Avocado Sprouting in glass on windowsill

How to Successfully Grow Avocados

What you need to know
Reading Time: 8 - 10 minutes (2202 words)

Expectations of Growing Avocados from Seed

Many gardening fans love the idea of growing fruit trees from seeds with dreams of enjoying the exact same juicy, delicious fruits they've savoured from store-bought produce. It's a seemingly great idea, and one that is constantly promoted by fast-talking online gardening influencers who are more interested in like and views than in actually delivering success. With nothing to loose they often promote half truths with misleading claims that are taller tales than Jack and the Beanstalk.

The world of plant propagation, especially when it comes to fruit trees, is a bit like a box of chocolates—you never quite know what you're going to get when you take that first bite. Unfortunately, with fruit trees, and to grow avocados, the wait often takes 5 - 7 years.

While the idea of growing an avocado pit into a fruitful tree is undeniably appealing, it's essential to understand that the process is not always a straightforward path to taste satisfaction with your guacamole and toast. So, before you set your sights on that avocado seed turning into a future harvest, let's explore why it's likely that your expectations might not be entirely met.

Grow Avocados — Pit to Fruit Maturity

Avocado Seed Germinating in Glass

The avocado growing process from pit to avocado maturity is nothing short of an exercise in patience. While it's certainly possible to grow avocados from a pit, it's crucial to recognize that this process is long, arduous, often ends with disappointment if you were hoping to enjoy avocado toast for brunch at home.

Avocado Germination

Early Avocado Growth

For avocado seedlings, the ideal PPFD range typically falls between 200 and 400 μmol/m²/s (micromoles per square meter per second). This range provides sufficient light energy for robust photosynthesis without subjecting the seedlings to excessive stress.

Transplanting Avocados

Transplanting is a pivotal moment in the life of your avocado seedlings. It's the step that allows them to graduate from their nursery pots to a more spacious, permanent home. However, this transition requires careful planning and execution to ensure the health and vitality of your young avocado trees. Here are some crucial considerations to keep in mind:

Timing Matters for Avocado Transplant

Timing is everything when it comes to transplanting avocado seedlings. Wait until your seedlings have reached a height of around 6-7 inches and have developed a robust root system. Typically, this stage is reached when the seedlings are about 6 to 12 months old. Transplanting too early can stress the young plants, while delaying it too long can lead to root congestion and hinder growth.

Avocado Pot Selection

Selecting the right pot for transplanting is essential. Choose a pot that's one size larger than the current container. Ensure it has adequate drainage holes to prevent waterlogging, which can damage the roots.

Avocado Soil Considerations

Avocado seedlings thrive in well-draining, slightly acidic soil. Use a high-quality potting mix designed for fruit trees or create a blend of compost, perlite, and peat moss to ensure proper drainage.

Transplanting Technique

When you're ready to transplant, do so with care. Gently remove the seedling from its current pot, taking care not to disturb the roots excessively. Place it in the center of the new pot at the same depth as it was in the previous container. Fill in the gaps with fresh potting mix, pressing it down lightly to remove air pockets.

Watering Avocados & Aftercare

Transplanting your avocado seedlings is a pivotal moment in their journey to becoming robust, fruit-bearing trees. Yet, it's what happens in the days and weeks after the transplant that can truly make or break their future growth. Here, we need to dive into the critical aspects of watering and aftercare that are key to ensuring your avocado seedlings thrive in their new home.

Immediate Post-Transplant Watering

Once your avocado seedlings have been carefully nestled into their new pots with fresh soil, the first order of business is to give them a generous drink of water. This initial watering serves multiple purposes. It helps settle the soil around the young roots, eliminates air pockets that could hinder growth, and provides essential moisture to help the seedlings recover from the transplant shock.

Consistent Moisture, Not Waterlogged

In the days following transplanting, maintaining consistent moisture levels in the soil is crucial. Avocado seedlings prefer soil that's consistently moist, but not wet/wqaterlogged. To strike the right balance, check the soil regularly by inserting your finger about an inch deep. If it feels dry at this depth, it's time to water.

Watering Technique

When you water your avocado seedlings, aim to water thoroughly but avoid drenching. Pour water evenly over the soil surface until you see excess water starting to drain from the bottom of the pot. This ensures that the entire root zone receives moisture. Watering deeply encourages the roots to grow downward, creating a strong foundation for the tree.

Fertilizing: A Postponed Gratification

While it may be tempting to give your newly transplanted seedlings a boost with fertilizer, it's advisable to hold off on this for a while. Young avocado plants can be sensitive to fertilizers immediately after transplanting, and applying them too soon can stress the plant. Wait for about six weeks before introducing a nitrogen dominant, slow-release fertilizer designed for fruit trees. This gives your avocado seedlings time to acclimate to their new environment and minimizes the risk of over-fertilization.

Monitoring & Adjusting

The key to successful post-transplant watering and aftercare is vigilance. Keep a watchful eye on your avocado seedlings for any signs of stress, such as wilting or yellowing leaves. If you notice these symptoms, it may be an indication that your plants need more consistent moisture or better drainage. Adjust your watering routine accordingly, but always aim for that delicate balance of moist, not waterlogged, soil.

Gradual Acclimation

If you're moving your avocado seedlings from an indoor to an outdoor environment (or vice versa), introduce them gradually to the new conditions. This helps them adjust to changes in light, temperature, and humidity without experiencing shock. We've already touched on lighting, so here's some additional info on temp and humidity.

Temperatures for Avocados

Avocado plants thrive in a temperature range of 65°F to 80°F (18°C to 27°C). They can tolerate slightly cooler temperatures but are sensitive to frost. Maintaining a consistent temperature within this range is crucial for healthy growth. If your indoor space gets chilly during the winter, consider using a space heater to keep your avocado tree warm.

Avocado Relative Humidity

Avocados prefer a moderate humidity level of around 55%-65%. Indoor environments often have lower humidity than this, especially during the winter when indoor heating is in use. To increase humidity, invest in a warm-mist humidifier. Some people believe that they should mist their avocado tree regularly or use a humidity tray filled with water and pebbles, but neither of these approaches actually increases relative humidity at all.

Air Circulation

Proper air circulation is essential to prevent fungal issues and promote healthy growth. Use a gentle fan to create a light breeze around your avocado tree, which will also help with pollination if you have multiple avocado trees indoors.

Protection from Elements

Newly transplanted seedlings can be vulnerable to harsh sunlight, strong winds, and sudden temperature fluctuations. Provide shade or protection, especially during the first few weeks after transplanting, to minimize stress. This also dovetails with the earlier advice about acclimation.

Pruning and Shaping

Pruning serves several essential purposes for your indoor avocado tree:

1. Encouraging Bushier Growth: Avocado trees have a natural tendency to grow tall and leggy. Pruning helps counteract this by encouraging lateral branching, resulting in a denser, bushier canopy.

2. Removing Leggy Branches: Leggy branches are those long, slender ones that can make your tree appear sparse. Pruning these back redirects the tree's energy towards developing more robust, productive branches.

3. Promoting Air Circulation: Adequate air circulation is essential to prevent fungal diseases and improve overall tree health. Pruning opens up the canopy, allowing air and light to penetrate deeper into the tree.

4. Removing Dead or Damaged Growth: Pruning is also a practical way to remove dead or diseased branches, preventing the spread of problems and encouraging the growth of healthy new tissue.

When to Prune

The ideal time for pruning your indoor avocado tree is during the late winter or early spring when the tree is still dormant. This is less an issue if growing indoors, but avoid pruning during the active growing season, as this can stress the tree and lead to excessive sap loss.

Pruning Techniques

  1. Selective Branch Removal: Begin by identifying the branches you want to remove. These may include leggy branches, those that rub against each other, or any dead or damaged growth. Use sharp, clean pruning shears to make clean cuts just above a leaf node or lateral branch.
  2. Thinning the Canopy: To encourage air circulation and maintain an open canopy, selectively thin out some of the branches. Focus on removing inward-growing or crowded branches. This will help sunlight penetrate deeper into the tree.
  3. Heading Cuts: To encourage branching, use heading cuts by trimming the tips of branches. This stimulates the growth of lateral shoots, resulting in a fuller canopy.
  4. Pruning Young Trees: For young avocado trees, it's essential to establish a strong framework. Focus on shaping the tree by pruning back the central leader to encourage lateral branching.

Avocado Pruning Aftercare

After pruning, be sure to clean your pruning tools to prevent the spread of diseases. It's also advisable to seal larger pruning wounds with a tree wound sealant to protect against infection. Monitor your tree for any signs of stress after pruning, and adjust your care regimen if necessary.

The Cross-Pollination Factor

As we dive deeper into the intricacies of growing avocados from seed, it's time to circle back to a critical aspect that can bring both challenges and surprises to your avocado-growing journey: cross-pollination. This is where the story takes a turn, revealing the avocado's propensity for delightful variability.

The Avocado's Need for Company

Unlike some fruit trees that can self-pollinate or set fruit without a mate, avocados are social creatures in the plant kingdom. They're not self-pollinating, which means that for successful fruit production, they require the presence of a separate avocado tree of a different variety. This companion tree serves as the pollinator, facilitating the transfer of pollen from the male flowers to the female flowers.

The Genetic Lottery of Pollination

Here's where it gets fascinating—and a bit tricky. When your avocado tree blooms with its creamy, yellow-green flowers, it's engaging in a genetic lottery with its pollinating partner. The resulting fruit is not a carbon copy of the parent fruit from which the seed was derived. Instead, it carries a unique genetic blend influenced by the characteristics of both the parent tree and the pollinating tree.

The Fruits of Variability

What does this mean for you? It means that the avocados you eventually harvest may surprise you. Their taste, texture, and appearance will vary from the parent fruit that initially captured your palette's attention. Some may be creamier, others firmer; some may have a richer flavour, while others might exhibit unique subtleties in taste. It's a complete lottery and the odds are rather low that you'll get something you're happy with. Professional avocado farmers pin the odds at about 1 in 10,000.

A World of Possibilities

While the variability odds can be seen as daunting, it's also an opportunity. It's a reminder that the world of avocados is rich and diverse, offering a plethora of possibilities for taste and texture. Growing avocados from seed becomes a journey of both discovery and chance, where each tree can yield a delightful surprise in your orchard or garden.

The Avocado Harvest

After the long 5-7 year wait and pollination lottery, your avocado tree will finally bless you with its bounty. The fruits will mature at different times of the year, depending on your location and the specific avocado variety you've cultivated. When they're ready, you can enjoy the satisfaction of harvesting your homegrown avocados and relish in the unique flavours they offer.

The Unlikely Wrap Up

While the odds of an avocado grown from seed producing great fruits are influenced by genetics and chance, there's a significant element of unpredictability in the process. Embrace the opportunity of avocado cultivation, knowing that each tree is unique, and the fruits it bears carry the story of nature's diversity. By starting with high-quality seeds, providing ideal growing conditions, and tending to your tree with care, you can increase the likelihood of enjoying delicious avocados from your very own tree. If you're a betting kind of person, The Unlikely Gardener suggests simply growing an avocado for the fun of the tree growing experience, and the possibility of fruit being a off the table.

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