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Ola Avocado!

It’s a big space investment, but if you live in a warmer part of the country try to squeeze an avocado tree into your garden – its delicious fruit packs a hefty punch of super goodness!

There are few foods that can claim to be as versatile, tasty and nutritious as the sexy avocado. Because it isn’t sweet, some mistake it for a vegetable, but it is undeniably a fruit. (Believe it or not, it’s classified as a single-seeded berry by the fundis!) Hailing from Mexico and Guatamala, and relatively unknown in the rest of the world until 50 years ago, it’s an indispensible ingredient of Central American cuisine. In fact, some there know them as ‘guacamole trees’ because avocado is the main ingredient of that popular Mexican dish. Beyond this, its creamy, gentle flavour is ideal for mixing with the robust flavours of typically Mexican ingredients such as chillies, sweet peppers, coriander and lemons. Avocados are used in just about every country these days, from Japanese sushi to Indonesian milkshakes. More unusually, they’re used in ice cream in Brazil, or used to flavour liqueurs. But many say they’re best halved and eaten straight out of the skins with a spoon, perhaps with a squirt of lemon. Avocado trees are not difficult to grow or maintain, so invest in one today.

Propagation

Growing an avocado tree from a pip suspended over a container of water is fun, but trees grown this way can take from seven to 15 years to produce fruit, as opposed to grafted trees which take about two years. Trees grown in this way do, however, make lovely indoor container plants if placed in good light. For trees for fruit it is best to buy grafted trees from nurseries. If you are determined to grow at least one tree from seed try to obtain a seed from an old avocado tree that was itself grown from seed.

Getting started

For good fruiting trees in the food garden, buy grafted trees from nurseries and make sure they have been accredited root-rot free. Always choose a tree that is smooth at the graft union point, as this indicates it has a good, compatible rootstock and is disease free.

Suitable climates

Avocados grow best in high-rainfall areas, near the coast or where no frost occurs. They will grow in cooler areas but the fruit will take longer to ripen. The ‘Fuerte’ cultivar – the most popular grown in South Africa – has a wider climate tolerance than the other popular ‘Hass’ variety, and can survive to temperatures of -4°C, but will not tolerate frost when flowering. Hot, dry conditions cause the flowers and fruit to drop resulting in lower yields. All avocado cultivars can be stressed from lack of water so they will need irrigation (especially during flowering) in areas receiving less than 1000mm annually.

Growth habit

These trees grow very large. Plant them at least 7m away from other trees.

GOOD FOR YOU

Although avocados have a high fat content, they can be part of a successful weight management programme because its monounsaturated oil speeds up the metabolic rate. They are also rich sources of vitamins such as A, B6, E and C, and minerals such as potassium and magnesium

BEWARE

Growing an avocado tree from a pip suspended in water with cocktail sticks is fun and a great way to get kiddies interested in gardening. But for good fruiting trees, rather buy a grafted one from a reputable nursery and save your pip grown one for ornamental use indoors!

Cultivation

Avocados have a very sensitive root system and are susceptible to fungal infection (Phytophthora cinnamomi) if there is too much water in the soil. It is essential, therefore, to have good drainage – water must not remain on the soil after rain. A healthy tree has a root system that can penetrate the soil to a depth of 1m. Plant new trees in a warm sunny place sheltered from the wind. They will thrive in rich, well composted soil and need regular watering until established. Do not apply any fertiliser in the first year. The trees must first become well established and grow vigorously before any fertiliser is applied. During the second year and yearly after that a good dose of kraal manure and 3:1:5 fertiliser can be applied in July, December and April. Fertiliser and mulch must be kept away from the stem of the tree to avoid collar rot.

Pruning

These trees do not need to be pruned of thinned out, but dead or unwanted branches should be removed nevertheless. Some cultivars grow very tall. To combat this, cut the top ends of the main branches to make the tree branch out and then fruit can be reached more easily.

Pollination

To produce fruit, avocado trees require pollen to be transferred from one flower to another. This is typically done by bees as they are the best pollinators. While some cultivars require cross-pollination between different varieties for fertilisation to take place, the popular ‘Feurte’ and ‘Hass’ cultivars are self-compatible. This means you need only plant one
tree if you choose one of these varieties, a bonus given the fact they take up a lot of space

Harvesting

The fruit only ripens after it is picked. When fruit reaches a good size and shape, try picking a few to experiment with. If they feel soft after 8-10 days and don’t shrivel, they are ready for harvesting.

TREES NOT FRUITING?

If your tree stops bearing fruit after six years, dig a trench 900mm deep by 500mm wide about 1m from the tree (or 1.5m if the tree is more than 10 years old). Prune the root system as you go. Fill the trench with water and backfill when the water has drained away. This rejuvenates the tree by restoring the balance between the top growth and the root system, and should stimulate the tree to fruit once again.