How To Grow Your Own Avocado Tree (And Give It A Chance At Bearing Fruit)
Growing your own breakfast sounds pretty satisfying, huh? And it turns out, it is possible to plant a tree of the world's tastiest, trendiest green fruit in your own backyard—as long as you live in the right climate. We're, of course, talking avocados.
Here's everything you need to know about growing an avocado tree from seed, plus some insider tips and tricks to give yours a chance at bearing fruit.
How to grow an avocado tree from seed:
Step 1: Clean off and dry your pit.
To begin the process of growing your own avocado tree, you'll need a healthy pit.
"[Begin by] gently removing the meat around the seed. Don't try to do a deep crack with a knife. Use a fork and pop it out," says Jessica Hunter, District 1 representative of the California Avocado Commission (yes, it's a thing!).
Hunter notes that leaving the pit's outer skin intact will help protect it from infection. "By removing it, try not to break the skin. Make sure you give it a good wash to get all the fruit off of it," she adds.
Lastly, you need to make sure your pit is totally dry before moving on to the next step.
Step 2: Get it ready to plant.
You can now move your pit into a glass of water, where it can be left to sprout.
Katja Faber, an avocado producer in Europe, tells mbg that the key to sprouting an avocado tree in water is to keep it indoors and ensure only the bottom, broader part of it is submerged in room-temperature water.
You can use toothpicks for this: Stick three or four toothpicks around the equator of your seed so that it can rest on the rim of your water glass, half-submerged.
Place it in a warm spot in your home that doesn't spend too much time in direct sunlight. Then, all you have to do is wait two to three months for it to sprout.
Faber says that it's imperative to make sure the water doesn't get too dirty in that time. Replace as needed.
"It starts sprouting a main root quite quickly, and then filament roots over a few weeks," she adds. "You'll suddenly see the plant sprout a stem, growing up, searching for light."
If you don't see any stem peeking out the top after three months, toss your seed and start with a fresh one. If a stem does form, wait until it grows to about 6 inches in height before snipping in half and allowing it to regrow.
Once it does, transfer to an 8- to 10-inch pot filled with well-draining soil, leaving the top part of the pit peeking out. Return it to its warm spot, and water as needed. You can leave it as an indoor plant or wait until spring or early summer to move it outdoors and try your luck at sticking it in the ground so it can grow big enough to eventually produce fruit.
Step 3: Planting your tree.
First off, know that avocado trees can't last in chillier climes. Avocados are a subtropical fruit that like the sun, hate the cold, and can't stand the wind.
Faber's tip: Look around you and check what the vegetation is doing outside. If you're surrounded by trees that lose their leaves in winter, an avocado tree likely is not in the cards for you.
According to Hunter, avocado trees are most likely to grow in a moderate climate that has a temperature range between 40 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit all year round. If that describes where you live, you can place your tree outdoors when the time is right.
Faber says that it's always better to grow more than one type of tree. "It helps with pollination," she explains. "Make sure you have at least 3 to 6 feet around the tree." If you have the space, use it to bury a few trees next to one another.
Once you're ready to place your baby tree in the ground, you'll need a bit of well-draining soil or gardening compost. Find the area you want to plant it in, make a hole, and put some of the compost in the hole. Pop the plant into the hole you made, cover it up, and give it a bit of water.
Do make sure it's protected from the wind, and give it a piece of support—Faber recommends a cane—since at the beginning stages, its trunk is quite weak.
Lastly, step back and admire the view. Voilà! Your avocado pit has officially been planted.
Watering & maintenance.
When your avocado tree is first in the ground, you'll need water regularly depending on its size, typically two to three times a week. Well-draining soil is key as these trees like to dry out in between waterings.
Faber tells us that avocado trees are also sensitive to water's pH levels. The ideal range is between 5 and 7.
When leaves first come out from your tree, they'll be a deep brown okra color. Over time, they should turn green.
According to Hunter, the color of your tree's leaves tell you a lot about its health. "Pale green to dark green leaves are the best—a sign of proper photosynthesis, sunlight, and nutrition. The healthier the tree is, the stronger, more producing, and viable the tree is," she says.
The tree's leaves can also provide clues about how you're doing with watering: They will wilt or turn yellow when they've accumulated too much water. This is a sign that the root system is not breathing, Hunter explains.
When they're not getting enough water, their tips will brown at the edges and start to get brittle.
How to fertilize.
According to Hunter, "If the branch becomes weak, the sun will hit it and then scab it. You can't grow fruit from it anymore because of the 'wound' on it." (Interestingly enough, to prevent sunburn, some growers paint their trees using white paint, which can act as a type of sunscreen.)
Hunter says the best way to strengthen your tree and protect it from sunburn is to make sure its soil has enough nitrogen. To do so, you will likely need to apply some fertilizer.
"One of the best fertilizer growers use is called 15-15-15, which contains 15% nitrogen, 15% phosphorus, and 15% potassium," Hunter says. "It's like a multivitamin!"
This well-rounded fertilizer helps generate leaf growth and build a thicker canopy, which acts as a natural defense against the sun.
"The roots on an avocado [tree] normally flush in the spring and the fall, so you want to fertilize in March or April and in September or October," she adds.
Will it bear fruit?
While planting your tree outside should give it plenty of room to grow, unfortunately, it won't guarantee that it will bear fruit.
It turns out, the avocados you find in the store don't come from trees that start from seed.
"The nurseries find root stalks that come from a 'wild tree,' a tree that is strong and will grow for a long time and can withstand inclement weather, pests, etc.," Faber explains. "They grow this tree until it's hip height. Then, the type of avocado they want is grafted onto that tree."
Ultimately, when you grow a tree from a pit at home, it will be a much weaker version of the tree that the fruit originally came from—making its likelihood of producing fruit pretty low, around 20%.
If your avocado tree does begin to bear fruit, its first couple of avocados should show up in its third year. It's not until the fourth year that you will see enough fruit on the tree to share and gift to others.
If you have the space, time, and certification for a commercial harvest, expect to wait until the fifth year to get that started.
4 tips to help your avocado tree thrive:
1. Consider your location.
Avocado trees flower and bloom in April and May. In consistently warmer climates like California (where Hunter is located), avocados sit on the tree from April or May until January of the following year. In this case, you can harvest the avocado any time between January and October.
She notes that this waiting pattern is unique to California: Other places in the world may only have a harvest range of two to three months when the fruit is ready on the tree. This affects how the avocado tastes, as well as how long it stays ripe.
2. Stay grounded.
Once they reach a certain size, avocado trees are not easily transplantable, meaning, it's not recommended to move an avocado tree once it's in the ground, due to its root system being so broad.
3. Be realistic.
Similar to apples, avocado seeds themselves normally don't produce avocados. Any avocado seed can grow an avocado plant but not necessarily a fruit-bearing tree.
Experts say you have about a 20% chance that your avocado seed will produce avocados. To ensure that your tree can grow fruit 100% of the time, you'll need to get it from a local or commercial nursery.
4. Don't expect to eat right a way.
Avocados on the tree are always ready, never ripe since an avocado's texture stays hard when on the tree. Give it a week or so to ripen once off the tree.
When you are ready to eat, make sure you scrape the entire skin of the avocado—those dark edges are the most nutritious part!
Below, we answered some common questions that come up when planting an avocado tree:
- How tall can an avocado tree get? Up to 50 feet tall.
- What time of year will it grow best? Spring to late fall: April/May to September/October.
- What temperatures does it grow in? A moderate climate with consistent heat. The temperature can range between 40 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit.
- What skill level is required to plant and grow an avocado tree? Anyone can grow an avocado tree, but there are no guarantees that it will produce fruit.
Buying a tree.
As an alternative to growing an avocado tree yourself, here are three different types of commercial avocado trees available for purchase online:
- Hass: A super-popular type of avocado, Hasses are known for their creamy, versatile texture. Depending on how much of the fruit you go through in a year, purchasing a Hass tree could save you some serious money at the store. (Hass Avocado Tree, $69.95)
- Gem: This tree grows smaller than the Hass, which makes it more suitable for homeowners who have limited space. (GEM Avocado Tree 3 to 4 feet tall, $69)
- Reed: These thicker-skinned avocados have a buttery taste and are resistant to salt burn. This specific fruit can stay on the tree for a relatively long time after maturity and is shaped round like a cannonball. (Reed Avocado Tree, $44)
The bottom line.
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