The avocado is no longer the new kid on the block. This heart-healthy fruit has taken over the produce section. Popular for dieters, foodies, and kids, we can’t get enough of the green stuff. The only problem is, avocados can be expensive. Sometimes running prices at almost a dollar for just one. Wouldn’t it be nice to grow your own avocados, harvest your own guacamole and reap your own nutrient-rich foods? Good news. It’s easier than you think. Let’s get started!
Seed, Pits, or Trees?
Yes, you can grow an avocado plant from an avocado pit. Yes, you can grow an avocado plant in your home. No, neither of these options are likely to bring you fruit. Avocado plants started as seeds won’t be mature for at least 4 years. Some may take as long as 10 years to yield any fruit, and some may not yield fruit at all. Growing plants from the pit can be a neat experiment for kids, and can pay off for those with a couple decades of patience, but starting from a young tree is the best way to get fruit while you’re still around to actually eat it.
Starting with Soil
Avocado trees like the soil’s pH around 6 to 6.5. If you’re not sure what the pH of your soil is, you can usually find an inexpensive test kit. If you have a heavy clay soil, you will want to elevate your tree in a mound between 12-24 inches high and 3-5 feet around for better drainage. Keep the soil around the tree as pure as possible, don’t use gravel or other planting media. The sooner the roots get into the bulk soil, the better the tree will do.
Planting Your Tree
Keep in mind that mature avocado trees can be quite large, and they produce a dense shade, and shed leaves or flowers all year long. Choose a place where the tree can thrive, and have room to take root. The best area to plant your tree would be the southern side of your home in an area that has well-drained soil. Dig a hole that is two to three times wider and deeper than the container it was shipped in, so that those roots have enough room to get established.
You also can grow a tree in a container, which is wise if you live in an area that experiences cold winters. Choose a container that is at least twice as large as the existing root ball of a young tree. Make sure that you place it in front of a large window or in an area that gets a minimum of 6 hours of direct sun per day. Container trees likely won’t produce fruit, but still make a beautiful tree.
Avocado trees typically need to be watered two to three times a week when they are first planted. Seedling trees need smaller, but more frequent watering while larger trees can take bigger drinks less frequently. As the roots grow and reach down into the soil, you can apply a deeper watering just once a week or so. This should only be after the first year. You don’t want the soil to ever get too dry. Check the soil before watering each time to make sure it has dried somewhat. If the soil from around the roots can hold the impression of a hand when squeezed, it has enough water.
Fertilizer and Food
Avocado trees like plenty coarse yard mulch, but not too close to the trunk. Choose something bulky and woody around the tree base, and mulch the area with 6 inches of mulch, keeping the material about 6 to 8 inches away from the tree trunk. Young avocado trees also like a little basic home fertilizer to help them gain strength. You can spread out fertilizer applications over the course of the year to a total of one-half to one full pound of nitrogen.
Creating a Community
Avocado trees are social creatures. They like to be near other avocado trees. Trees grown in groups tend to yield more fruit that is larger than a tree grown on its own. Though the Hass, Cold Hardy, and Day varieties will product fruit on their own, if you have more than one plant, it’s always better. Having a community of trees helps with pollination, and fruit retention. If you’re planting multiple trees, leave about 5-8 feet of space between the trees and any structure.
Avocado trees don’t need a lot of maintenance or pruning. The only time you will need to prune your tree is in the late winter or early spring just to clean it up and get rid of dead wood. If you want to maintain a certain height, then you can trim the tree lightly by cutting the tallest branch off. If you would like to maintain width, then you can also trim the longest branch and work your way in each year branch by branch.
Finding the Fruit
Be patient with avocado trees. The fruit will come, but it may take a few years. With new trees, expect fruit within four year, but not before. Avocado trees may flower, and lots of flowers will fall without setting fruit, this is the normal process of the tree and nothing has gone wrong. Nurture the growth of the tree and your results will pay off soon enough.
Eventually, a mature avocado tree will produce 100-200 pieces of fruit per tree. Many times these fruits only grow to the size of a walnut before falling off. This is pretty typical, and nothing to be concerned about.
Once your tree is mature enough to produce full-size fruit, the full harvest depends on the variety of avocado. Hass Avocados are ready to harvest as early as February to as late as September. Cold Hardy avocados usually ripen between November and March, and Day avocados are harvested from July through September. Avocados are ready to harvest when they ripen within 7-21 days after picking. To test your avocado, pick one and let it sit. If it turns rubbery or shrivels up, they aren’t ready to harvest yet. If it gets soft and delicious in a week or so, it’s time to harvest. There’s no rush to harvesting avocados. The longer the fruit can stay on the tree, the richer the taste. However, avocados must be picked by hand. Otherwise, the fruit will stay on the tree and never ripen.
What about winter?
Avocado trees are native to warm areas like California, Florida, Mexico and Central and South American countries. They like the sun and don’t do well when it dips below 45 degrees. There are some varieties that can handle colder climates. For example, the Mexican avocado is the hardiest and can survive temperatures of 18 degrees Fahrenheit. The Guatemalan and West Indian varieties will often die at anything below 25 degrees Fahrenheit.
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