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With this popular fruit getting even pricier in stores, it's worth finding out if you can grow your own homegrown harvest of avocados.
Avocados have been grown by humans for thousands of years. Loaded with essential vitamins, minerals and rare healthy fats, combined with a rich flavor and delicious creamy texture, avocados have skyrocketed to superfood stardom faster than you can say ‘guacamole’.
So if you've ever finished an avocado and wondered what would happen if you planted the stone, perhaps now is the time to try it out. You could possibly enjoy a fresh supply of fruits from your own yard or vegetable garden. And even if you don't live in a climate where it's possible to grow avocados outdoors, growing one from a stone to create a lovely tropical houseplant can be a fun project.
Getting started with growing avocados
The avocado, Persea americana, is a tropical evergreen tree native to Central America. Warmth and moisture are key conditions if you want your avocado plants to thrive.
Whether you can grow an avocado successfully outdoors will very much depend on where you live, and what your goals are. If you live in warmer area, you might be dreaming of fresh homegrown guacamole by adding avocados to the fruit trees you grow in your backyard. Or if you're not blessed with long, hot summers, you may be looking to raise a leafy indoor plant from the stone of a store-bought fruit instead.
Whichever route you choose to follow, it's necessary to know how to germinate a stone, how to choose the right variety for your climate, and how to plant and care for your avocado tree.
The ideal growing conditions for avocados
Growing avocados outdoors requires mild winters and long, warm summers without too much drought.
With the right variety and a suitably sheltered and sunny microclimate, growing avocados outdoors may be possible in southern and coastal regions of the US falling in USDA zones 8b or higher.
If you live in a cooler climate but you are lucky enough to have a large, heated greenhouse or glazed sun room, you may also be able to raise a fruiting avocado tree.
How to grow avocados from a pit
As easy way to start an avocado plant is from the stone or pit. Although this isn’t the best way to get a fruiting tree, germinating an avocado stone makes a fun family project, helping to engage kids with plants and learn about how they grow.
You can germinate an avocado pit in water using a glass jar or vase, which allows you to get a great view of the developing roots and shoot.
'Germinating the seed of an avocado is easy,' says fruit and veg expert Lucy Chamberlain from Amateur Gardening magazine. 'They can quickly make attractive houseplants.'
Lucy studied horticulture and was previously the Horticultural Advisor at RHS Wisley in the UK. She has been Head Gardener on a 100-acre private estate in England for many years, but she still writes regularly for titles such as The Garden, Gardeners’ World, The Guardian and Amateur Gardening. Lucy has also contributed to various RHS books, being sole author of the RHS Step by Step Veg Patch, available on Amazon, which covers how to grow 50 different types of fruit and vegetables. Here, she offers advice on growing an avocado plant from a pit.
- Buy an avocado from a grocery store, consume the flesh and then save the large brown stone.
- Insert four toothpicks into the stone’s base, in a cross formation, then suspend this stone over a glass of water so that only the base is immersed.
- Place this glass on a warm, well-lit windowsill, and change the water regularly.
- After a week or two some roots will emerge.
- Once well rooted and the pit has sprouted one or two leaves, remove the pit from the glass. Carefully remove the toothpicks.
- Pot up the rooted pit into a 5in pot of multi-purpose compost. Grow on as a houseplant, repotting as necessary.
Alternatively, you can simply plant the stone in a pot of compost. ‘It's important to use a really well-draining potting mix,’ explains tropical plant expert Chris Bower from GoTropicalUK. He recommends adding perlite and vermiculite to your potting compost to control moisture levels. ‘The key with growing avocados is for the soil not to be too wet or too dry,' Chris adds.
To plant an avocado pit in compost, sink the stone, pointed end upwards, into pre-watered compost so that it is half submerged. Leave on a warm, bright windowsill out of direct sunlight.
You can also mimic this natural process without the mess of soil. ‘You can germinate an avocado by wrapping the stone in a damp paper towel and placing it in a sealed jar by the window,' explains Jess Snowball, glasshouse manager at London’s Chelsea Physic Garden.
'Make sure the towel stays moist – not too wet, not too dry – and change it regularly to avoid mold. Germination should occur within a few weeks,’ Jess adds. You can then pot it in compost, as per the instructions above.
How to grow an avocado tree that bears fruit
If it’s fruit you’re looking for, you may be disappointed by a plant you’ve grown from a pit stone.
Avocados do not ‘breed true from seed', explains Wayne Brydon, grower manager at California’s Del Rey Avocado Company. ‘The seed reverts to its native ancestry and will be unrecognizable to the grower,’ he explains. This may mean poor yields, poor quality fruit or even an infertile plant. ‘A homeowner should buy a tree that is already grafted on a rootstock,’ he advises.
For the best chance of harvesting your own avocados, it’s therefore recommended to buy a young tree from a nursery. This way you can choose a variety that’s best suited to your climate, and you will get a higher-quality plant that will likely be grafted onto a rootstock to improve vigor and disease resistance. It will also produce fruit much sooner.
Choosing an avocado tree variety
If you’re keen on raising an avocado tree so you can harvest fruit, choosing a suitable variety is critical to success. Avocados fall into three categories:
- West Indian varieties are the most tropical and cold-sensitive, so successful growing in the USA is generally restricted to southern Florida.
- Guatemalan avocados, also frost-tender, are the mainstay of commercial growing and include the popular Hass variety, which accounts for 80 per cent of worldwide commercial avocado production. Hass avocado trees are available from Monrovia.
- Mexican varieties, such as Bacon (available from Nature Hills) and Fuerte (available from Monrovia), are the hardiest and therefore the most suited to growing in cooler regions.
Hass avocados need temperatures to remain above 30˚F, so can be a good choice if you live in USDA zones 10 or 11 in California, Florida or Southern Texas, or are growing in a heated glasshouse or conservatory.
If you live anywhere cooler, a Mexican variety will be your best bet. For instance, Bacon is hardy down to around 23˚F. You should be able to grow a Mexican avocado outdoors if you live in zones 8b or 9 and have a sheltered, sunny spot.
Growing avocados as a vegetable garden container idea can be a good choice as you can then control the growing conditions more easily.
How to plant an avocado tree
The best time to plant an avocado tree is late spring after any risk of frost has passed. This gives the tree time to establish before the heat of summer.
When you're planning a kitchen garden, choose a sunny, sheltered location for your avocado tree, away from competing plants. Good drainage is essential, so if you’re on a clay soil, incorporate plenty of sand or grit into the planting area. You can also plant the tree on a small mound to improve drainage further.
The planting hole should be square and twice the width of the pot. After planting, backfill with soil, ensuring the soil surface reaches the same level on the trunk as it did in the pot. Add a deep layer of bark or leaf mulch to help prevent the shallow roots from drying out.
Care tips for avocado plants
Avocados are very easy to care for and require little maintenance other than watering and an occasional feed. Pruning is only required if you wish to restrict your tree to a certain size or shape.
Although avocados are a great addition to a tropical garden, it’s important not to get carried away with watering as they are very prone to root rot.
‘Don’t overwater your avocado tree,' emphasizes Greg Duclos, owner of San Diego organic avocado farm Duclos Farms. ‘Avocados don’t like their feet wet – they like to be able to dry out between waterings with good drainage.’ Aim for infrequent, thorough watering once the soil has been allowed to dry out.
Hass avocados should not be allowed to experience frost. With the hardier Mexican varieties, such as Bacon, saplings should be protected from frost for their first couple of years after planting, while they build tolerance.
Growing an avocado plant as a houseplant
Avocado plants make great houseplants in any climate, with lush, glossy deep green leaves. They don’t usually flower or produce fruit in the home, but still form attractive plants that give a calm, tropical feel to any room.
They will be happiest in a warm, sunny spot in the house, ideally in a relatively humid room, so they make good bathroom plants or can be used as a kitchen plant too. They will also enjoy having their leaves misted to increase humidity.
Once they are well established, houseplant avocados can be moved outside during the summer months as part of your container gardening ideas. However, the bark of young avocado saplings is prone to sunburn when no longer shielded by glass, so choose a sheltered spot in dappled shade.
Avocados grown indoors will also benefit from a fortnightly feed with a universal houseplant feed, such as Miracle Gro indoor plant food from Amazon.
How long does it take for an avocado tree to bear fruit?
Nursery-bought trees will begin fruiting much sooner than those raised from seed.
‘It takes roughly 10-15 years for an avocado to bear fruit if you grow it from a seed. From a plant, it takes around 3-4 years with most varieties,’ explains Greg Duclos of Duclos Farms.
Can you grow an avocado tree from a store-bought avocado?
Yes you can grow an avocado tree from a store-bought avocado, and it’s a fun, easy project to try.
However, this is only recommended if it’s a decorative plant you’re after and not a productive one. An avocado seedling grown from a pit will take at least ten years to produce fruit, if at all. Fruit quality will also be low as avocados do not breed true, and the plant will be frost tender as the parent is likely to be the Hass variety that only grows outdoors in the warmest parts of the US.
If you seek a fruiting tree, it is recommended to buy a sapling from a specialist nursery.
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After studying Plant Sciences at Oxford University, Olivia trained as a professional horticulturist. She has been lucky enough to work in public and botanic gardens all around the UK. Her work has even taken her across Europe, from helping to curate a botanic garden in the Swiss Alps, to studying the native flora of Tenerife. Now a full-time writer, she enjoys nothing more than sharing her love of plants and gardens with others.
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