How to grow and care for an avocado tree
A versatile and healthy ingredient, avocado is a much-loved fruit. Avocado trees have large, lush, deep-green leaves, a dense shady canopy and a lovely spreading habit. Ranging in size from dwarf to full-sized, you’ll be surprised how easy it is to add an avo at your place.
What you need to know about avocado
Name: avocado, avocado pear, alligator pear, Persea americana cvrs
Height: typically 5–10m+ with age. Dwarf forms of +/–4m are also available.
Foliage: evergreen, but varies slightly with climate and conditions.
Climate: prefers warm temperate, sub-tropical and tropical regions, however there are varieties available that will tolerate cold to around –5˚C.
Soil: prefers deep, well-drained soil, but is adaptable to most soil types except clay. Drainage must be excellent.
Position: full sun, protected from strong winds.
Flowering and fruiting: small yellowy-green fragrant flowers appear in spring. Fruit can take 12 months or more before it is ready to pick.
Feeding: feed regularly with a balanced, controlled-release fertiliser for fruiting trees.
Watering: young trees require reliable watering as they establish. Older trees may need supplemental watering in very dry periods.
Appearance and characteristics of avocado
As an evergreentree, the avocado will shed leaves in cold weather or during dry periods. Avocado leaves are large, dark, and glossy green above with a lighter shade underneath. This gives them a very tropical look. Their canopy is generally very dense, providing cool shade.
In warmer regions an avocado will grow steadily throughout the year. In cooler zones it will be more likely to have a couple of obvious growth surges in spring and summer.
Avocado tree size
Form and size varies greatly with the variety. This can range from 4m high with low branches and a broadly spreading crown to over 10m with a typical tree-like canopy. Make sure you select a variety that will suit your garden.
Uses for avocado
An avocado tree is a great garden addition for a tropical look, even in cooler zones, and makes a brilliant shade tree once it starts to develop a good canopy. Avocado trees become very handsome, so plant yours where you’ll appreciate its appearance.
There are some varieties that are suitable for pots. Just make sure the pot is large and has good drainage holes, and that the variety you select is a dwarf form.
How to plant and grow avocado
Full sun is a must for avocado. Try to choose a location that is protected from strong winds.Established trees are very hardy, but a tree that remains waterlogged for as little as 48 hours can die, even if it is quite mature.
Soil should be good quality and free draining. Improve average soil with quality compost before planting. If you have clay soil, create a large planting mound above the clay. Avocados will tolerate soil from slightly acid to slightly alkaline. Anywhere from pH 6 to 7 is ideal.
It is important that you select trees that are appropriate for your particular climate zone. Cold-tolerant varieties will have a strong aniseed-like smell to their foliage.
You’ll find different varieties described as “A-type” or “B-type”. Although avocado is technically self-pollinating, its flowers open at different times of day, switching sex each time they do so. This makes pollination patchy, and is more of an issue in warmer zones. To increase the size of your harvest, plant both an “A” and a “B” type tree, as they have opposite opening cycles.
Ensure you leave adequate space between trees. This will be dependent on the varieties you plant, so check the labels.
Avocado has extremely sensitive roots—any disturbance can kill a young tree. Avoid disturbing the roots while planting.
Trees must be appropriately staked with at least two stakes, and mulched well with quality, organic mulch.
Avocado roots are quite wide-spreading, so don’t plant avocado near drains, buildings, swimming pools, pathways or driveways.
Caring for avocado
Feed at recommended rates with a quality controlled-release fertiliser that’s blended for fruit trees. This avoids generating excessive leaf growth.
Plants should be kept reliably watered while becoming established. Once settled in, additional watering may be required during extended dry periods.
Young trees need to be protected from extreme sun, frosts and strong winds. If necessary, attach a screen of shade cloth to a series of stakes around the tree. If frost is likely, the top can be covered overnight too.
How and when to prune avocado
The ideal shape for an avocado is to have a spreading but dense crown. Prune back vigorous central shoots while the tree is still young. Beyond that, pruning will likely be limited to what’s needed to contain its size, removing deadwood or branches that are crossing over or congesting the canopy.
Diseases and pests
The vast majority of problems that an avocado is likely to suffer relate to excess water and fungal disorders. These can be avoided by planting in a location with quality drainage. Adding gypsum to the soil can help prevent some fungal problems.
Growing avocadoes from seed
Avocados are very easy to grow from seed. Just pop a fresh seed into some quality potting mix with the wider side of the seed facing downwards. Use a pot at least 15cm in size to avoid repotting. It will be around 10 years before a seed-grown tree bears fruit.
Avocado doesn’t grow well from cuttings. Aerial layering can be successful, but this requires an established tree to layer from.
The most successful technique is grafting, but this requires a high skill level, and you will need to source appropriate root understock.
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