How to plant and care for avocado trees

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ARTICLE Patricia Moore

It’s a true super-food, rich in mono-unsaturated oils, protein, vitamins and minerals.

One of the few negatives can be finding the perfect avocado at your local fruiterer! However, given the right location, it’s surprisingly easy to grow your own – just don’t expect a crop from that seed you’re nurturing on the window sill.

A native of sub-tropical Central and South America, the avocado arrived here in the early 1900s – around the same time as the rest of the world discovered it. Today avocados flourish in the Bay of Plenty, Northland, Auckland, Gisborne and Hawke’s Bay and in parts of Nelson and Golden Bay.

Originally called alligator pears, commercial avocado growers in the US felt the somewhat unappealing ‘alligator’ image impacted negatively on sales and opted for a name change to ‘the more exotic and less menacing’ avocado, an adaptation of the Aztec ahuacacuahatl or testicle tree. Sales rocketed. They rose even higher when marketers tied the fruit in with the Super Bowl. Today it’s estimated Americans eat over 80 million pounds of avocados at the time of this annual event – largely as guacamole.

It’s an impressive tree, which can grow to around 9 meters tall and is an ideal specimen tree, space permitting. It’s also prolific, with a 5-year-old tree able to produce around 60 kilos of fruit. For the smaller garden, judicious pruning or choosing a dwarf variety is the solution.

Grafted avocados are the best way to go if you want to be able to be able to enjoy the fruit within 2-3 years. You could try growing an avocado plant from seed but there’s no guarantee that it will produce fruit. You likely won’t find out until the plant is between 8-20 years old.  

Avocado trees prefer a sunny sheltered position and need well-drained alluvial soil. Because they’re shallow rooting, stake well and mulch to protect surface roots. The rooting system is actually excessively fussy and can’t handle heavy clay or wet soil, which may lead to phytophthora cinnamomi or root rot – a mould that thrives in wet soil. Planting in spring, as the soil temperature rises and the likelihood of rain lessens, is advised.

The avocado flower is unique in having both male and female organs and a variation in flowering types has trees classified as A and B. This depends on the times the male and female organs open and close and is affected by temperature; below 20C leads to irregular opening and closing times. Though they’re self-fertile and produce large clusters of blooms, pollination can be tricky. It’s estimated that only three in 1,000 flowers actually form fruit!

An established avocado tree requires little maintenance. Fertilise every three to four months over the growing season – chicken manure is a great organise fertiliser if available – and prune if desired, but remember fruit is produced on new growth.

The main varieties of avocado grown in New Zealand are the pebbly, almost black-skinned Hass, which produces fruit from August to May; Reed, with green pebbly skin that fruits from February to June; and the green, smooth-skinned Fuerte, which fruits from July to October.

You don’t need a lifestyle block to enjoy growing your own avocado; the tree will enhance a range of landscape designs; particularly sub-tropical and native, with the bonus of an awesome crop of super fruit. Guacamole anyone?

You might be interested in reading: Kawakawa planting and care instructions.
 

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*All information is believed to be true at time of publishing and is subject to change.

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