Green gold!

We’re very lucky that when we purchased our house 13 years ago it came with a mature, and delicious avocado tree. Wanting to know more about how to care for that tree I attended a remarkable lecture at the Huntington given by avocado experts Carl Stucky and Julie Frink. From the Huntington lecture I gleaned the following factoids:

  • Avocados varieties are divided into three “races”: Mexican, Guatemalan, and West Indian.
  • Avocados are extremely frost sensitive, more so than citrus.
  • Mulch, mulch, mulch! Avocados like a thick layer (6 to 12 inches) of course mulch. Once you mulch you have to keep mulching because the shallow roots of avocado trees will often grow up into the mulch.
  • Avocados like a well drained soil and won’t tolerate wet feet. So if you dig a hole and fill it with water and that water sticks around for a day, plant something else.
  • Avocados use a lot of zinc and may need supplemental applications of zinc sulfate placed in shallow holes.
  • What few pests avocados have can be sprayed off with a hose. 
  • Occasional deep waterings flush out chlorides in the soil that can cause leaves to turn brown at the tips and poor fruit production. In fact if the first rain of the season is less than 3 inches, you should irrigate to flush out salts that build up during the dry season.
  • Avocados take a long time to ripen on the tree–12 months or more depending on variety.

For additional reading Stucky recommended the following internet resources:

California Avocado Society
California Avocado Commission (The “growers” part of their website)

One thing that I discovered this year is that you can leave avocados on the tree for a very long period. We had at least a six month harvest window. There’s actually still a few on the tree.

As for squirrels, Stucky’s advice involved extraordinary rendition and water boarding, but we’ll spare you the details.

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  1. “As for squirrels, Stucky’s advice involved extraordinary rendition and water boarding”

    You know, I’m betting that works where hazelnuts are concerned too. I likewise spare my readers the details.

  2. So jealous that you can grow avocadoes! Do you happen to know if they can be grown in pots and moved indoors, or in a greenhouse? I’ve been able to grow a few figs that way here in Chicago and if I move back to Texas I’d love to have an avocado tree, except we do get a frost maybe 3 weeks of the year there…

  3. Sarah,

    Sadly, you can’t grow avocados in pots due to their huge lateral root systems. Some people grow them as houseplants, but eventually they will croak in a pot.

    And my apologies to readers about this post. I realize avocados don’t grow in most places.

  4. When I was in Puerto Rico a few years ago, I experienced a type of avocado that was much larger than the ones I had at home. After I was home, I went into a Hispanic grocery store and found the same type labeled as “Cuban avocados” I never see this type in our Safeway and other grocery stores. I am wondering which of the 3 mentioned varieties this might be.

    Can avocados grow in southern Arizona, such as Tucson?

  5. At the lecture they mentioned a few varieties that are grown in Arizona. Unfortunately I failed to write down that info.

    I’m guessing that the “cuban” avocados are probably a West Indian variety adapted for humid, tropical places, but I don’t know for sure.

  6. Being south of Tucson, I would love to know of an avocado that I could grow here. We just had a really bad winter with a deep freeze that did a number on my citrus trees. If anyone knows of a variety, please let me know.

  7. I’m lucky to have avocados in my yard, too. Curious to know what you’re doing with your abundance. We just trimmed a tree and ended up with about 100 pounds of avos that are, of course, ripening all at once. I’ve shared with neighbors and friends, made guacamole, used them (fresh and frozen) in smoothies, and even considered (but then rejected) an avocado pie. I wish there was a way to preserve them besides freezing!

  8. @Kris:

    100 lbs! I wish we had that abundance. We’ve never had *too* many avocados. We’ve given away some of our biggest harvests, but that’s as far as it’s gone. I agree, it’s hard to preserve avos–can’t can ’em or dry ’em or ferment them.

    Re: recipe possibilities, I just noticed that my favorite Mexican restaurant, Cacao in Eagle Rock, breads and deep fries avocados and puts them in tacos. I’m trying that next time I go.

  9. I decided to plant an avocado trip along side my house about 4 years ago. This past winter I had some yummy avocados. However, what I failed to realize (yes I’m embarrassed), I didn’t realize how big avocado trees can grow. Now I’m concerned that I have an avocado tree that is about 8 feet tall alongside my house and growing. I can keep in trim and short, but I’m concerned that the roots will grown under the house and into the pipes and the pavement. Should I move it. Will the roots spread and uproot my house or can I keep it short and trim? Anyone?

    • Our avocado does not have invasive roots, and it’s old. It’s only about 10 feet from our patio. So I don’t think yours will tear up the pavement. I’ve never noticed any of the avo trees around here displaying those big roots that tear things up–like ficus roots do, for instance. Of course, google is your friend for questions like this. I’m no expert.

      That said, I do know you’re not supposed to plant any tree right up against your house–it’s bad for the foundation, and the tree can’t grow right either. I don’t know how close the avocado is to your house. So that may or may not be a problem.

      You can trim your tree. It’s very important to allow the avocado shade itself. It doesn’t like sun on its trunk or branches. On the leaves, yes, on the woody parts, no. Think of it like a fair skinned lady who needs a sun umbrella. You can trim it back, but don’t expose the trunk and branches to sunlight. Leave cover. Also, a pro tip: if you want lots of fruit, give it lots of mulch. Let the leaves it drops stay beneath it. Ours seriously has at least a foot of organic matter under it. It also gives us hundreds of the world’s best avocados!

    • Unfortunately, when you grow one from a seed you don’t know what you are going to get. Here’s what the University of California says,

      “All commercially grown avocados are grafted or budded in the seedling stage. When plants are grown from seed, they usually do not produce fruit which is true to the parent variety. Therefore, a desirable variety must be budded or grafted onto the rootstock (your seedling tree) to get fruit of a desirable type and quality. Also some avocado varieties are hybrids, in which case the seeds may not grow at all, or if they do produce a seedling, it may be sterile. Avocados normally begin to bear at three years of age (a few fruit) and by four to five years old should produce a full crop.

      Some avocados are not self-fertile. That is, the tree cannot pollinate itself. There may be many flowers, but none will pollinate and set fruit. In this situation you need to graft a different variety onto your tree, or plant another avocado tree of a different variety next to the tree you have.”

  10. All of that is interesting but it does not answer my question. I have walnut sized fruit when will they mature? days, weeks or months?

    PS I am in Egypt we don’t have grafted stock, in fact I don’t know of any avocado plantations in the country! Mine might be the only tree

    • I’m going to disagree with Erik here, to some extent. Yes, it is true that the best quality avocados come from grafts. But I wouldn’t give up hope yet on your tree yet–there is a small chance that the avocados might be tasty.

      To decide when to pick, wait to see if the fruit grows to normal size. Then wait some more. It’s a slow process, but the fruit won’t go bad hanging in the tree, so don’t worry about leaving it too long. With our tree, we decide it is picking time when some of the avos start to fall on their own. Then, once we pick them, the avocados take at least a week to ripen, sometime more. With your single avocado, you’re going to have to guess when it’s ready to pick, but that time will be some long time after it is full size.

      Avocados take 7 years to fruit, so yours is right on schedule. With luck, each year there will be more and more fruit, and I’ll keep my fingers crossed for you that it’s good fruit.

    • Oh, I should add that we find the deeper an avocado tree is mulched, the better it produces. They love to have a thick blanket over their feet. Leave its leaves in place when they fall, and add lots more mulch on top of that.

  11. That is the bit I wanted to know “To decide when to pick, wait to see if the fruit grows to normal size.” How long does that take, my tree flowered in Jan/Feb and now the fruits are about the size of a walnut. How long before they reached full size? Will it be the autumn?

    There are actually two trees side by side, one is approx 25 – 30ft and the other 15-18, it is the smaller tree that has the fruit

    • Hmm. I can’t answer that. Our tree seems always to have some coming on and some done at the same time, so I don’t pay much attention to the timing. It may vary a bit between varieties, as well. But I’d guess they might be ready by summer. There’s tons of agricultural science on avocados–if you google around, you might find a growing schedule.

  12. It is the one question I haven’t been able to find an answer for, hence my asking here. I am dying to find out if they will be eating quality, it is so exciting to have managed to grow them.

    • I’d say just leave it on the tree as long as you can stand to wait, and then after you pick it, be sure to let it ripen until it is truly soft to the touch. It’s easy to convince yourself it is ripe when it’s not, and then the flavor won’t be good. You should be able to depress the flesh with a finger, and it should definitely be soft, not maybe soft.

  13. I live in Central Florida, US Hardiness zone 9B and have an avocado tree in a pot that has been grown from a pit. It is about 7 feet tall and obviously needs to be planted. I will attempt to graft in order to get fruit. My question is about the root system. I have about 6 feet between my fence and the screened pool enclosure and my husband feels that is the ideal spot for the avocado tree. My fear is the roots may entangle and either damage the plumbing lines for the pool, or if I need to work on the plumbing for other reasons, we will damage the tree. If the root system is not large, we can live with it in that place…any advice??

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