Growing Your Own Avocado Tree… Indoors!

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Young avocado tree sprouting from a pit. Photo: herbsathome.co

There are many tropical fruits that can be grown from a seed—oranges, lemons, mangoes, date palms, coffee plants, etc.—but the best known is probably the avocado (Persea americana). Watching its huge pit split in two and sprout a thick, rigidly upright sprout is fascinating. The robust seedling is miles away from the skinny little ones most of our vegetables and annuals produce. Growing an avocado also a great experience to carry out with small children in order to teach them how plants germinate and grow. Plus, you get a free houseplant!

Admittedly, avocados generally make pretty mediocre houseplants, but still, they’re inexpensive to grow and raising one, even if it’s a bit of an ugly duckling, can be fun and informative.

Traditionally you’re supposed to germinate the pit over a glass of water, and if you want to do that, no problem. But the “glass of water” treatment is not mandatory. After all, do you think an avocado pit has to hover in the air over a puddle of water in the wild? Of course not. It germinates in contact with the soil just like any other terrestrial plant. Although far from its native jungle, it will still germinate if you just sow it in potting soil. But sprouting it in water at least offers the advantage that you can better observe the plant’s progress as it germinates: after all, the roots will be visible through the glass. This can be especially interesting as a teaching experience for young children. 

Here’s how to start an avocado indoors in both water and soil.

Before You Start

Harvest the pit. Whether you then remove the brown envelope is up to you. Photo: http://www.fitedm.com.

Choose a slightly softened avocado, a sign that it’s fully mature. Extract the pit, then clean and dry it. You can remove brown envelope that surrounds the pit if you want or leave it intact. Whether you do or don’t, the results will be the same.

Pointy side up, flat side down. Photo: empressofdirt.net

It’s important to place the pit in the right direction (especially if you’re growing it over water). One extremity will be slightly pointed, like the top of an egg, and should face up. The other will be more flattened, with a paler mark. This is the bottom of the pit and should, of course, face down.

Over a Glass of Water

Use toothpicks or matches to hold the pit over a glass of water. Photo: pjlibrary.org

If you do you want to germinate your avocado pit over a glass of water, press 3 or 4 toothpicks, wooden matches or plastic forks into the pit. Insert them all around the pit, at about mid-height, spacing them evenly. Suspend the pit over a transparent glass or a mason jar. Pour water into the glass until the base of the pit touches the water. Now set the glass in a rather warm spot (68˚F/20˚C or higher), adding water as necessary so that the base always remains in contact with moisture.

After a few weeks, the pit will split vertically and a large root will grow down into the water. Soon after, an upright stem will rise from the top of the pit. Congratulations! You have achieved germination!

Don’t make the mistake of letting the root grow long: pot up the pit as soon as you see a root. Photo: oas1s2004, reddit.com.

Don’t wait too long before transplanting the young plant into a pot: you’ll find it will better tolerate the transition when its roots are just starting to form then when the glass is a mass of tangled roots … and that’s what happens when you leave it dangling too long in a glass of water. Set the pit into the pot, covering the roots with potting mix, so that it is half covered with soil and voila! Your young avocado is up and growing!

In Potting Mix

Starting your avocado pit directly in soil saves a step. Photo: smartgardenguide.com

You’ll save time and effort by sowing the pit directly in a pot of growing mix. Simply fill a 4 inch (10 cm) pot with moist soil up to about to 1/2 inch (2 cm) from the top. A drainage layer of gravel is not necessary nor even recommended; just fill the pot with mix from bottom to top. Next harvest the pit as above, cleaning and drying it, then plant it in the pot, covering in soil to about half its height. Set the pot in a warm place (68˚F/20˚C or more) and wait patiently. With this method, you won’t see the roots appear, but after a few weeks you will see the pit split in half and an upright stem emerge.

Surprise: You have Twins!

Two plants sprouted from this pit. Photo: Chris Dunn, YouTube.ca

Sometimes more than one stem will sprout from the pit: there can be 2, 3 or even 4 or more. That’s because some pits are “polyembryonic”: they produce more than one embryo. In other words, the pit can have twins! This occurs frequently with some clones of avocado. If so, simply let the extra stems grow. This will give you a plant that is naturally a bit bushier than normal.

After Care

Up to this point, light was not necessary, but as soon as the stem has appeared, leaves quickly follow and they need light, lots of light. Full sun is not too much for this plant native to the South American tropics, although it can tolerate partial shade.

From now on, treat your little avocado like the houseplant it is. For example, watering it as needed, when the soil feels dry to the touch. Avoid watering with cold water.

In nature, avocado trees grow straight up, not branching until they are quite tall. This is Nature’s way of pushing the plant to quickly grow through overhanging branches to reach the sun above. It’s only once the tree is basking in the sun that it begins to branch.

Some avocados branch on their own, but most will require repeated pinching if you want them to fill in. Photo: davidurban, reddt.com

Potted avocados try to repeat this indoors, heading straight for the ceiling as fast as they can grow, making for a rather thin, not terribly attractive plant. You often have to force them to become denser by pinching them regularly. Pinching simply means removing the tip of the stem, either between your thumb and forefinger or with pruning shears. Once the stem reaches 6 inches (15 cm) tall, pinch the tip a first time, and from then on, every time the stem gains another 6 inches (15 cm), pinch again. This will slow its race for the ceiling and will force the plant to produce branches (although the avocado is very reluctant to branch abundantly), thus ensuring a denser appearance.

After 4 or 5 months of growth, your plant will be due for repotting into a larger pot. After that, repotting every 2 years should suffice. Your avocado plant will have to spend the rest of its life in a pot, unless you live in the tropics, in which case you can plant it outdoors at this point.

During the summer, allow your avocado to spend lots of time outdoors, an experience it will really love … but always acclimatize it gradually before exposing it to full outdoor sun.

The first year a young avocado mostly lives off the reserves contained in its pit. Afterwards, fertilize it like any other houseplant, from spring to early fall, using the fertilizer of your choice at a quarter of the recommended rate.

Leaf browning is a common problem, especially in winter. Photo: OkamiTea

Avocado foliage tends to suffer from tip burn and brown patches during the winter. These are caused by the dry air in our homes at that season. To counter this, try increasing humidity with a room humidifier.

Mineral salt accumulation (look for the telltale formation of a white or yellowish crust on the inner wall of the pot) can cause similar symptoms. Make a habit of leaching its soil every 3 months to reduce the accumulation. Just take the plant to the sink and let tepid water flow through its soil for a few minutes, allowing excess water to go down the drain. This will remove any mineral buildups in the soil.

To Fruit or Not to Fruit?

Will your avocado bear fruit someday? Probably not. And if it does, even under ideal conditions it can take 7 to 15 years to reach maturity and produce its first greenish flowers. Even then, it is a reluctant self-pollinator. I suggest you simply learn to appreciate the avocado as a foliage plant … and buy your avocados at the nearest market.

Article adapted from one published on February 17, 2015.

Browning Leaves on an Indoor Avocado

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Avocado leaves with dry brown edges are usually due to dry air. Source: cantikalami.club

Question: I grew an avocado tree from seed this summer and now the edges of the leaves are turning brown. Why? The plant is 30 inches (75 cm) tall and has only one main stem.

Helena

Answer: The avocado tree (Persea americana) rarely does very well under the conditions that prevail in the average home. True enough, it’s relatively easy to grow one from a pit harvested from a store-bought fruit and that’s kind of fun. Plus, it does grow vigorously at first, but it tends not to stay attractive very long … and that’s normal. Indoor conditions are not really much to the plant’s liking. It would really prefer full tropical sun and intense atmospheric humidity, things that are hard to give it indoors.

The plant most often shows its displeasure in the fall and winter, when its leaf edges start to turn brown and dry out, a condition that engulfs more and more of the leaf surface over time.

And the main cause is dry air.

The avocado comes from a humid tropical climate where the atmospheric humidity is usually at least in the 70 to 80% range and often well above that. Indoors, though, relative humidity drops seriously during the heating season. In many homes, it remains below 30% throughout much of the fall and winter. And when the air is too dry, evapotranspiration (loss of water from leaf cells) increases. Soon, the large but thin leaves of the avocado begin to lose water more quickly than the plant can replace it and when that happens, the cells begin to die, leading to browning.

Humidifier to the Rescue

To keep the leaves in top shape, you need to try increasing the humidity as much as possible and the easiest way of doing so is with a humidifier. If you can manage to keep the humidity in the 45–55% range (also, a good level for humans and pets), that will make a huge difference. Of course, this is far from the 70 to 80% the plant really wants, but at least it ought to keep all but the oldest leaves from browning at the edges.

A humidity tray can help too, although it’s more efficient on shorter plants. The humidity it gives off often diffuses into the air around before reaching the lofty leaves of indoor trees like the avocado.

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Spraying the leaves with water is just a waste of time. Montage: laidbackgardener.blog

And there is no point in spraying the leaves with water in an effort to increase humidity. The concept that spraying helps plants to cope with dry air is one of those garden myths that refuses to die.

For “perfect” growth (i.e. no browning at all), grow it in a humid greenhouse or seal your avocado tree inside a large clear plastic bag during the fall and winter. The humidity inside will be 80% and above, just perfect for your avocado. Yes, it will be able to breathe inside a sealed plastic bag. Just watch out for too much condensation. If that occurs, open the bag for a few hours … then seal the plant in again.

Note that, even if you increase the humidity, the damaged leaves will not turn green again, but rather new leaves will not turn brown. In other words, high humidity doesn’t cure browned leaves, it only prevents future damage.

Some Additional Suggestions

First, can I assume that your plant is growing in potting soil? If not, pot it up without delay. Many people start their avocado pit over a glass of water, but it won’t live forever that way. In fact, as soon as you see the first signs of root growth, you really should transplant it into a terrestrial environment.

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If you let the leaves of your avocado wilt, that too can lead to brown leaf edges, especially if the air is dry. Source: brbdyer420,www.houzz.com

After it has been potted up, regular, deep watering will be necessary. The root ball must never dry completely, because that too can lead to leaf browning. So, as soon as the soil seems dry to the touch, it is time to water again.

Also, hard water is not good for avocados. They prefer a more acid soil without excess minerals and for that reason, the water would ideally be soft. However, not only can tap water be hard, depending on its source, but the chemical treatments given to municipal water to keep it drinkable can increase its hardness. And hard water can also result in browning leaves, especially in combination with dry air.

Ideally, the water would have a calcium carbonate concentration of less than 60 mg/l: i.e., it should be soft. If your water is considered hard or very hard, it would be better to water your avocado tree with rainwater, dehumidifier water or distilled water.

Or Just Ignore the Problem

The good news is that even if you do nothing at all, the condition of your avocado tree should begin to improve all on its own in the spring, as the damaged leaves will eventually drop off and will be replaced by fresh, healthy leaves. And in the spring and summer, the air indoors in most climates is much, much more humid than in the winter: certainly at least in the 50% range. The result is that the new leaves should remain in fine shape … that is, until the next heating season.


Avocados: fun to start, but not such great houseplants. And they really hate dry air!

The Trendiest Fruit: The Seedless Avocado!

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These are avocados … but where are the pits?  Source: 2.bp.blogspot.com

They are already in Marks & Spencer stores throughout Britain: seedless avocados. And they’re oh so trendy! They’re calling them cocktail avocados. Eventually, these baby avocados will almost certainly show up at a supermarket closer to your home.

In the meantime, what is the seedless avocado and where does it come from?

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Two normal avocados and one cucumber avocado on the same avocado tree (Persea americana) Source: nsaum75, Wikimedia Commons

First, seedless avocados are nothing new. Typically, avocado trees produce a certain percentage of seedless fruit, especially popular cultivars like ‘Fuerte’, ‘Arad’ and ‘Mexicola’. The number of seedless fruits rises when unusual weather means growing conditions are not conducive to perfect ripening. Avocado farmers call them cukes, cucumber avocados or avocaditos and until recently simply rejected them.

But why compost something you can sell? So, seedless avocados have been pulled out of mothballs and given the much more sophisticated name of “cocktail avocados.” If the results in England are any sign of future interest, they seem promised to a brilliant future!

The new Marks & Spencer avocados were grown Spain, but in fact, seedless avocados have been sold for many years in South America and are well known in many areas there.

Not GMOs

By the way, no, these seedless avocados are not GMOs. There is no need to carry out complicated and expensive gene transfers to create seedless avocados when they occur spontaneously! In fact, humans have been growing seedless fruits (grapes, bananas and oranges, for example) for generations, long before the beginnings of genetic engineering. People terrorized by GMOs can therefore rest easy. There are, in fact, no GMO avocados on the market, seedless or not … but do beware of mangos!

Why do seedless avocados occur? It happens when the flower is pollinated normally, but seed production aborts at a very early stage. The fruit then continues to grow, but without a pit in the center. This phenomenon is called stenospermocarpy: it’s the same thing that produces seedless grapes.

So far, growers are simply harvesting the naturally seedless avocados that appear in varying numbers on their trees, but if ever they need to up their production, there are ways to increase the percentage.

A New and Growing Market

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One normal avocado with many cucumber avocados. Source: Kathy Campbell, Pinterest

Cucumber avocados have always been available in countries where avocados are grown. What is new is that they are now being distributed in other areas … and that the distributors are actively promoting them as something new and worthwhile.

Marks & Spencer is advertising these little avocados as being “safer” than regular avocados. This surprised me, as I had never thought of the avocado as a dangerous fruit, but apparently, hundreds of people cut themselves each year removing the pit from avocados in England. In fact, there is even a term for the injury: avocado hand. Perhaps the English are particularly clumsy? Certainly I don’t see avocados as any more dangerous than carrots and onions, for which I’m managed to slice off a few fingertips in the past. (I wonder if there is a medical condition called “carrot finger” or “onion finger?”)

The Fruit Is Small, Very Small

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Cocktail avocados are about the size of a medium gherkin. Source: http://www.rootsimple.com

The most surprising thing with cocktail avocados is their small size. They only measure about 2 to 3 inches (5 to 8 cm) in length and 1 inch (1.25 cm) in diameter. Growers were right: they actually do look like cucumbers!

Their skin is much thinner than normal and the suggestion is that means we should eat the entire fruit. That’s where the name “cocktail avocado” comes it: it subtly suggests that it can be served whole as an hors d’oeuvre. Now, I’ve tasted a cucumber avocado in Costa Rica before and, to be quite honest, I found the skin sufficiently bitter to rather ruin the experience. Maybe it’s just me (I’m the first to confess don’t like bitter foods), but still, I’d probably still prefer to cut open the fruit and spoon out its flesh in the old way.

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You can peel and eat a cocktail avocado much like a banana. Source: www.aujardin.org

What would I do if confronted with a cocktail avocado on an hors d’oeuvre tray at a reception? I’d delicately peel back the skin and eat it the flesh like I would a banana, starting at one end and working my way down. I’ll bet I could do it most elegantly!

Pricey … or Not?

Despite their small size, cocktail avocados sell for about the same price as regular avocados. Visually, or if you’re hefting both fruits, the cocktail avocado is so much smaller and lighter it would seem to be the more expensive of the two, but it would be interesting to experiment by extracting the flesh from both and weighing to compare them. After all, once the pit is removed from a regular avocado, it loses a lot of its mass! They’re perhaps closer in total “flesh” than you’d think!

Media Frenzy

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Media all over the world jumped on the story of the “safer avocado”. Source: laidbackgardener.blog

In England, where seedless avocados have been on the market since the early December 2017, the media has jumped on the story in a big way, especially excited, apparently, by the safety feature of the new fruit. Pretty much every newspaper and news show did a feature on it and the word “avocado hand” has passed into everyday language.

The result is that in the 149 British Marks & Spencer stores, the only store that sells them in Great Britain, the fruits disappear as quickly as they can be put on display.

North American and international medias have picked up on this trendy fruit as well, even if the fruit is not yet available in their country. I suspect if growers can increase the production if this “new fruit,” they’ll find they have a ready market worldwide.

The End of a Tradition?

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Could the arrival of seedless avocado lead to the disappearance of avocados as houseplants? Source: www.gardenista.com

If cocktail avocados take over the market like navel oranges and seedless grapes have done in their fields, that could spell the end of a long-standing tradition, that of harvesting avocado pits and growing them as houseplants. You’d be surprised at how many people have avocado plants in their home, all from pits they sowed themselves. The avocado is certainly among the most popular of all houseplants and not because people buy avocado plants, but because they grow their own.

Fortunately, I don’t think avocados with pits are in any danger of disappearing in the immediate future, so you still have plenty of time to fill your home with the avocado trees you start yourself.

That said, I suspect that when the new cocktail avocados finally do reach local markets, many people really will opt for them. It’s so hard to buck a trend!20171223A Marks & Spencer

Can Two Houseplants Share One Pot?

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Can two houseplants share one pot? Source: gallery.yopriceville.com, Clipart Library & beautifulgarden.org.uk

Question: I grow two avocado trees in huge pots. I wondered if it would be possible to plant my aloes in the same pots, at the foot of the avocados? That would save a lot of space and it seems to me that the effect would be very attractive. What do you think?

Dominique

Answer: Your question brought up an interesting thought. Why is it that we traditionally grow each houseplant in an individual pot? After all, we don’t do so outdoors. We regularly mix and match plants in flower boxes and containers, in flower beds as well. Yet with houseplants, it’s usually: one plant per pot, even though there is no logical reason we couldn’t mix houseplants together too: it’s just a question of long-standing habit.

Compatibility is the Issue

Of course, the secret to success with mixed pots is that the plants have to be compatible, with similar or identical needs.

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This mixed container is doomed to fail. The poinsettia and Norfolk Island pine could share a pot, since they have similar needs, but the selaginella (the mosslike plant) requires high soil and air humidity that others can’t handle. Source: statebystategardening.com

You’d have a hard time keeping a desert cactus, which prefers full sun and soil that dries out thoroughly between waterings, and a maidenhair fern, which prefers moderate to low light and soil that is constantly moist, happy in the same container. Nor should you try planting together strong, invasive plants with slow-growing or fragile ones, plants that need a long period of dry dormancy with plants that grow year-round, plants that require a lot of fertilizer with plants that prefer nutrient-poor soil, nor plants that differ in soil type, temperature, light needs, etc.

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Kalanchoe daigremontiana gives off products that can actually poison the plants it grows with. Source: Alina Zienowicz, Wikimedia Commons

There are even allelopathic houseplants (Kalanchoe daigremontiana, for example) that render the soil in which they grow toxic to many other plants and are therefore never good buggy buddies.

That said, there are many houseplants that actually do share many of the same requirements. So many common varieties like or at least tolerate average light, average air humidity and average watering—philodendrons, scheffleras, spathiphyllums, etc.—and therefore, unless they have some other incompatibility, could certainly share a pot.

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Succulents can usually share a pot, but if you add cacti, you’re asking for trouble! Source: The Urban Wife

Nor is there any problem growing most succulents, such as sedums, aeoniums, euphorbias, crassulas and echeverias, in the same pot, since almost all like full sun, tolerate dry air and prefer soil that dries out between waterings. But if you add a desert cactus to the mix, even if this is currently done commercially (unfortunately), it often leads to disaster, as least in the long run. That’s because most cacti really only do well with a long winter dormancy under cool, dry conditions, while “other succulents” usually don’t like things quite that cold and dry.

In other words, combining different plants in one pot is possible, but it can be complicated.

Your Combination

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Can aloes share a pot with an avocado? Source: gallery.yopriceville.com, Clipart Library & beautifulgarden.org.uk

At first glance, the combination you suggest would not seem doable. The avocado (Persea americana) is a tree native to the tropical rainforest (i.e. jungle) and prefers soil that is always at least a bit moist, plus high atmospheric humidity at all times. The medicinal aloe (Aloe vera), on the other hand, comes from an arid environment, where the air is dry and the soil receives no water for months on end. Growing them together would seem to be a really bad idea.

That said, the aloe is an extremely adaptable plant, much more so than the avocado. It’s been grown as a potted plant for almost 6,000 years and seems to have learned to live with human vagaries. Yes, it prefers sun and soil that is on the dry side, but will adapt to medium or even low light and soil that is never totally dry, although you can’t leave it soaking wet for weeks at a time. Although it was designed by nature to tolerate dry air, it doesn’t require it and it won’t react badly to the efforts you put into keeping the much more finicky avocado happy. And both do like warmth year round, so they have at least one thing totally in common.

So yes, I think you could grow both together. It’s a borderline combination, but as long as you watch your watering and let the soil nearly dry out before you water, you ought to be able to let aloes share the big pots of your avocados.