When it comes to buying an avocado tree, is bigger better? In one major aspect, yes, because a bigger avocado tree is capable of giving you more fruit sooner.
On the flipside, bigger avocado trees come with three disadvantages, which is why I have purchased and planted many more small than big avocado trees in my own yard. But which is better for you?
Small trees win when it comes to price. What do I mean by small though? I’m thinking of trees sold in one-gallon containers up to five-gallon containers. Five-gallon avocado trees are the most widely available at nurseries throughout Southern California. A five-gallon avocado tree is shown on the right in the photo above.
These trees are in what’s called sleeves, and they’re just a tad smaller than five-gallons.
The typical price? Smaller ones might be as low as $20, but five-gallons run anywhere from $25 up to $50.
And when I say big, what do I mean? I’m thinking mostly of avocado trees in fifteen-gallon containers but also those sold in 24-inch wood boxes. These trees cost as little as $60 but usually much more.
From any individual retail outlet, the price of a fifteen-gallon avocado tree tends to be three or four times as much as that of a five-gallon. For example, in the photos of price tags above, a five-gallon costs $36 whereas a fifteen-gallon costs $130.
Smaller avocado trees are also much easier to plant. Big deal, you might think. I know how to plant a tree. Or, I’m going to have my gardener plant it anyway. Think again.
Avocado trees are the most difficult to plant of any tree I know. This is mostly because avocado roots are uniquely brittle. It’s difficult not to break any during planting, and yet, breaking roots during planting sets the tree’s growth back.
A tiny avocado tree like this Kahaluu, however, is almost as easy to plant as a tomato seedling.
This fifteen-gallon Nimlioh, on the other hand, was a pain in the back, literally. I was knowledgeable enough to do the planting correctly, but due to the weight and awkward balancing needed, I strained my back in the process.
The trunk of a big avocado tree is often as weak as my back. So here’s the third point on the side of buying a small tree.
The problem is that a big avocado tree has spent many years growing vertically, surrounded by many other avocado trees in a nursery. This makes it unnaturally top heavy. Adding salt to the wound, the big avocado tree has spent its entire life tied to a stake for support.
You know what a tree trunk is supposed to look like, where it’s tapered from top to bottom, slim on top to stout and strong down low. Contrast that with this trunk of a big avocado tree for sale in a nursery:
Nurseries are not stupid or evil for growing trees this way. It’s almost impossible for them to do it economically any other way. It’s also possible for you to still plant, restake, and grow one of these trees with success. It’s just not easy.
(See my post, “How to plant and stake an avocado tree.”)
Staking a big avocado tree usually requires large, strong stakes, many adjustments over the course of a couple years, and eventually it is often necessary to do some pruning in order to get the tree to stand on its own in a balanced manner, especially if your yard is subject to high winds.
Here is that Nimlioh I planted from a fifteen-gallon container in late 2017. It’s now been in the ground for just over a year. It’s growing very well, but despite pruning it for balance, it still requires stakes.
And here is a baby Jan Boyce I planted from a one-gallon container. Never needed a stake, still doesn’t, never will, has withstood 50-mile-per-hour Santa Anas without any help.
But that little Jan Boyce is going to take forever to fruit! That big Nimlioh is ready to carry a dozen avocados this year. There you have it. Back to the major appeal of buying a big avocado tree.
It’s there, it’s real. Planting a big avocado tree will bring you fruit faster. How much faster?
Roughly, a fifteen-gallon avocado tree is one or two years ahead of a five-gallon. A five-gallon tree usually takes three or four years to set its first real crop (at least a handful of avocados), but a fifteen-gallon tree can set a real crop after being in the ground for only one or two years.
(See my post, “How long until an avocado tree fruits?”)
Big or small for you?
Which is better for your situation? Ask yourself a few questions:
-Is money a concern? (You could buy three or four small trees for the price of one big tree.)
-Are you strong enough to plant a big tree, or can someone give you a hand?
-Can you commit to restaking a big tree properly and adjusting frequently?
-Are you in a hurry to eat avocados from the tree?
Of course you are! We all are. The real concerns are the first three.
Whatever you decide, do trust that an excellent avocado tree that bears lots of fruit for decades can be grown — with proper attention — from a big or small beginning.
The most challenging obstacle with either might be having patience. For encouragement there, see this Hass tree in my yard that was planted in summer 2013 from a five-gallon container (read: small tree).
It set its first real crop after three years in the ground, in 2016, when this photo was taken:
And it didn’t only give us a handful at three years old. That first crop was 73 avocados.
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