Imagine how much better that morning avocado toast would taste if you made it fresh from fruit growing right in your own backyard. If you live in the right area, it’s totally possible.
Avocados are exceptionally healthy. The green wonders are nutrient-dense and good for your heart, with over 20 vitamins and minerals packed into one serving.
Full of healthy monounsaturated fat, avocados are the go-to cholesterol-free, guilt-free treat in my house. After reading this guide and getting your tree growing, they can be an everyday treat in your home, too.
Varieties of Avocado
Originally from Mexico, archaeologists have found signs that humans were eating wild avocado 10,000 years ago and the fruits were cultivated starting 5,000 years ago.
These days, there are quite a few more varieties of avocados than most people realize. Some are more cold-hardy than others, so be sure to check which one grows best in your area.
Hass is probably the most popular type of avocado simply because it’s the one most commonly sold in stores. The fruits are oval-shaped with thick, pebbly skin that darkens as it ages. It’s an alternate bearing-prone variety.
Reed avocados are larger than Hass and more round in shape. The skin is thick and stays green as the fruit ages. Reed is prone to alternate bearing.
Fuerte avocados are shaped like a pear. The skin is smooth and has less flesh than Hass or Reed.
This type is rarer in the home garden, but worth it if you can get it. Carmen Hass has two fruit sets – one in spring and one in fall. The spring set is identical to Hass, while the fall set is rounder and smoother.
Rounder than Hass and slightly bigger, Gwen has a nutty, buttery flavor that many say is superior to Hass. It’s a dwarf variety that takes up 1/3 of the space of the larger varieties while still producing twice as much fruit. The downside to Gwen is that it’s extremely sensitive to variations in temperature and wind. It also needs a pollinator avocado, usually Zutano.
Gem is my choice for the home garden, especially if you don’t have acres of land. It’s a dwarf variety related to Gwen. It produces well each year, but the downside is it only does well in a few areas, such as Southern California.
Not as creamy or rich in flavor as some of the other avocados, the flesh of Zutano can have a slight watery taste. The skin is a little harder to peel than other varieties. It’s often used as a pollinator.
Other varieties worth checking out include:
- Lamb Hass
How to Plant Avocado
Avocados do well in zones 8 to 11.
Avocados need full sun with unobstructed light in cooler areas. If you have blazing summer sun, partial shade is okay.
Avocado trees have shallow root systems. It needs soil that’s well aerated with good drainage because the roots rot if they stay too wet. Aim for a pH of 6.0-6.5.
When to Plant
The best way to grow avocado is to buy a grafted variety to ensure your tree gets a consistent fruit set.
Plant in spring when there is no more danger of frost and the soil is warm.
You can definitely grow dwarf avocados in a container if you give the plants the right conditions.
Use at least a 15-gallon pot with good drainage. Add a layer of stones at the bottom of the pot to assist drainage and use a light potting mix such as one made for cacti.
It is possible to grow an avocado tree from a stone or pit. Be aware that it will take a few years to get avocado and it may not grow fruit at all.
You could try planting the pit directly into well-rotted compost and it may grow like a normal seed. Then again, it might not.
Remember doing this in elementary school? Take a clean, dry pit turn it so the longer side is facing out. Insert three toothpicks around the center at equal distances.
Fill a glass with water and place the pit in the water. The toothpicks sit on the lip of the glass to hold the pit up.
Ensure only half the pit is submerged and over the next couple of weeks, you’ll see roots developing. Once there is a good root system underneath, transfer the pit to a pot being careful not to damage the roots.
Harden it off for at least a week before moving outside to its new home.
Dig a hole bigger than the root ball and place the tree inside. Fill the hole with well-draining, sandy soil. Firm down and stake the tree.
Ensure you choose a site that is protected from the wind.
A slight downward slope is preferable to assist in draining the water away from the avocado roots – a 15% slope is optimal.
Full-size avocado trees require a spacing of about 15-20 feet. Rows should be 20 feet apart.
Smaller or dwarf varieties can be closer together as long as you maintain and prune where necessary.
Caring for Avocado Trees
Four weeks after planting, apply a balanced fertilizer. After, apply urea every 4-6 weeks during the growing season.
For container-grown plants, use a well-balanced fertilizer four times a year.
In the first year, particularly in summer, water three to four times a week. This may seem like a lot, but if you’re living in arid areas the soil dries out quickly.
The best way to determine if you need to water is to dig down 6 to 8 inches and see if the soil is moist. If you can form a ball, it’s moist enough.
With such shallow roots, the avocado tree doesn’t search deep for water so if the soil is dry, the tree will suffer.
As the tree matures, water once a week.
For container-grown avocados, water well, but not too much. Allow the soil to dry out a little before watering again.
A full-size avocado tree can grow between 40 and 80 feet tall. For the home garden, a dwarf variety is best, but keep in mind you still need to prune a dwarf variety to keep it tidy and healthy.
You can lightly prune any time of the year, but reserve the heavy pruning for the winter. First, prune any diseased branches or any that are rubbing together. Then you can shape and reduce the size of the plant.
Avocados fruit on new wood. Once it has fruited, it won’t fruit again. That means each year you’ll need to cut several branches at their point of origin, depending on their size and maturity.
Next year, the avocado tree will produce new growth where you’ve cut and the branch will bear fruit.
Here’s a video to help get you started:
Common Problems and Solutions for Growing Avocado
Most problems with avocado are because the soil is inadequate or the soil is not free draining.
Alternate bearing means the tree produces heavily one year and lighter the following year. All avocados are prone to this, and while it isn’t a problem necessarily, it’s something to watch for.
Alternate bearing occurs once a tree gets too stressed one year, so it needs a second year to recover. This can happen if the spring is too dry or cold or if the tree isn’t getting the nutrients it needs. Once the phenomenon occurs, it generally continues.
Do your best to keep your trees healthy if you want to avoid this issue, but it isn’t always under your control.
Algal Leaf Spot
This disease is caused by parasitic algae which are spread by rain. You’ll know you have it if you spot net-like orange, gray, or green spots on leaves. The splotches eventually grow together to look like one large spot.
While it’s mostly a cosmetic problem, you still want to keep it under control. Healthy plants are resistant to the disease, as are well-pruned plants that have plenty of air circulation. Keep your orchard clean and weed-free, as well.
Anthracnose impacts all parts of the tree, from new growth to fruits. You’ll probably first notice unhealthy leaves on your tree that eventually turn yellow and fall, followed by black lesions on the fruit.
The disease can ruin your harvest if you have a heavy infestation, so work to prevent it. It’s spread by water, so keep trees well-spaced and pruned, keep weeds under control, and water at the base of plants.
Prune out any impacted branches, prune any branches below 2-feet from the ground, and only prune or harvest during dry conditions.
As the name implies, black streak shows up as long black discoloration on tree bark. Eventually, the cracks ooze sap that turns brown or white in the sun. Unchecked, it can kill a mature tree.
Since there’s no cure, you need to keep this disease away. The best way to do that is to keep your avocados growing happy and healthy. Most important is to water the trees well with high-quality irrigation. You can also support trees by fertilizing appropriately and working to prevent stress.
Avocado scab causes brown, corky scabs to form on the skin of fruits. While it’s mostly a cosmetic problem, it creates conditions that encourage problems like anthracnose.
The best way to treat it is the repeated application of a copper-based fungicide.
Fruit rot causes small lesions on the skin to appear over time and get worse as the fruit ages. The decay spreads through the fruit.
To avoid it, make sure you remove debris that’s fallen under the tree and prune diseased branches before burning or discarding in the trash.
Sun blotch is an incurable disease that stunts the growth of avocado trees. You may see red or yellow discoloration in the branches and a low yield of fruit.
Buy only disease-resistant trees from a reputable seller.
Fusarium dieback is carried by the shot hole borer. Once it infects the wood, the tree begins to rot from the inside, causing branches to die. There’s no way to stop it other than to prune infected branches. Be sure to sterilize your tools between use.
Borer tunnel into avocado tree branches, leaving telltale signs in the wood. This is a relatively new pest, but it can cause severe damage to the plant. Though the pests are about as big as a sesame seed, they carry fusarium wilt fungus.
Remove any infected branches immediately and contact your local AG commissioner office.
Caterpillars of all sorts love to attack the flowers and fruit of the avocado. Spray with organic pyrethrum as a knockdown, then spray regularly with neem oil.
Avocado thrips are tiny orange-yellow winged pests. They don’t damage the tree, but they can damage your harvest.
Thrips cause damage to fruit skin, making them unsightly with scabs or scars. Spray regularly with a targeted insecticide if you spot them. You can also encourage beneficial insects like predatory thrips.
Western Avocado Leafroller
Also known as amorbia, this pest is typically found in California. There are two generations per year, with adults present May-June and again in October.
The larvae feed on the young fruit and roll the young leaves up into a shelter, stunting the plant and causing the leaves to fall.
You can use targeted insecticides and attract beneficial insects like tachinid flies and parasitic wasps. Prune away infected branches when possible. You can help prevent this pest by controlling weeds and keeping dust down in your orchard.
Companion Planting for Growing Avocado
Plant things like comfrey around the base of the plant. It’s high in nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. It won’t rob the avocado of nitrogen like grass can, and as comfrey decomposes it adds more nitrogen to the soil.
You can also plant avocado with:
Don’t plant avocado trees with potatoes or tomatoes.
Harvesting and Using Avocados
The great thing about avocados is that the fruit doesn’t necessarily ripen fully on the tree, so you can leave them on until you’re ready. Then, you can pick a couple (or more) at a time and allow them to sit on in a bowl in the kitchen for a few days, where they slowly ripen.
Depending on the type of avocado, you can leave the fruit on the tree for several months before picking.
Of course, there are a million other ways to use avocados besides guacamole and avocado toast.
They’re delicious stuffed with ingredients like shrimp and chicken. This buffalo chicken salad-stuffed avocado is to die for.
While avocado ice cream might sound strange, you should totally give it a try. Avocado is a fruit, after all, and the fat in it makes a particularly creamy treat.
Avocado also makes an incredible fudge.
The Bottom Line on Growing Avocados
Avocado is such a rewarding fruit to grow. The fruit is not only delicious, but it’s an insanely nutritious treat.
You can plant one tree per family and have plenty of fruit waiting on the tree, ready for you to pick and ripen when you choose. If you decide to grow a whole orchard, you can always find people willing to pay top dollar for the green wonders.
Have any avocado recipes to share with us? Do it in the comments!