Can you grow an avocado tree in a small yard space?

The answer is yes. My aunt asked me about this yesterday. Her yard space is well-spoken for, but her husband would really like to have an avocado tree. “They get big,” she said. They do indeed. Most varieties will exceed 30 feet unimpeded. But they don’t have to.

Here are my best two ideas for growing an avocado tree in your yard if you only have a small space — that is, if you don’t have a space that is 30 feet wide and tall.

One, plant a Hass avocado tree and keep it pruned to about 15 feet wide and tall, like this one:

small Hass avocado tree

This Hass tree in my yard is carrying just over 100 avocados this year. Hass is the variety that you buy in grocery stores, of course. It has excellent flavor, as you know, and the fruit will hang on the tree waiting for you to pick it from about February until July (even longer sometimes). Simply prune the tree once or twice a year to keep it at a 15-foot canopy.

Another idea is you could go with a variety called Reed, which naturally grows smaller than Hass. You can keep a Reed avocado tree pruned down to 10 feet and still get plenty of fruit. Here is my Reed tree today, at about 12 feet tall and wide, carrying around 75 avocados.

Besides being a bit smaller, another benefit of Reed is that its eating season starts about the time the season for Hass ends. So, you could buy good California-grown Hass at the grocery store from the spring into summer, and then from summer through fall you could eat the fruit from your own Reed tree.

But do Reeds taste as good as Hass? They certainly do — plus the fruit is bigger, and they also don’t brown when you cut them and leave a half in the fridge. (Read my post: “My Favorite Way to Eat a Reed Avocado.”) In case you haven’t seen Reed avocados, here are a few (not yet full size) hiding under the canopy of my tree.

reed avocados

But can you keep avocado trees pruned small in the long term? You certainly can. The best example I’ve ever seen of an avocado tree kept small for decades is a Fuerte in the yard of some friends who live in National City, just south of San Diego. They inherited the tree when they bought the house. A Japanese family had lived there for a long time prior, and this Fuerte tree is close to an avocado bonsai. It’s got to be at least 30 years old judging by the trunk diameter, and yet it’s been carefully pruned over the years to remain at only 10 feet tall and 20 feet wide: shaped like a saucer.

And most importantly, it produces lots of fruit. I counted over 100 on the day I took this photo.

Ancillary benefits of keeping an avocado tree pruned down is that you can pick most if not all of the fruit by hand (no poles or ladders), and also, small trees require less water than big trees.

In the end, if you want an avocado tree in your yard and you have even a 10-foot by 10-foot patch of dirt available, it’s possible. It’s more than possible, it’s proven and it’s prescribed.

 

 

You might also like to read:

Growing avocados in Southern California

Do you need two avocado trees to get fruit?

How long until an avocado tree fruits?

Best resource for growing avocados

While there isn’t a great single resource for growing avocados at home, the best of what’s available is a handbook edited by Gary Bender, former farm advisor in San Diego County. He taught my master gardener class on avocados, and he really knows his stuff. The handbook is split into two “books.”

Book 1 discusses avocado history, botany, variety selection and planting.

Book 2 discusses irrigation, diseases and pruning.

How to water a newly planted avocado tree

How to water a newly planted avocado tree

Let’s say you just planted an avocado tree from a five-gallon container, the typical size available at nurseries. How should you water this tree?

First, immediately after planting you should water lavishly, making sure that all of the container soil is wet and also making sure that the surrounding native soil is also wet to a couple feet away from the tree and a couple feet deep. One way you can do this is by leaving a basin around the tree that you can fill with water over and over, as seen in the photo above. You’re likely going to need to apply about 10 gallons to do this, or even more if the soil is very dry. 

Why water the container soil? Because that’s where the tree’s roots are. Why water the surrounding soil when the tree’s roots are only in the container soil? Because if the surrounding native soil is dry, it will literally suck water from the container soil, leaving the tree’s roots thirsty.

 

Materials and products

It doesn’t much matter what materials or products you use to water the tree, from that first watering through the entire first year. (Which watering method is best in the long run? Probably sprinklers, not drip. See why on page 19 of this avocado-growing handbook.) Watering by hand with a can or a hose is fine, watering by drip emitters can work fine as long as the emitters are close to the trunk and directly on top of the container soil, and a sprinkler works great too.

Personally, I prefer using sprayers, or sprinklers with a sprayer insert, on new avocado trees. I’ve used a sprayer made by DIG, and I’ve used a little sprinkler made by Philmac, shown in it’s sprayer mode in the photo below as well as at the top of this page.

DIG sprayer and Philmac sprinkler/sprayer

But if I had to recommend one, I’d go with this micro sprinkler made by DIG:

The reason I’d recommend it is because it’s both widely available and it’s a great product. It’s sold at Home Depot as well as many other stores, both online and physical. It costs around $3.

And why is it a great product? Similar to the Philmac sprinkler, DIG’s micro sprinkler can be the first and last watering device that you buy and install for the life of your avocado tree. This is because it comes with a 90-degree sprayer insert that works perfectly on a newly planted tree, as shown in the photo above, in addition to a spinner insert that will apply water in a wide diameter (up to 25 feet), so it can be used on big, mature trees too.

I use a sprayer on new trees, and then switch to a rotating sprinkler (spinner) once a tree’s canopy is more than about four feet in diameter, which tends to be after a year or two in the ground. The easiest way to do this is to use something like Philmac’s sprinkler or DIG’s micro sprinkler, which can be used in sprayer and sprinkler modes.

One modification I make is that I always insert a little shut-off valve on the tubing so that I can adjust the volume on the sprayer, and later on the sprinkler. (Note the shut-off valve on the Philmac sprinkler tubing in the photo above.)

 

How often and how much

Be sure that you’re watering the container soil consistently while also watering the surrounding native soil occasionally. This might mean that you put automated irrigation on the container soil and then hand-water the surrounding native soil every couple weeks.

How often is “consistently”? And how much should you water each time? I’ll try to be as specific as possible.

For a tree planted in spring or early fall:

  • Week 1- water every other day, 2 gallons each time
  • Week 2- water every three days, 3 gallons each time
  • Weeks 3/4- water every four days, 4 gallons each time

For a tree planted in summer:

  • Week 1- water every day, 1 gallon each time
  • Week 2- water every other day, 2 gallons each time
  • Weeks 3/4- water every three days, 4 gallons each time

For a tree planted in late fall or winter:

  • Week 1- water every three days, 2 gallons each time
  • Week 2- water every four days, 2 gallons each time
  • Weeks 3/4- water every five days, 3 gallons each time

In summary, you’ll water frequently at first and then less often as time goes on. This is because the tree will eventually grow its roots into the surrounding native soil and have more stamina because of the larger root system.

After the first month — no matter which season — your regular waterings should no longer only be over the container soil but also over the surrounding native soil. Why? Because the tree will have started extending its roots there after about a month from planting.

Remember that your baby avocado tree uses water in part based on the weather conditions. If there’s an extreme heat wave soon after planting, you may have to water every day. Likewise, if there are storms every week during winter, you’ll not need to water at all. But there could also be warm, dry Santa Anas in winter which make your new avocado tree want water every few days despite the winter season.

After the tree’s first full winter it can be considered established, no longer new, meaning it has extended its roots into the native soil and therefore your watering will more closely approximate the schedule it needs for the rest of its life.

In general, established avocado trees like to be watered every five to ten days, but that’s another topic: See this resource from Gary Bender for how to water an established avocado tree. Look at page 2 and also at the table at the end on page 7.

 

You might also like to read:

How long until an avocado tree fruits?

Growing avocados in Southern California

Heat tolerance of avocado varieties

When you see comparisons between avocado varieties, you see the taste discussed, the size of the tree and fruit, whether it’s an A or B flower type, and how sensitive to cold a particular variety is. Less often do you hear about a variety’s sensitivity to heat.

Having just gone through a record-setting heat wave — a zenith of 109.8 degrees on June 20 — my many varieties showed a spectrum of responses to the intense temperatures.

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Hass fears 109 degrees.

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Reed takes the heat.

 

The most sensitive varieties to that heat were the Hass and Fuerte, whose new leaves shriveled like plastic held to fire. In the middle were the varieties of Sir-Prize and Sharwil, which had blackening and curling on some new leaves. And the toughest were the Pinkerton, Lamb, and Reed. They showed nearly zero evidence of having been uncomfortable under such a terribly strong sun.

Keep in mind, however, that how well any variety of avocado will do under high temperatures is partially dependent on how well-watered the tree is.

 

You might also like to read:

Avocado trees get sunburned — What to do?

My favorite way to eat a Reed avocado

Grafting avocados, the best how-to resource I know of

Tip-grafted a Pinkerton scion onto a seedling here just last week. If I could do it over, I would try a cleft graft instead of a splice.

Tip-grafted a Pinkerton scion onto a seedling here beside a Hass tree just last week. Buds are pushing through the Parafilm already.

 

I just found a great resource on grafting avocados. Of course, I just finished doing my grafting for the season, but it will serve me well in the future.

Written by some of the most experienced people in the world, specific to California conditions, called “Propagating Avocados,” the University of California published it.

Avocadosource.com makes it available online HERE.