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).
Will I ever supply all our Avocados? Highly unlikely (although this warming climate will help). Is it worth it? For fresh Avocado’s – yes! To really rock it I’d need to move further north.
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 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.
Next job – is shelter. A threesome of shelters – wind, frost and sun.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 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, wield your broadfork first to open the way for the tap root. Then 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.
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.
A full spectrum mineral fertiliser like Rok Solid + compost at planting and mid spring when flowering. Give a dose of organic goodness (beneath the mulch), every month there after until March. Rotten manure, seaweed and fish are all good things here. Don’t go slathering on deep layers of fertiliser – little and often :). 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.
3 Steps To A Good Beginning
- 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.
- Once the drainage is sorted, plant up the shelter and let it get established – ie taller than the avocado seedlings, before planting them out. I have visions of this really great advice floating over your head, not even reaching your ears because you hate to wait! (impatient lot :)). 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!
- 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 – excellent service, top quality fruits and a user friendly website.