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

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. You’re likely going to need to apply about 10 gallons to do this. 

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.

It doesn’t much matter what materials or method 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.

This micro-sprinkler made by Philmac is my favorite because it can be used on baby trees, as it is here, by popping off the spinner and inserting a deflector which turns it into a little spitter.

Just 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? Let’s 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.

 

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How long until an avocado tree fruits?

Heat tolerance of avocado varieties

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Hass fears 109 degrees.

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Reed pays little attention to such temperatures.

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.

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 SirPrize 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.

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.

 

How the Fuerte avocado really got its name

How the Fuerte avocado really got its name

The California avocado industry, and therefore the world avocado industry — as California growers started it all — was built primarily on the quality of one variety: Fuerte. And yet, despite its fame and importance, one encounters misinformation about how the Fuerte got its name. Over and over, the story is told that Fuerte avocado trees (then just referred to as number 15) survived the freeze of 1913 whereas other varieties got torched, and so they were named Fuerte, meaning “strong.” Wrong.

Let’s get this straightened out by going to the sources. In the early days, everything important was recorded in the California Avocado Society yearbooks, at first called the California Avocado Association annual reports. Lucky for us, much of the content of these yearbooks and reports are available at Avocadosource.com.

In the C.A.S. Yearbook for 1948, there’s an interesting article about Carl Schmidt, the “discoverer” of the Fuerte. According to the article, Schmidt had been working for Wilson and his father Fred (or F.O.) Popenoe, who owned the West India Garden nurseries in Altadena, California (near Pasadena). Popenoe employed Schmidt to find promising avocado varieties in Mexico. In 1911, Schmidt found one on the property of Alejandro Le Blanc in Atlixco which he cut budwood (small branches to be used in grafting in order to propagate new trees) from and sent back to California via Wells Fargo Express. Atlixco is located in the state of Puebla at an altitude of about 6,000 feet. The budwood from Le Blanc’s tree was labelled number 15.

At the nursery in Altadena, the budwood from number 15 grew more vigorously than Schmidt’s other introductions. In an article from 1941 titled “Origin of the name ‘Fuerte’,” Wilson Popenoe recounts that this number 15 “was so much more vigorous than the rest that it attracted our attention before the buds were a foot in height. One day when father and I were going over the Schmidt introductions, we commented particularly upon the high percentage of buds of this variety which had “taken,” and the strong, vigorous start they were making. Father remarked, “That’s the strongest grower of the lot. We’ll call it ‘Fuerte.’ ”

The three-year old Fuerte tree in my yard shown in the photo above attests to the vigor of the variety. So that’s how Fuerte got its name, but then . . .

A few years after Schmidt had sent the number 15 budwood up from Mexico in 1911, and then the budwood was used to propagate new trees at West India Gardens, and then Fred Popenoe gave the strongly growing number 15 trees the name ‘Fuerte’ — in 1913 it now was — there was an exceptionally hard freeze in Southern California. Many of the varieties at West India Gardens in Altadena were damaged, but the Fuerte trees came through comparatively well. This was when the variety showed its tolerance to cold. This pleased the Popenoes. This was not, however, when the variety got its name. According to Wilson Popenoe himself, Fuerte was called Fuerte before the 1913 freeze ever hit.

 

From whence the myth?

Where did the myth arise that Fuerte got its name after it proved hardy in the 1913 freeze? It seems it hadn’t appeared as early as 1915. In the California Avocado Association’s annual report for 1915, Fred Popenoe wrote an article titled “Varieties of the avocado,” and in it the Fuerte is listed and described as follows:

“FUERTE (Syn. El Fuerte, West India Gardens No. 15) Atlixco, Puebla, Mexico, 1911. Form broadly oval, length 4 inches, weight about 14 ounces. Surface roughened, green in color, the skin thick. Flesh yellow, smooth and buttery, of rich flavor. The seed is small, tight in the cavity. The tree propagates readily and has proved to be an unusually strong, erect grower. Its season at Atlixco is said to be October and November.”

In other words, Fred Popenoe wrote essentially the same in 1915 as his son Wilson told the story in retrospect in 1941. That is, the Fuerte was an exceptionally strong grower, hence the Spanish name meaning “strong.” Nothing about cold hardiness or the 1913 freeze are mentioned.

Nothing new appears in the 1916 annual report, except that in an article written by J.T. Whedon, who planted the first orchard of Fuerte trees in 1914 (he got his trees from West India Gardens), the Fuerte is noted as one of his “best growing and spreading trees.” Whedon says nothing about the Fuerte’s cold tolerance.

At last, it is in the Association’s 1917 annual report that we first find the cold hardiness of Fuerte even mentioned. But it is only in the context of the Fuerte being one of the hardier avocado varieties that also taste and grow well. Fuerte “can withstand more cold than any other desirable variety.”

Fast forward to 1946 and we find the article “The Fuerte Avocado” by Marvin Rounds, where he says, “The name Fuerte, meaning hardy, was later given to the variety because the budlings resisted to a certain extent the low temperatures of the 1913 freeze.” That’s the first written version of the myth I can find. Note that it’s five years after Wilson Popenoe’s article “Origin of the name ‘Fuerte’.” Might this article by Rounds be the “Origin of the myth of the reason for the name ‘Fuerte’?”