Here’s a step-by-step guide to growing your own avocado tree.
Avocados are highly nutritious and flavored, whether we’re talking about salad, guacamole, or straight up! They are a key staple for a nutritious and delicious diet. Try growing an avocado tree at home if you don’t like making regular trips to the grocery store for your daily supply of fresh avocados, can’t find organic ones, or are fed up with spending so much for quality produce. It’s surprisingly easy. You will see how you too can get a full–grown avocado tree from a little seed in 10 easy steps. Here’s what you need to do:
Remove the seed and gently wash off any fruit stuck to it to prevent molding. Soaking the pit for a few minutes in some water first will make this task easier. Be careful NOT to remove the brown skin from the pit!
Placement: You’ll notice it is not a perfect round shape. All avocado pits have a bottom and top side. The future roots will grow from the ‘bottom’, and the sprout will emerge from the ‘top’. You can easily distinguish which is which by noting the slightly pointier end, that is the top. On the opposite broader side is the bottom which will have a flatter shape. It’s important to place the bottom pointing down so the roots will begin to gently grow in line with gravity. You want approximately the bottom 1/4 of the seed to be submerged. More on this later.
(Alternative Non-toothpick Method):Using a very sharp knife you can cut off a thin slice of the top and bottom of the seed. This will considerably speed up the germination. Wrap in very damp paper towel or cloth. Place in a covered dish and put it in a dark place for 2-4 weeks. The taproot is generally the first growth to emerge from the seed. Once the root is around 3 inches long skip ahead to step 6.
Toothpicks: Next, stick 3 or 4 toothpicks into the sides of the seed. Make sure the injections are spaced evenly around the circumference and are made pointing down at a slight downward angle right in the middle of the seed. Wedge the toothpicks strongly because they will allow you to suspend the bottom of your avocado base in water.
Sunlight: Find a window with good sunlight and place it into a glass of water. If you live in the northern hemisphere select a southern facing window or if you live in the southern hemisphere a northern facing one. This will maximize sunlight especially in the darker months. Keep in mind that sunny windows are a good thing but direct sunlight all day long may be too much for this stage of growth and burn your fragile plant. Keep an eye on it and adjust your plant placement so that it gets plenty of light but not too much direct sun.
Maintenance: In order to observe when the roots start to grow, use a clear glass. It’s also useful for warnings of fungus and mold growth so if need be you can change the water immediately. It’s best to act proactively and change the water every 1-2 days but you may be able to get away with changing it every 5-7 days. If you choose the latter, monitor your seed and act quickly if you spot any trace of mold. Wipe it off with equal amounts of water and sodium bicarbonate (baking soda). This will create an alkaline surface residue inhibiting mold/fungus growth which thrive in an acidic environment.
Patience: Although many websites suggest a miraculous 2–4 weeks with the toothpick method, in many cases sprouting can take as long as 8 weeks, so be patient and don’t give up! As the seed begins to sprout the outer brown skin will fall off as the top of the avocado pit will dry out and form a crack. The crack will become larger and a tiny taproot will begin to poke out of the bottom. As the taproot makes its way downward a small sprout will peek through the top of the avocado pit. It is very important not to forget to keep the taproot submerged. If you don’t your plant will die and all of your attention and hard work thus far will be in vain.
Soil: When you have well developed roots about 2-3 inches long it’s time to pot your seedling. An ideal soil mixture for avocado seedlings is 1 part coco peat, 1 part perlite, and 1 part organic potting soil. A 6″ pot is a good size to get started. Plastic works but clay or fabric is ideal. Add an inch or so of gravel or similar medium to the bottom to ensure proper drainage and airflow, and of course plenty of drain holes too. Pack the dirt well around the seed. Keep the soil fairly wet for the first week. After that water as described below.
Give it frequent light waterings but don’t let the soil get muddy. If the leaves turn yellow, it means that the plant is getting too much water. Let the soil dry out for a couple of days, then return to light waterings. If the leaves get brown tips it is not getting enough water.
Tip: A nifty rule of thumb when watering plants is that the leaves will slightly curl upwards as if they were a bowl trying to catch rainwater when they are thirsty. Oppositely, they will curl downward when they have plenty or too much water.
When you water the key is to slowly and evenly water just until it begins to bead out the drainage holes in the bottom. Wait until the top 1/2 inch of soil begins to dry out and repeat. If deep trenches are created in the soil when you water it means you are pouring it in too quickly.
Be careful not to water too much and make sure there is no standing water in the pot’s tray (empty it if there is). Avocado seedlings are highly susceptible to root rot. Plenty of drainage holes are a must and using a clay or cloth pot is a plus. If your plant appears to be wilting and dying of thirst despite watering it, it is likely that the roots are rotting. Your best bet aside from cutting your loss and starting over is to repot in a larger pot using fresh dry soil and wait a day or two before continuing to water (obviously using less water and more drainage holes than your original attempt)
Pruning: By pinching off the top set of leaves you will encourage the plant to grow stronger branches with fuller, bushier foliage. Do this when the stem has reached about 12 inches in height. Repeat every 6-12 inches.
Pests can be a problem.
Spider mites may appear like magic within a day if you forget to water your seedling and it dries out completely. Of course it’s best to prevent this by keeping your plant watered but if you happen to contract a spider mite infestation your best bet is mist the tops and bottoms of the leaves with a mixture of water and a drop or two of dish soap in a ratio of about 8oz water to 1 drop of soap. Next, rinse your plant with plain water to get the soap off so the leaves can breathe. The soap water will help but you should also order a package of live lady bugs right away to prevent the mites from taking over again (find here). Lady bugs are natural predators and will feast on the mites as well as unborn eggs which will look like tiny white dots on the underside of the leaves. Additionally, you can order predatory mites as well which are highly effective (find here).
Aphids can be a problem as well but are a little easier to defeat. A very effective trick involves wrapping some tape around your hand, sticky side out, and lightly patting your infected plants. The aphids will stick to the tape and you can then dispose of them. This definitely beats squashing them by hand. You likely will leave some small aphids or eggs hiding on your plant. Use the spray bottle dish soap method above and saturate your plant. It’s a good idea to order some lady bugs too to clean up any loose ends and prevent further infestations.
If you live in a warm climate that does not experience temperatures less than 45 degrees F you can plant your avocado tree in the ground outdoors. Although avocado trees tolerate both acidic and alkaline soils, the best pH range for a high yield fruit-bearing tree ranges between 6 and 6.5; this slightly acidic range can be achieved by amending the soil periodically with lime or sulfur, depending on the pH reading.
If you aren’t fortunate to live somewhere so warm, don’t worry! Once the root ball in your initial pot is fully developed and pulling the tree from the pot brings nearly all the potting soil with it, transplant it into a larger pot. It’s a good idea to make this your final move for quite some time by choosing as large of a pot as you can handle moving between indoors and outdoors. Simply bring your tree indoors and place it next to your sunny window before temperatures drop below 50 degrees F.
Tip: To minimize the chance of root rot, couple the tree with thirsty flowers or herbs planted below to soak up excess moisture.
For the first year feed your tree an organic nitrogen rich fertilizer, watering thoroughly in between feedings. I like this one. Use about a tablespoon per gallon of water and go easy. Young plants don’t need very much. After the first year gradually increase your frequency of feeding with less waterings in between feedings. During the winter the tree will go dormant so fertilize just once every 6 weeks.
So now you are prepared to grow an endless amount of avocados! It’s a good idea to start a few seeds at a time for more than one reason. Firstly, not every seed you attempt to germinate will succeed so it’s nice to have a backup or two. That way you don’t have to completely start over after a month or two if you get an unfortunate dud.
Another very important point to note is that although avocado trees produce both male and female reproductive parts, these two parts are not active simultaneously which makes it very difficult for one single tree to pollinate itself and thus produce fruit on its own.
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