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Avocados are a very popular fruit, often eaten as a vegetable in salads, with shrimp and of course as that ever-popular dip, guacamole. So imagine what it would be like to be able to leave those expensive fruits at the store and come home to your own, perfectly ripened avocados picked from your own tree.
Avocado Trees are easy to grow either in the ground (if you live in warm regions), or in containers (if you live in cooler areas). While Avocado Trees are generally not frost-tolerant, with the Cold Hardy Avocado you can even grow Avocados in the ground in zone 9, with low temperatures of 200F causing no harm to your tree. Since the Avocado Tree is one of the easiest trees to grow, there is no reason not to enjoy the benefits of an abundant supply of avocados right from your garden.
The Avocado (Persea americana) is a small tree that originated in Mexico and central America, but which is now grown around the world where ever the climate is warm enough. It makes an attractive rounded tree that can ultimately grow to 60 feet, with large, glossy dark-green leaves and small greenish flowers. It can be grown outdoors as a shade tree, a background specimen or as part of an orchard of fruiting trees. It can also be grown in a large container, where of course it will not reach its full height, but it will still bear fruit. With container growing the possibility of having your own avocado is available to everyone with somewhere bright to over-winter your tree.
An Avocado Tree is a fast-growing tree that can reach 60 feet in height, but most trees are much smaller than that, usually reaching perhaps 35 feet tall, with a broad, open crown. With pruning it can be kept lower, making harvesting easier. Young branches are smooth and green, gradually turning brown with shallow ridges as the tree matures. The branches tend to droop, so as they spread they come lower to the ground, but clearance is easily maintained with some simple pruning.
The leaves are up to 8 inches long and are evergreen, so your Avocado Tree also makes a good all-year-round screening tree along the boundaries of your property.The small greenish flowers form mostly during the cooler winter and spring months, meaning that fruit is available from spring to fall. Some kinds of Avocado need another tree for pollination, but the Hass Avocado Tree will produce lots of fruit even when grown alone. If this is still a concern, the Cold Hardy Avocado is of the opposite flowering type, and so makes a good pollinator for Hass, and vice-versa.
Other varieties that may need a pollinator for commercial production usually produce more than enough fruit for home gardens without one. The fruit varies in size depending on the variety grown but is usually 3 to 6 inches long or even larger. The skin color on mature fruit varies from green to blackish-green to purple. Fruits take one to one-and-a-half years to mature.
The Avocado is unusual because the fruit will not ripen on the tree but only when it has fallen or been picked. So don’t wait for the fruit to become soft on the tree – it never will. Eventually it will fall naturally and then ripen, but it is usually picked before that stage. Fruit is ready to pick when it starts to lose it shine and develop a few brown spots. If you open a fruit and the skin around the seed is brown and no longer white, then the fruit is mature.
With some types, there is a marked change in skin color. The Hass Avocado Tree turns almost black and the Cold Hardy Avocado Tree turns purple, so maturity is easier to determine with these varieties. Once picked, mature fruit will ripen and become soft. This can take a few days to a week or more and can be speeded-up by putting the fruit in a warm place in a bag with an apple or a ripe banana. The best place to store fruit is on the tree, as it will not ripen there but stay fresh and in good condition. Any fruits that should fall naturally can still be ripened and eaten.
Falling fruit is another sign that they are reaching maturity. The Hass Avocado Tree begins to be mature in April and will stay mature on the tree for up to 8 months, meaning you can pick fruit almost all year round, as you need it – the tree is a natural storage room! Fruit of the Cold Hardy Avocado Tree usually begins to mature in July and stays mature and ready for picking for several months.
Most Avocado Trees cannot tolerate any frost, or at the most temperature down to around 280F. So the best states for growing avocados in the garden are California, Arizona, Texas and Florida. The will also grow well in Hawaii and Puerto Rico. With the Cold Hardy Avocado it is possible to also grow throughout zone 9 and into warmer parts of zone 8, as this plant will withstand 230F and even slightly colder temperatures will not cause serious damage. This means that gardeners in the South as well as coastal areas of North Carolina, Washington and Oregon can grow this variety right in their gardens.
Outdoor Avocados do best in full sun or partial shade and need a well-drained, fairly rich soil. They are drought tolerant when well established, but should be watered regularly when young and during extended droughts.
The soil for outdoor plantings should be well-prepared with organic material and the tree planted in a hole dug two or three times the diameter of the pot. Water well when planting and once a week for the first couple of seasons until the tree is well established. Avocado Trees do best if they do not have grass growing below them, so plant in beds or keep a good area below the tree free of grass. Apply a thick mulch of rotted leaves or compost regularly below the tree.
Many people go to all the trouble of trying to grow an avocado from the seed of a fruit they purchased at the store. These trees will take many years to fruit and will not have fruit of the quality of the one the seed was taken from, so this is really not a good idea and a bit of a waste of time. If you want to grow an Avocado Tree, but live in a colder region, plant your tree in a large container. A half-barrel is ideal, or a pot 24 inches across and 18 inches deep. Clay pots are preferable to plastic as they breathe and stop the soil from becoming too wet and sour.
Make sure there are some holes for drainage. Cover each drainage hole with a small stone and fill the container with a standard tropical-plant soil-mix. Make sure your young avocado plant is well-watered the night before. Plant it in the middle of the new pot and water the whole pot well until water escapes through the drainage holes. Place the pot in a sunny location.
The Hass Avocado is the most popular, best-selling tree and is especially useful for home gardeners because the fruits stay mature so long on the tree. This tree was discovered by a mail carrier named Rudolph Hass in 1924. He patented the tree in 1935 and distributed it to nurseries that then propagated it for commercial growers. His original tree lived until 2002. The Cold Hardy Avocado is a variety called ‘Brogden’, raised by Tom W. Brogden in Florida in the 1930s.
An Avocado Tree growing outdoors should be pruned to keep a central stem with side branches. Trim back low branches and any that spread outwards too far, as they may snap in storms. Keep the tree well-watered during drought periods and apply some fertilizer in the winter to keep your tree growing strongly.
Trees in pots should be fed with a balanced liquid fertilizer according to the directions, throughout the year. Allow the soil to become a little dry and then water the pot thoroughly. Never give small amounts of water and always water until the water flows from the drain holes. Keep your tree outside as much as possible, but bring it in once temperatures approach 300F and keep it in a sunny location indoors. Continue to water and fertilize, but be careful to let the soil dry somewhat between each watering. Put your tree outside again once the night temperatures are above 320F and for the first week or so bring the tree inside at night so it can adjust gradually to the lower temperatures.
If you live in a suitable area, an Avocado Tree is a great addition to your garden. With its healthy, delicious fruit available from your tree over such a long period, you may never need to shop for avocados again. This easy-to-grow tree will make an attractive shade tree and pay for itself many times over.