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:
STEP 1 – REMOVE & CLEAN PIT
You’ll need to start by removing the pit from the avocado carefully (without cutting it), and then washing it clean of all the avocado fruit (often it helps to soak the pit in some water for a few minutes and then scrub all the remaining fruit off). Be careful not to remove the brown skin on the pit – that is the seed cover.
STEP 2 – LOCATE WHICH END IS ‘UP’ AND WHICH IS ‘DOWN’
Some avocado pits are slightly oblong, whereas others are shaped almost like perfect spheres – but all avocado pits have a ‘bottom’ (from where the roots will grow), and a ‘top’ (from which the sprout will grow). The slightly pointier end is the top, and the flat end is the bottom. In order to get your pit to sprout, you will need to place the bottom root end in water, so it’s very important to figure out which end is the ‘top’ and which is the ‘bottom’ before you go piercing it with toothpicks.
STEP 3 – PIERCE WITH FOUR TOOTHPICKS
Take four toothpicks and stick them at a slight downward angle into the avocado seed, spaced evenly around the circumference of the avocado. These toothpicks are your avocado scaffolding, which will allow you to rest the bottom half of the avocado in water, so therefore the toothpicks need to be wedged in there firmly. I recommend sticking them in at a slight angle (pointing down), so that more of your avocado base rests in the water when you set this over a glass.
STEP 4 – PLACE AVOCADO SEED HALF SUBMERGED IN A GLASS OF WATER
And set on a quiet windowsill with sunlight. It’s helpful to use a clear glass so you can easily see when roots start to grow, and also when the water needs to be changed. Many guides recommend to change the water every day, but I found, through trial and error, that it is better to change the water every five days to a week or so. You do want to make sure you change the water regularly, to prevent mold, bacteria and fungus growth, which can doom your little avocado sprout.
STEP 5 – WAIT FOR YOUR AVOCADO SEED TO SPROUT!
Many online guides I have read say that sprouting can take anywhere from 2-4 weeks, but in my experience, it usually takes at least 8 weeks to get a sprout, so be patient. Here is the process you will witness:
1. The top of the avocado pit will dry out and form a
crack, and the outer brown seed skin will slough off.
2. The crack will extend all the way to the bottom of the avocado pit, and through the crack at the bottom, a tiny taproot will begin to emerge.
3. The taproot will grow longer and longer (and may branch), and eventually a small sprout will peek through the top of the avocado pit.
4. Do not allow your taproot to dry out unsubmerged EVER – doing so will be the death of your plant.
STEP 6 – POT IN SOIL WHEN TREE IS ABOUT 6” TALL
When the stem is 6-7 inches long, cut it back to about 3 inches, this will encourage new growth. When it hits 6-7 inches again, pot it up in a rich humus soil in an 8-10″ diameter pot, leaving the top half of the seed exposed. Place on a sunny windowsill. Avocados love sun – the more sun the better.
STEP 7 – WATER & WATCH IT GROW
Give it frequent waterings with an occasional deep soak. The soil should always be moist, but not saturated. Yellowing leaves are a sign of over-watering; let the plant dry out for a few days.
STEP 8 – PINCH OUT TOP LEAVES TO ENCOURAGE BUSHINESS
When the stem reaches 12 inches tall, pinch out the top two sets of leaves. This will encourage the plant to grow side shoots and more leaves, making it bushy. Each time the plant grows another 6 inches pinch out the 2 newest sets of leaves on top.
STEP 9 – TROUBLESHOOTING BUGS
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.
STEP 10 – WINTERING
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.