How To Grow An Avocado: Fruit Of The Gods!

avocados (2)Growing a good suppy of avocado’s for the team has long been my dream, but they’ve been a tough nut to crack. In part because they’re fussy blighters, and in part because of where I live. While the foothills of the Tararua’s isn’t the perfect location, it is – I have learned – doable (as in all my photos – these are my Avocados).

10 years later and we’ve done it – a steady supply of beautiful buttery avocados from September through May.

Is Your Garden Suitable?

Warm, super sheltered, and free draining are the main requirements here. If you can grow a Lemon you can grow an Avo.

Drainage

Drainage is your make or break moment – Avo’s must have it! For ease of life it’s the thing you want to sort out first, because once you’ve got plants/ fences/ structures in it’s a real boo making swales, digging drains et all.

lemonade frost protection

Shelter

Next job – is shelter. A threesome of shelters – wind, frost and sun.

  1. Wind is out of the question – Avocados are not edge dwellers like Taupata or Flax – they come from the middle. Cosy them in by planting up the south side to eliminate southern draughts, and as a lovely by catch you’ll hold the sun’s warmth. Then extend this shelter either side depending on what winds you need protection from. My shelter/ suntrap extends like a hug on both eastern and western sides. My favourite shelter tree Italian Alder (nitrogen fixing, deciduous and hurricane proof) – forms the backbone on the west side. If north/norwest winds are your lot then you need dwarf Avo’s for low shelter that wont block light.
  2. Frost. For the first 3 or so years they must be sheltered from frost. Make a generous sized shelter so you don’t have to rebuild it every year. They’ll need this protection until they’ve got a decent canopy.
  3. Sun. The branches/ trunk are easily sunburnt. Even here in Levin, young trees with exposed trunks/ branches get scorched. The posts you bang in for your frost house get used through the summer for a bit of shade cloth. This tides them over until they have a protective canopy of their own.

Plant

Plant mid/ late spring. Not in Winter – dear God no! That’s like sending your cousin from Ethiopia to live in Otago in August with only jandals for footwear.

If clay is your base, go up – with a good sized mound to get those delicate feeder roots above the heavy, cold, wet stuff. If sand is your lot, then go down. Scoop out the sand lay wet newspaper and fill with a heap of organic matter.

To increase your pollination, plant two – an A type (eg Haas), and a B type (eg Fuerte). The nursery will help you here.

avocado mulch

Mulch

Avocados have shallow feeders roots. Protect and nourish them with a generous layer of mulch. A good use for chunky, difficult-to-compost stuff from the vegie patch like sunflowers and brassicas, and of course the trees own prunings.

Shallow feeder roots are vulnerable to weed competition, fluctuating temperatures and drying out –  mulch ticks all those boxes. It takes care of another important bit of Avocado care – the building of a lovely web of mychorrhiza. A fungi which colonizes the root system and improves uptake of nutrients and possibly water too. This conversion and uptake of nutrient is important for our Avo’s because they lack root hairs.

Mulch reminds them of home – of being in the jungle, it inspires more feeder roots, more fungi and general happiness.

Moisturise

No puddles. No desert. In the middle, just lovely and moist. The early years are of the utmost importance. If you wont remember to water, set up irrigation or use an Olla pot.

Fertilise

The foundation for all vitality is a bed of compost + a full spectrum mineral fertiliser like Fodda and you are away laughing. Do this mid spring when flowering.

Give a dose of organic goodness monthly throughout summer until March. This could be a spades worth of rotten manure, seaweed or fish waste dolloped beneath the mulch or it could be a fresh layer of mixed mulch or a handful of Fodda.

Read your tree – if it’s happy and productive keep doing what you’re doing. An autumn application of gypsum is a good idea too.

Biological sprays are the cherry on top.

Avocado protected

3 Steps To A Good Beginning

  1. Test for drainage first by digging a 300mm by 300mm hole. Do this late winter early spring when the water table is at its peak. Fill the hole with water and watch it drain away. If its still there 60 minutes later – it’s not looking good for your avocado growing venture. If you don’t know how to sort it, get a drainage guy/ guy-ess in.
  2. Once the drainage is sorted, plant up the shelter and let it get established – ie taller than the avocado seedlings, before planting them out. While you wait (I have hope), a few opportunities open up. 1. The chance to plant and establish ground covers like nasturtium and plenty of bee/ parasitic wasp friendly companion plants. 2. Time gives you the chance to improve your soil in the simplest of ways, by building an extreme pile of organic matter on your chosen avocado growing spot. Seaweed, manure, good soil, compost, gypsum, rotten hay…. all the good stuff – go nuts!
  3. Drainage✓, Shelter✓, Organic matter✓, Companions✓- your avocado dream is about to come together! Come mid spring you can plant. Take great care with that tap root at planting time by soaking the seedling first and slitting, then peeling the bag rather than pulling it off. Be sure to have irrigation and shade house ready to go.

While you await your own –  buy fresh picked, green Avocados direct from the grower. They ripen to beautiful buttery as good as homegrown fruits. I love Twisted Citrus or The Avo Tree – both excellent service, top quality fruits and a user friendly website.