How To Grow Avocados

The avocado is a rather weird fruit, it lacks sweetness, it’s usually green when ripe and needs to be picked from the tree and stored at room temperature before it can be consumed. Often called an avocado pear this is not because the shape resembles a pear but because it softens off the tree.

At home I spread avocado on toast with a sprinkle of pepper to make a yummy tasting breakfast.   With your own tree you can easily afford the trendy smashed avocado with egg on toast.  And I love the flavour and richness these creamy fruits bring to a green salad.

Contrary to common belief there is absolutely no cholesterol in avocado and only good guy Omega 3 oils so you can eat them to your hearts content and good health.  So good is this healthy fat that one expert recommended eating up to three per day.  While I am a real fan I find it difficult to get through more than one each day. 

When I wrote about avocado back in the 90’s there was a commercial planting boom taking place with dire predictions of over-supply and prices around twenty cents each.  Those predictions were way off the mark because we have boosted our consumption.  So that today you still pay around $2 to $3 per fruit.  At that price home growing makes a lot of sense as a mature tree can produce hundreds of fruit.

Even though they are tropical, avocados grow well in Perth garden, once you understand what they need.
Planting out is a critical step in getting a successful ‘takes’.
Being tropical, timing is important, as young avocado trees are vulnerable to cold and frost when young. So spring, going into early summer, is ideal. 
Choose a grafted tree from a nursery rather than a home raised seedling.  Seedling trees will eventually fruit but don’t be surprised if “eventually” translates to 12 or 15 years. 

Carefully remove the grafted tree from its pot and examine the roots, looking for horizontal encircling roots and a mat of roots at the base.  If either of these is seen it’s important to cut through the circling roots and remove the mat in order for the tree to get a good start in life.  Failure to remove this pattern of root growth as it can imprison the tree forever. 

Choose a sunny location and prepare a hole at least twice as wide as the pot that it came in. Add one potful of Bailey’s Soil Improver Plus to the backfill soil.  Use this mixture to surround the root ball in the new home.  Always build up a saucer shaped moat in the surface of the soil so that water is concentrated near the root zone.  Another always – give your tree a good soaking immediately after planting.   The first three months after planting is a critical time for ensuring that your new tree does not suffer from moisture stress as it stops growth very rapidly and if too severe can kill off the plant.  To this end a 7.5cm thick layer of Moisture Mulch will assist to keep the roots moist. 

Young trees can’t handle full sun, frost or strong winds. To get your tree over the hump of the first season in the ground, I recommend setting up what I can a protective “hoochi”.  Hammer 4 tall tomato stakes into the ground in a square with the tree in the centre.  Attach a surround of shadecloth to the stakes to protect the tree from prevailing wind.  This climate shelter also increases the humidity around the tree so that it’s more like it’s home environment in tropical Ecuador and Guatemala. After 12 months the shelter can be removed. 

While commercial orchardists plant cross-pollinating varieties to maximise yields, home gardeners can usually get a successful crop from one tree alone.  The best choices for home growing where you have room for only one tree are Hass, Fuerte or Sharwill.

Can avocado trees be grown as an espalier?
Yes, and I have seen this in Perth.
Can avocado be grown in a pot? 
Yes, a pot will constrain the size of the root ball and this also means the plant won't grow as large as if it were planted in the garden. 
Can an avocado tree be kept small enough so that fruit can be picked without a ladder?
Yes, this requires fairly heavy pruning from year 2 onwards to reduce the height. 

And now, a final word about ripeness, which can be tricky when it comes to avocados. 
Cup the fruit in your hand and gently squeeze. If it is as soft as your cheek then it’s over ripe. If it’s as hard as your forehead, it’s under ripe. However, if the fruit gives, just like when you press the end of your nose, then it’s perfect.