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How (and Why) to Grow Avocados

Avocados are one of the healthiest foods you can eat every day. They’re rich in monounsaturated fat that your body can easily burn for energy, and the fat helps your body absorb fat-soluble nutrients from other foods as well. Research1 has shown consuming a whole fresh avocado with either tomato sauce or raw carrots significantly enhanced absorption of the carotenoids and facilitated the conversion of them into an active form of vitamin A.

Another study2 found that adding avocado to salad allowed the volunteers to absorb three to five times more carotenoid antioxidants, which help protect your body against free radical damage. Avocados are sometimes pricy, but you can pick them up when on sale; just make sure they’re hard, and then store them in your refrigerator. They’ll stay fresh for about two to three weeks this way. Placed on the counter, they’ll ripen in a day or two.

An even better way would be to grow your own. Here, you have two options: 1) Purchase a grafted avocado tree from your local nursery, or 2) Grow it from seed.3,4,5 If you start from seed, keep in mind your plant may or may not actually produce fruit. Some may start producing fruit after three to four years.

Others can take up to 15 years, and some never fruit at all. Commercial avocado orchards use grafts, which is the surest way to get fruit. Growing it from seed can be a fun experiment, however, and is a great project for kids. Here’s how.

8-Step Guide to Growing Avocados From Seed

Step 1: Start by removing the pit from a fresh avocado. Be sure not to cut or score the pit during removal. Wash off any remnants of the fruit, but make sure you don’t remove the brown seed cover.

Step 2: Next, determine the top and bottom ends of the seed. More often than not, the seed will be slightly egg-shaped, and the bottom would be the thicker, flatter end. The bottom end is where the roots will form.

Step 3: With the top end up, pierce the seed with four toothpicks, about three-quarters of the way down, angling slightly downward. Place into a glass or small bowl of water, so that the water covers the bottom end of the seed while keeping the top end dry and above water.

Step 4: Place the glass on a windowsill that gets plenty of sunlight. Change the water at least once a week or more to prevent fungal growth.

Step 5: Patiently wait for the seed to sprout, which can take anywhere from two to eight weeks. As the roots begin to sprout, make sure the taproot (the longest of the roots) never dries out. The roots need to remain submerged or the plant will die.

Step 6: Once the stem has formed and grown to a height of about 6 inches, cut it down to about 3 inches to encourage new growth. 

Step 7: Once the seedling has reached a height of 6 or 7 inches again, and roots are at least 2 to 3 inches long, transplant the seedling into a pot (6 to 10 inches in diameter) of humus-rich soil, leaving the top half of the seed above the soil line. Keep the pot on a sunny windowsill.

Make sure the soil never dries out completely; the soil needs to be kept moist, but not soggy. Overwatering will result in yellowing leaves. You can tell the plant needs water when the leaves curl slightly upward. Leaves curling downward is an indication of sufficient water.

Step 8: To encourage bushiness, pinch two of the longest sets of tops once the plant is about 1 foot tall. Continue pinching the two youngest sets of branches for every 6 inches of growth.

In the summer, you can place your baby avocado tree outdoors in a sunny spot. The more sun the better; just make sure the soil doesn’t dry out completely. If temperatures drop below 45 degrees F., you’ll need to bring the plant indoors, so avoid planting it in your garden while it’s still young, unless the temperature never drops below 45 F.

Basic Planting Guidelines

Avocado trees grow well in USDA zones 9b through 11. As noted in the featured video by California Gardening, your best bet, if you want to produce fruit, is to buy a grafted tree. Since avocado trees are shallow rooted, their feeder roots being only about 6 inches below ground, make sure your soil is well aerated. Plant in spring once there’s no longer any risk of frost and the soil has warmed.

Avoid planting your tree near lawn or other plantings that might compete for nitrogen uptake. Ideally, your soil should have a pH of 7 or below. If your soil is more alkaline, amend with organic matter before planting. Sphagnum moss is an ideal amendment. To lower soil pH by 1 unit, add 2.5 pounds of peat moss per square yard of soil.6 Alkaline soils will also need some chelated iron. You can tell your tree is deficient in iron if new leaves have green veins and start to yellow around the edges.

Select a sunny spot, and as with other plantings, dig a hole as deep as the root ball and about 50 percent wider. Fill in with soil and add mulch to lessen water evaporation and weed growth. Using a weed barrier around the base will further minimize weed growth. Keep the mulch at least 6 inches away from the trunk of your tree.

Newly planted trees will need about 2 gallons of water at the time of planting. After that, water two to three times a week until established. The tree will flower in March or April, producing tiny fruit buds shortly thereafter. In the first year, apply fertilizer in March, June and September. Compost and fish emulsion are good organic options. You may also add a little zinc once a year.

Throughout the growing season, prune off any dead leaves and remove weeds growing near the trunk. Insecticides are typically not required. Should you notice insects, snails or slugs, sprinkle diatomaceous earth on the soil around the tree. It’s a natural repellant against many crawling insects.

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