How to Plant, Grow, and Care For Avocado Trees
Are you tired of paying for expensive avocados? It's not too difficult to grow your own instead. Depending on the hardiness zone you live in, Avocado trees can grow fairly easily, with less maintenance than other fruit producing trees. In this article, gardening expert Madison Moulton discusses everything you need to know to grow avocados successfully, from seed to harvest.
Interest in avocados has exploded over the past few years. Whether you’re a millennial who can’t live without your avocado toast or a health nut that throws the creamy fruit on every salad, there is no doubting its popularity.
Growing avocados has also seen increased interest recently, thanks to viral trends like growing your own tree from store-bought seeds. As a tropical plant, these trees also make suitable houseplants, although they are unlikely to bear fruit indoors.
So, think you are ready to plant your very own Avacado trees in your backyard or in your garden? Here, you’ll find absolutely everything you need to grow avocados, growing from seed as the way to maturity, as well as a few ways you can use them.
Avocado Plant Overview
Plant Type Fruiting Tree
Species Persea americana
Native Area Mexico
Hardiness Zone USDA 9-11
Exposure Full Sun
Maturity Rate 3-10 Years
Growth Rate Slow
Plant Spacing 25 feet
Height 30-40 feet
Heat Tolerance Moderate-High
Watering Requirements High
Pests Mites, Thripes, Caterpillars
Diseases Anthracnose, Fruit Rot
Soil Type Rich, Well-draining
Plant With Plant Alone
Avocados have been consumed by humans for thousands of years – almost 10,000 according to historical evidence. But the botanical ancestor of the modern avocado has a much longer history. Fossil studies show avocado trees were common millions of years ago, but those trees look completely different from the ones we know today.
Persea americana is believed to originate from Mexico. Humans throughout history foraged for avocados from wild trees, until their domestication around 4 000 years ago. The domestication led to the creation of three separate avocado types – Mexican, Guatemalan, and West Indian.
Like many plants, the avocado was spread to Europe around the 16th century with increased travel during the Age of Exploration. Spanish navigator Martín Fernández de Enciso mentioned the avocado in his book on Geography, creating the first European written account of the plant. Brought to Spain in 1601, the plant was spread across the world in the 17th and 18th centuries, covering almost every corner of the world by the early 1900s.
Avocados were not always as incredibly popular as they are today. Farmers grew the fruits for a far smaller market up until the 21st century when interest in avocados skyrocketed. More than 2 billion pounds of avocados are sold in the United States alone, and the upward trend shows no signs of slowing down.
Avocados are grown in tropical and semitropical climates around the world. Mexico is the largest producer by a landslide, producing over 2 million tons per year. Commercial production is followed by the Dominican Republic, Peru, and Columbia, proving that these fruits need plenty of heat and humidity to thrive.
In farms and local nurseries, the plants chosen for cultivation are usually popular cultivars (like the Hass avocado) that are grafted to existing rootstocks, as these plants do not produce fruits true to seed.
While primarily grown for fruits, avocados have also become a popular houseplant. They are unlikely to produce fruit indoors under lower lighting conditions but do make wonderful ornamental plants, with shiny deep green foliage.
The impact of avocado cultivation on the environment has led some to question its viability as a popular fruit long-term. These trees require massive amounts of water to produce their fruits. Just one fruit requires around 20 gallons of water – excluding that supplied by rain. Potential water shortages and concerns surrounding deforestation have put the future viability of the tree at risk, but its current admiration is likely to trump those concerns for now.
Avocado trees can be propagated from seeds or from cuttings. Propagating from seeds is one of the most popular choices – you’ve undoubtedly seen several viral videos explaining the process. As fun as this experiment is, avocados do not grow true to seed, so the fruits you receive will not be the same as the fruit you planted from. Propagating from cuttings is slightly more technical, but ensures certainty in the final product.
Propagating From Seed
There are several ways to grow avocado trees from seed.
Those that spend plenty of time on social media will already know about the first method – water germination. This simple method is easy to do with things you already have around your home and makes for a fun experiment, for your children and for yourself.
Water germination involves suspending the seed over a glass of water using toothpicks. Stick the toothpicks into the base of the seed, around 3 or 4 will do, and hang over the edges of a glass so that around one inch of the seed is sitting in water. Leave in a warm, sunny spot and top up the water when needed to maintain the same level. Replace the water completely as soon as it gets cloudy.
Roots should begin to grow into the water from the base of the seed. Once they are a few inches long, you can move the seed to a pot or plant outdoors straight into the ground.
Although it is the most popular method, water germination is not the only method. Another incredibly simple way to propagate your seeds is to cover them in a wet paper towel and leave them in a plastic bag in a cupboard for a few weeks. You’ll need to ensure the paper towel stays moist by spraying the seed with water every couple of days.
Alternatively, you can always go the regular gardener’s route and plant your seed straight into the soil. This is likely to yield the best results as the plant establishes roots in the medium it will be growing in, limiting shock during later transplanting. Some say it’s also the fastest germination method.
Fill a pot with a light, airy medium of potting soil mixed with coconut husk and perlite to facilitate drainage. Moisten the soil slightly, leaving the excess to drain, and place your seed into the soil facing the correct way, with the top half of the seed left exposed. Place in a warm spot with indirect sunlight, keep the soil moist, and your seed should germinate within a few weeks.
Propagating From Cuttings
If you’re looking to grow a specific avocado cultivar, such as Hass for example, propagating from cuttings is your best bet. Cuttings will grow into a clone of the parent tree, giving you more certainty about your future harvest.
Take your cuttings in early spring when new growth starts to form. Remove a new branch with leaves that are just starting to open about five inches down, cutting at a 45° angle to increase surface area.
Remove the leaves from the bottom section of the stem and strip the branch on either side. Dip the end of the cutting in rooting hormone to stimulate new growth and place in a pot filled with coconut husk and perlite. Bury the bottom third of the cutting, leaving the remaining leaves exposed. Cover the entire pot with a plastic bag, ensuring the sides of the bag do not touch the cutting, and leave in a warm spot away from direct sunlight.
Your cutting should have developed roots within a few weeks. You’ll know it’s ready if there is some resistance when pulled. Leave the cutting in the pot for a few more weeks to improve root growth and then transplant outdoors to its final growing spot.
When to Plant
Avocado trees are best planted in early spring. This will vary depending on your region, but spring planting is better than summer planting as the excessive heat can stress the young, tender plants. Areas with spring rainfall are ideal to provide the young plants with plenty of water to sustain growth.
As large trees, avocados need plenty of space to grow. This is especially true if you don’t plan on pruning to keep the growth of the tree contained. The extensive root system also tends to compete with other trees and plants for nutrients. Plant the tree around 30 feet from any important plants in your garden to keep them both happy.
Distance should also be kept from any structural elements, especially your home. Avocado tree roots can upend walls and other permanent structures, or damage your home’s foundations. Keep the tree at least 20 feet from your home and any other features of your garden that may be interrupted by the root system.
Avocado trees are quite sensitive to strong winds and may struggle to set fruit under these conditions. When choosing your planting site, ensure the tree will not be exposed to high winds by placing it in the directional protection of a wall or another tree.
Ensure the area is free of weeds and amended with organic matter before planting. Avocados do not need to be plenty too deeply – their roots spread outwards more than they do downwards. Plant at about the same depth as the pot the plant came in, or even slightly higher.
Once planted, water thoroughly and deeply. Avocados are thirsty plants but are even more so when they are trying to establish roots. Keep the new tree well-watered and continue into the summer months to protect the tree from heat stress.
How to Grow
Avocado care can be tricker than some other fruit trees. They are not usually labeled carefree plants but aren’t too tough to manage if given the right conditions.
Light can be tricky when planting avocados outdoors. Young trees need some protection from intense sunlight to prevent heat stress. However, as the tree grows, it benefits from more and more light to produce the fruits we all know and love.
To avoid having to protect your tree from the harsh sun for a few years before it reaches maturity, try to choose a planting spot that will shade the shorter tree in the early stages of growth. In the right spot, as the tree grows taller, it should outgrow this shade and have access to full sun across the entire canopy.
Finding the right spot can be a tall order, so don’t worry if you can’t provide the perfect conditions. To get the most fruits from your tree, place it in a full sun position and simply provide extra protection in the hot summer months while the tree is still young.
As mentioned, avocados are thirsty plants. On average, you should water your tree about once a week, depending on the amount of rain in your area and the temperature of the season. In winter, watering should be reduced, and increased in summer with higher temperatures.
When the tree is old enough to produce fruits, watering becomes even more important. The tree uses up many gallons of water to produce one fruit, all provided by you. Ensure the soil does not dry out too much between waterings but is not waterlogged.
Mulching is always beneficial in the garden but will be particularly important when it comes to your avocado tree. Mulching regulates temperature in the soil, preventing the roots from becoming too cold or too hot. It also prevents evaporation, keeping the water in the soil and delivering it to the roots when your tree needs it. This will greatly reduce your need to water, and subsequently, your high water bill.
When mulching, place a layer of organic matter over the soil around the tree, covering a wide radius to support the extensive root system. Ensure the mulch layer does not touch the base of the tree to prevent rotting and disease.
Although they require lots of water, avocado roots are sensitive to root rot and need to be planted in well-draining soil. The soil should also be amended with organic matter to improve nutrient availability and soil structure.
If mulching around your tree, try using compost as your mulching material. This will improve the soil, gradually breaking down over time, while retaining moisture.
Climate and Temperature
Enjoying tropical climates, avocados will only grow in areas with high USDA Zones from 9-11. While they can survive in some zone 8 states, they cannot tolerate the cold (although some varieties handle it better than others) and need a warm season to promote growth.
While they enjoy warm weather, avocados do not handle extremes well. Extreme heat will cause the soil to dry out quicker, stressing the plant. Extreme cold – anything below freezing temperatures – will prevent fruit set or worse, kill the tree.
The trees can be protected from the cold by covering with a frost blanket and planting in high-lying areas, but this becomes extremely difficult when the trees start maturing due to their size. Rather choose the best variety for your area – Mexican avocados can withstand the cold best – or grow indoors.
Avocado trees don’t need to be fertilized, especially within the first year of planting. The young roots are especially sensitive to burning from excessive fertilization, so it’s best to stay away and let your tree establish. Good quality soil will provide the tree with everything it needs.
After the first year, you can apply a diluted fertilizer once per year in spring to improve growth. However, if your soil is high in nutrients already, this is not a necessity. Always apply the fertilizer to the exact specifications on the packing to avoid damaging the roots.
Avocado trees don’t need to be pruned regularly once they reach maturity. Early pruning, soon after planting, may encourage the tree to branch outwards but is not necessary after the first few years.
If your garden is on the smaller side, you can prune your tree to manage growth. These trees, although growing slowly, can quickly become incredibly tall, bushy, and unruly. Trim new growth to control the shape of the tree and remove older branches or dying leaves to keep the tree looking happy and healthy.
Growing Avocados Indoors
If you don’t live in USDA Zones 9-11 or don’t have enough space in your backyard for a large tree, or maybe don’t even have a backyard at all, you can still enjoy the process of growing an avocado tree by moving it indoors. Unfortunately, the tree is unlikely to bear fruit, but it does make a great foliage plant and fills out the corner of a room excellently.
Choose a large pot with plenty of space for the roots to expand. Fill with a light potting mix with added coconut husk and perlite to improve drainage. Place the tree near a window to receive as much direct sunlight as possible. In winter, move the tree away from the windows at night to protect the plant from the cold. Fertilize every few months with liquid fertilizer and increase the humidity indoors to recreate the conditions the tree is used to.
It will be quite a long wait before you can begin harvesting any fruit. If you’ve purchased a grafted tree from a nursery, it will take around 4-5 years, but trees grown from seed may take well over 10 years to produce fruit.
Harvesting time is dependent on the variety and your region, but most avocados will produce flowers in late winter or early spring that turn to fruits. The tree will flower at different periods for different amounts of time depending on the conditions of your garden, so it’s best to judge when the fruits are ripe by testing them yourself.
Once the fruits have developed, pick the largest ones by removing the stem from the tree with shears. Pulling it off the tree can damage the fruit and the branch, so it’s best to cut them off cleanly.
The fruits do not ripen on the tree and will be hard to the touch. Leave the few picked fruits at room temperature in your kitchen for a week or two. If the flesh is soft to the touch, they are ready to eat. If they are still hard or shriveled, the fruits are not ripe.
As they do not ripen on the tree, it’s best to leave the fruits on the branch until you are ready to use them. This will also improve the taste. Make sure you pick the largest avocados first as size is an indicator of maturity. The fruits will mature at different times and will require continuous monitoring to ensure you pick them before they turn bad or fall off the tree.
We all know the ever-popular Hass avocado, and it is a popular variety to grow in gardens too. However, the beauty of growing your own avocados is that you have so much more choice. From Type A to Type B, shorter or taller, you can find a tree to suit your exact needs.
Firstly, let’s discuss the difference between Type A and Type B. The key change is in the flowering. Each flower contains both male and female reproductive parts, but Type A avocados open with the female parts available first, and Type B the male parts. This is why you don’t need two trees for pollination, but cross-pollination between a Type A and Type B avocado will dramatically improve your yields.
For example, two popular varieties, Hass and Fuerte, are a perfect planting pair as Hass avocados are Type A and Fuerte avocados are Type B.
Other Type A’s to look out for are Reed, Gwen, and Mexicola Grande. Reed is a more environmentally friendly option than Hass as it requires less water to grow successfully. Gwen, a smaller tree, is great for small gardens or containers, while Mexicola Grande is much more cold hardy than other avocado varieties.
For a Type B partner, choose Sir Prize or Winter Mexican. Sir Prize gives you the most value for your effort with plenty of flesh and a smaller seed within the fruit. Winter Mexican bears fruit early around winter time, hence its name.
There are many other options to choose from, varying in shape and size. Check your local nursery to see what’s available in your area and what will grow best in your region.
Pests and Diseases
Unfortunately, avocado trees are quite susceptible to problems with pests and diseases. This is no surprise to experienced fruit growers, but it does require careful monitoring and a close eye to protect your tree.
Look out for caterpillars crawling on your tree. These pests will eat the foliage, flowers, and fruit – almost anything they can get their hands on. They also create nests within the tree to hide from plain sight. Keep an eye out for any munch marks on your leaves and pick off any caterpillars as soon as you spot them.
Mites and thrips are also known to cause damage to the leaves and fruit. Mites leave golden spots on the leaves, while thrips cause severe scarring to the skin of the fruits. Both these pests can be removed with the careful application of horticultural oil.
Diseases are far more common due to the environmental conditions this tree prefers. Fruit rot is particularly common, a fungal disease that takes hold when the tree is under stress. Good garden hygiene and removal of debris around the tree, especially during rainy periods, will prevent the spread of fungal pathogens.
Anthracnose is another possible avocado disease, severely damaging the fruits and resulting in defoliation. Prune any affected areas immediately and keep an eye out for disease spread in warm, wet weather.
Sunblotch is the most dangerous of all the avocado diseases, as it is completely incurable and guaranteed to kill your tree. It affects the leaves, fruits, and bark of the tree, but is also known to show no symptoms, slowly killing the tree from the inside. Ensure your chosen variety is disease-resistant to avoid this deadly disease.
Growing avocados in your garden provides the best preservation method – simply leaving them on the tree. The fruits can remain on the tree for long periods of time without sacrificing flavor. However, there will come a time where removal is necessary, in which case you can use one of the many indoor storing options.
Firstly, never place your avocados in the fridge immediately. This can slow or completely halt the ripening process. Instead, leave the fruits in a dark place at room temperature, or place them in a paper bag to speed up ripening.
The fruits produce ethylene that controls ripening, but so do other fruits like apples and bananas. Throw a couple of other fruits in the paper bag to speed up the process even further.
Once ripe, the fruits can be stored in the fridge for up to two weeks.
Avocados can also be stored in the freezer. However, they shouldn’t be frozen whole with the skin on. Instead, mash the flesh and add some lemon juice, placing it in a sealed plastic bag before freezing. This will keep the color of the fruits and make instant use for guacamole much simpler.
Avocados can also be pickled to preserve them, but this will only extend their life span for a couple of days when left in the fridge. Cube a firm avocado and place it in a sterilized jar. Cover with a mixture of water, vinegar, salt, sugar, and the spices of your choice. Leave to cool for a day or two before use for the best possible taste.
Part of the explosion in popularity of the avocado is due to its perceived health benefits. The fruit is rich in many nutrients, providing plenty of Vitamin C, K, magnesium, potassium, and omega-3 fatty acids. They are one of the best sources of healthy fats, popular in breakfast foods and high-fat diet recipes. It is also believed to be good for heart health, digestion, and strong eyesight.
These benefits have led to the use of avocados in many healthy recipes. Avocados top many salads, feature in wraps and sandwiches, and are classically mashed to form guacamole – the side or dip with an almost cult-like fanbase.
Beyond the kitchen, avocado is used in several beauty products due to its perceived benefits for skin health. DIY hydrating masks for skin and hair are a popular social media trend and a great way to use your abundance of fruits (you’ll likely have more than 200 every season).
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the fastest-growing avocado tree?
Most avocado trees grow about the same speed – slowly. It takes several years for these trees to mature and produce fruit. To speed up the process, the fastest growing tree you can buy is a grafted one from a nursery. Already established and a few years old, these trees will produce fruit within 3 or 4 years, as opposed to the 10 or more it takes avocado trees grown from seed.
How long does it take to grow avocado from seed?
When germinating an avocado seed, you should begin to see root growth after a couple of weeks. It will take a few more weeks for the stem to develop and be ready for planting. However, the time it takes to receive fruit is far longer when grown from seed – around 10 to 15 years on average.
Which way up should I plant an avocado seed?
The pointed end of the seed is the top, and the flat end is the bottom of the seed. When planting, always place the wider flattened end downwards, leaving the pointed end facing up.
Is growing avocado bad for the environment?
Commercial avocado production requires masses of water to produce many fruits. Commercial avocado farms are also often found in hotter climates (due to the tree’s growing conditions), where water shortages and wastage are far more likely. This has led to many labeling avocado production bad for the environment. However, one or two trees in your backyard will do no harm, and actually support the wildlife in your garden. Use water-wise tactics like mulching and recycling water to limit usage and your impact on the environment.
Can I grow an avocado from a store-bought seed?
Avocado trees can be grown from a store-bought fruit seed, but the tree you grow will not be of the same variety as the fruit you bought. These fruits do not produce true to seed, and due to hybridization, the tree you grow may end up nothing like what you pictured. The tree you grow may not even produce any fruits at all. There is plenty of uncertainty when growing avocados from seed, but it is still a fun and simple experiment. Even if the tree produces no fruits, it will still make a great ornamental plant.
If you have the space in your garden, and the will to care for a slightly fussier tree, stop paying so much for your weekly avocado toast and invest it in an avocado tree instead. It may take a couple of years to produce fruit, but once it gets going, you will have around 200 to 300 fruits every year – almost enough to eat one a day.