not be planted directly in the ground. Instead, you must hang them in water and wait for enough roots and a robust shoot to form. An easy way to hang the pit in a glass of water is to insert three toothpicks into the sides of the pit and place them on the rim of a glass or bowl. Don’t worry, it won’t harm the plant. Fill the jar or bowl with water until the bottom of the core is covered with water. Make sure the correct side of the core is facing down. The top of the kernel is less round and slightly more pointed (like the tip of an egg), while the bottom is flatter and has some spots.

Place the jar in a sunny window and top up with water as needed.

Place your core in the jar in a spot that will enjoy occasional sunlight (but rarely direct sun) – for example, a window sill that gets a few hours of sun each day. Watch this plant and add fresh water occasionally if it no longer touches the bottom of the core. Within a few weeks (to a maximum of 1.5 months), roots should be visible at the bottom of the core – and a small shoot should appear at the top. The first activity can take two to six weeks. Even if your core doesn’t seem to develop at all, be patient – eventually, the roots and shoots of the plant will emerge.

Cut back the shoot when it is about 15 cm high.

As the avocado’s roots and sprout thrive, you should continue to monitor them and add water as needed. Once the shoot is about 6 inches tall, prune it back to about 3 inches. Within a few weeks, this should create new roots and the shoot will grow into a bushier, fuller tree.

Plant your avocado seed.

You can plant the core in a pot a few weeks after the first cut, provided the roots are thick and well developed and the shoot has formed new leaves. Remove the toothpicks and place the core and roots in soil rich in organic matter and good drainage. For best results, use a pot 10 to 12 inches in diameter. Smaller pots don’t provide enough space for the roots and will stunt the plant’s growth if you don’t report it in time. Don’t bury the core completely. The roots should be completely buried while the top half of the core is above ground.

Make sure the growing plant gets plenty of sunlight and water frequently.

Once you’ve planted your avocado in the pot, you should water it well until the soil is saturated. After that, you should keep the soil slightly moist without soaking it.

Harden off the plant.

Whenever possible, carry the plant outside. This helps her to get used to the outside temperatures, resp. hardens them. Put them in place with indirect sunlight first, then gradually bring them into direct sunlight. Soon she will be ready for the blazing sun.

Remove the top leaves every 15 cm.

Once your plant has been planted in the pot, you should continue to water it and expose it to strong sunlight regularly. Monitor progress regularly using a ruler or a tape measure. When the plant’s shoots reach a height of around 30 cm, remove any new leaves. As the plant grows, remove the newest top leaves every 6 inches. This encourages the plant to produce new shoots, resulting in a bushier, healthier avocado tree over the long term. Don’t worry about harming the plant. Avocados are tough enough to withstand this regular pruning with ease.

Wait until your seedling is about 0.5 to 1 meter tall.

As mentioned above, growing an avocado tree from the pit doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll be able to harvest your avocados in a reasonable amount of time. Some avocado trees bear fruit after just a few years, while others take much longer or “never” bear good fruit. To speed up the process and ensure your tree produces great fruit, you can graft the tree – just like professional gardeners do. To do this, you need access to an avocado tree already producing delicious fruit and an avocado seedling at least 60-75 cm tall. If possible, opt for a “productive” tree that’s hardy and disease-free — while also bearing tasty fruit. A successful graft ties two plants together, so you should choose plants that are as healthy as possible to avoid problems later.

Do that in spring.

It is best to unite the two plants in the vegetative stage before it gets too dry. Expect this process to take about four weeks.

Make a T-shaped cut in the seedling.

Use a sharp knife to cut the plant’s stem in a T-shape at 8 to 12 inches (20 to 30 cm). Cut horizontally through about 1/3 of the stem, then rotate the knife and cut down about 1 inch. Use the knife to pry the bark off the trunk carefully. Of course, you should avoid cutting too deep into the trunk. Your goal is to “open” the bark so you can incorporate a new branch without harming the seedling.

Cut an eye out of the “producing” tree.

Now find a healthy-looking eye on the fruiting tree you have chosen. Remove with a diagonal cut starting about 1/2 inch below the eye and ending about 2.5 below the eye. If the eye is in the middle of a branch (and not at the top), cut the branch 1 inch above the eye.

Stick the branch with the eye into the seedling.

Now insert the branch of the “productive” tree into the T-shaped cut of the seedling. The green material under the bark of the two parts should touch – otherwise, the branch could not grow. Once the branch is in the slot, secure it with electrical or grafting tape (made of a special material available at most garden centers).

Wait for the grafted branch to grow.

If your graft is successful, the cut branch and seedling should eventually connect and form a seamless transition. In spring, this can be as little as a month or less; in months of slower growth, this can take up to two months. Once the plant is fully cured, you can remove the insulating or grafting tape. If desired, cut the stem of the original plant 1 to 2 inches above the graft site to make that graft the new “main branch.” Once the branch you grafted onto the plant is large enough, it will produce high-quality fruit – just like the old tree. Professional gardeners use this technique to achieve consistent results with all of their avocado trees.

Maintain the avocado

Water frequently, but avoid overwatering the avocado.

Compared to other plants in your garden, avocados require a lot of water. However, it’s important to remember that overwatering is a potential problem for almost all plants, including avocados. Don’t water so frequently or so heavily that the soil around the avocado tree looks runny or muddy. Use soil with good drainage (which contains a lot of organic material). If your tree is in a pot, make sure it has a drainage hole for water to drain. Follow these simple steps and your plant shouldn’t be overwatered. If your plant’s leaves are turning yellow and you’ve been watering frequently, it’s a sign of overwatering. Stop watering the avocado immediately and only water it again when the soil is dry.

Fertilize only occasionally.

You may not need to fertilize the avocado, and it will still grow into a healthy avocado tree. However, when used sparingly, fertilizers can stimulate the growth of young plants. Once the tree is fully grown, you can apply citrus fertilizer according to package directions throughout the growing season. Don’t overdo it, though – you’d better be cautious about commercial fertilizers. Always water the plant after fertilizing to ensure the fertilizer is absorbed into the soil and gets to the plant’s roots. Like many plants, avocados should not be fertilized while young, as the roots can “burn” from over-fertilization. Wait at least a year before fertilizing the plant.

Watch for signs of salt build-up.

Compared to other plants, avocados are prone to salt build-up in the soil. Avocados that suffer from the high salt levels may have wilted leaves with “burnt” brown tips where the excess salt collects. To reduce soil salinity, change your watering habits. Water heavily at least once a month, soaking the soil. The water flow transports salt deposits deep into the soil – under the roots – where they can no longer cause any damage.

Learn how to combat common avocado pests and diseases.

Like any fruit and vegetable, avocados can suffer from various pests and diseases that affect the quality of the fruit or even endanger the whole plant. Identifying and solving such problems is paramount to having a healthy, productive avocado. Below are some of the most common avocado pests and diseases. Visit botany websites for more information. Tree canker – “Rusty,” dented injuries on the plant that may shed a gummy substance. Cut the tree canker out of the affected areas. Tree canker on the trunk of the tree could kill the plant. Root Rot – Usually caused by overwatering. Will result in yellow leaves, wilting and death when all other growing conditions are optimal. Stop watering immediately, and if the situation is very bad, dig up the roots to aerate them. Sometimes fatal to the plant. Wilt and Rot – “Dead” spots on the tree. Fruit and leaves wither in these places and then die. Remove the affected areas from the tree immediately and wash the tools before using them in the garden again. Net Bugs – Cause yellow spots on leaves that dry out quickly. Damaged leaves could die and fall off the tree. Use a commercial pesticide or a natural insecticide such as pyrethrin. Borers – Bore into the tree, leaving small holes that could sap out. Prevention is the best solution: keeping the tree healthy and well-nourished will make it less likely to be infested. Remove and discard any affected branches to prevent spread if borers are present.

Final Words

There are fertilizers specifically designed for avocados. When applied according to package directions, they are almost always helpful. Other fertilizers could also support the plant, especially if the soil isn’t optimal for avocados. Since you want to eat the fruit, consider organic fertilizers rather than synthetic alternatives.

If the leaves turn brown and the tips burn, the soil contains a lot of salt. Run plenty of water through the pot and wait a few minutes for it to drain. Although you can grow an avocado tree from a pit, keep in mind that the tree that grows from the pit is different from the parent plant and can take 7-15 years to bear fruit. Fruit from a tree pulled from the core tastes different than the fruit of the parent plant.


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About the Author


Josh Morgan

Josh Morgan is CouponAnnie's Contributing Writer. He lives life on the cheap, but that doesn't mean a boring existence. Josh loves helping people focus on frugality without giving up the things they enjoy. When he's not getting deals, he's probably drawing or writing something amazing.