Rich in anti-oxidants and vitamins A and C and high in monounsaturated fats, avocados were awarded the South African Heart Foundation’s heart mark in 1997 for the role its inclusion in the diet plays in combating or lowering the rate of heart disease. It’s a perfectly balanced little pod of energy and health straight from nature’s pantry.
Most people are already sold on eating avos, though, so let’s move right on to growing them. With a little bit of extra care and protection you will find that the small effort made into planting an avocado tree or two of your own will be very much worth your while for many years to come.
Selecting a tree
Chances are that you have, at some stage in your childhood, adult life or through parenting, attempted to grow an avocado from a pip suspended above a jar of water. This is so much fun, and certainly a great lesson in germination and care, but avo trees grown this way usually take many years to bear fruit. If you would like swifter results, it’s best to choose a grafted, mature and hardier tree from your favourite garden centre…
** Pollination (i.e. the movement of pollen from one avo flower to another by pollinating insects, mostly bees) is essential for fruit formation and good crops. Avocados are divided into:
- Type A cultivars, which should be cross pollinated with a Type B cultivar, and
- Type B cultivars, which are self-pollinating, but do give better yields if planted with other varieties.
Lifestyle Home Garden offers the following avocado varieties:
- ** Type A Cultivar
- Size: 4m x 4m, which makes it a small tree ideal for smaller gardens.
- Ripens: April to July
‘Pinkerton’ bears medium to large, pear-shaped fruits with a definite ‘neck’ and a thick, rough and dark green skin. The flesh is deliciously smooth and creamy with a rich, nutty flavour and high oil content. It is a heavy and early bearer. It is relatively cold tolerant and disease resistant.
- ** Type B Cultivar
- Size: 10m x 8m with a large, spreading growth habit.
- Ripens: April to August
‘Fuerte’ bears medium to large, pear-shaped fruits with a thin, smooth green skin. It peels easily and remains green when ripe. The flesh is pale green, creamy and has a great taste. It is the most cold tolerant variety and can handle temperatures down to -4°C if not in flower. It produces good crops of high quality fruit.
- ** Type A Cultivar
- Size: It has an attractive, tall upright growth of 9m x 10m
- Ripens: June to October
‘Hass’ bears small to medium roundish fruits with a rough, leathery dark green skin that turns blackish-purple when ripe. The flesh is smooth, creamy and incredibly tasty and the fruit keeps well. It is possibly the most popular avocado variety. ‘Hass’ is fairly cold tolerant once established.
- Plant your tree in full sun in a wind-sheltered position in fertile, well-drained soil. Poorly drained clay soils might result in root and stem rot. If planting in pots, use a good quality potting soil and a container that allows good drainage.
- The best time to plant a new tree is early spring.
- Avocados prefer warmer, humid climates, but can be grown successfully in temperatures as low as -4° Many avocado trees have been grown and continue to thrive on the Highveld. Select a position that offer protection from frost and protect young trees by either placing them in a warm, sheltered position over winter or covering them with a frost protection cloth.
- Screen young trees from the hot afternoon sun.
- Start feeding your avocado trees about a year after planting when the young tree is established and lush. Fertilise young trees once a month with an organic water-soluble fertiliser high in nitrogen. More mature trees should be fertilised with an organic 3:1:5 fertiliser once a month.
- When watering, avoid wetting the leaves and stems. Keep the trees moist, but not wet. Allow the soil to dry out slightly between waterings.
- Avocados have a rather shallow root system, so spread a layer of mulch under the young tree and top it up from time to time. Keep mulch and fertiliser away from the stem of the tree.
- Very little pruning is needed, other than to shape the tree. In taller varieties the growth tips of top branches can be pinched back in young trees or cut back in more mature trees to encourage the tree to spread, rather than grow tall. This will make harvesting so much easier.
Harvesting and storing Avos
Avocados do not ripen on the tree, but will ripen 7 to 10 days after harvesting. Fruit can be left and ‘stored’ on the tree for a reasonable amount of time as and when you need to pick. Take care not to leave the fruit on for more than a couple of months or the tree will start bearing biennially, instead of every year.
To check if avocados are mature enough to harvest, pick one and store it indoors at room temperature for 7 to 10 days. If the fruit softens to the touch it’s harvest time! If it shrivels up and stays hard, give it a bit more time.
Cut the fruit off the tree with a very sharp knife, leaving a 6 – 10mm stalk on the fruit. This little stem serves as an indication of ‘ripe and ready-ness’ when it starts separating from the fruit.
Handle fruit very carefully to avoid bruising.
To encourage ripening, avocados can be placed in a bowl with other ripe fruit, particularly bananas. For quicker results, place in a paper bag with some ripe bananas.