Eaten fresh, spread on toast or made into a dip, avocados (Persea americana) are divine. Their soft, buttery texture is complemented by a rich, nutty flavour, making them taste a little too wicked to be good for you.
But avocados are actually one of nature’s superfoods – full of healthy mono-unsaturated fats, vitamins C and E, fibre and more potassium than a banana. They also make tall, handsome evergreen trees for the garden and, once established, are fuss free.
How to sprout
Avocado trees are arguably one of the easiest plants to grow in your own home. Very little is needed to get started, all you’ll need is three toothpicks, one avocado and a glass of water. It is that simple.
Remove the pit from the avocado and give it a good wash. Ensure the flat end of the seed is at the bottom and the pointier at the top. Pierce seed with three toothpicks and submerge the bottom in water. Change the water regularly within 2-4 weeks the roots should start to sprout. If you don’t have any luck try again! Find out more on how to grow an avocado tree from its seed here.
How to graft
Due to their very peculiar sex life, avocados are categorised into two groups. Group A varieties have flowers that open as female in the morning, close, then reopen as male the following afternoon. Group B avocados have flowers that open as female in the afternoon, close, then reopen the next morning as male. Usually, there will be both flower sexes present simultaneously and so self-pollination will occur. However, sometimes the opening and closing of flowers is so well synchronised, there’s no overlap between the sexes, so self-pollination and fruit set can’t occur.
Native to Central and South America, avocados prefer tropical and subtropical climates, but will also grow in warm, temperate and cool climates, provided there is little to no frost. Certain cultivars are cold-hardy, able to withstand temperatures as low as -5°C, but tolerance varies – make sure to check the label before buying.
Plant in full sun, away from strong winds. The bark of young trees can be affected by sunburn in summer, so consider painting the trunk with a diluted whitewash. Avocados are fairly tough trees, once established.
Avocados grow best in deep, fertile, well-drained soil. A few weeks prior to planting, improve the soil by digging through a combination of well-aged cow manure and blood and bone. If growing in pots, use a good-quality, free-draining potting mix.
Unless you live in tropical and subtropical zones, avocados are best planted in spring. Dig a hole large enough to accommodate the root ball. Remove the plant from its pot, then tease out roots and position in the hole. Backfill, mulch, and water.
Water regularly, but don’t overdo it as avocados hate having wet feet.
When young, feed regularly with a complete fertiliser. When trees are mature and producing fruit, feed with chook manure or complete fertiliser during fruit set. Repeat in summer and early autumn.
Avocados mature on the tree, but don’t ripen until picked. To test if your tree’s fruit is ready for harvest, allow the avocados to fully form, pick one and set it aside indoors. If it ripens without shrivelling, it’s time to pick the rest. It is not essential to collect all the fruit at once – just don’t leave them hanging for too long, as this will affect the following year’s fruiting potential. Maturing times will vary depending on the climate but, generally speaking, avocados will ripen earlier in tropical and subtropical climates, and later in temperate and cooler zones.
When it comes to avocado tree pruning, outdoor and indoor avocado trees are no different. Never remove more than one-third of a branch when pruning an avocado tree. Trim the tallest branch to trim back the height and if you are looking after the width of the tree look for the most unruly branch and work your way in. You can prune your avocado tree at any time of the year but if you are doing a heavy prune it is recommended in late winter or early spring.
Find out which would best suit your garden.
Hass is one of the most popular varieties because of its creamy, nutty taste and excellent keeping qualities. Its leathery, rough, dark-purple skin turns black when ripe. Group A. Height 10m. Spread 8m. Harvest August to December.
Wurtz is a dwarf cultivar and a gorgeous option for compact gardens. It’s also ideal for growing in pots and bears delicious, medium-sized green fruit on weeping branches. Group A. Height 4m. Spread 6m. Harvest August to October.
Fuerte has small-to-medium pear-shaped fruit, borne on broad, spreading branches. It has slightly rough, green skin and superb flavour. Group B. Height 12m. Spread 8m. Harvest April to June.
Bacon is perfect for cold climates as it can withstand temperatures right down to -5°C. It bears flavour-packed fruit on a broad, spreading tree. Group B. Height 9m. Spread 4m. Harvest March to May.
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