My grandpa once asked me when to start picking fruit from his Hass avocado tree. I said February. But it’s true that I’ve been picking one every now and then from my Hass tree since November. They’ve tasted acceptable, but I know that from February they’ll taste good, so I said February. Further, from March or April they’ll taste wonderful. There is no simple or correct answer to my grandpa’s question.
If you know the variety
That said, if you know which kind of avocado tree you have, then there are reference charts you can use to give you a general sense of a variety’s harvest season.
One such chart is this one by Julie Frink, based on observations in Irvine, Orange County. It shows the eating seasons of 27 avocado varieties.
Below is a chart that I made based on information from many sources, including Julie Frink. It shows only the varieties I grow in my yard:
Just keep in mind that these charts are general. When fruit from your tree will taste best to you might be on the front end or back end of the months listed. For example, last year (2016), I picked a Reed fruit from my tree in late May that tasted good enough for me even though according to the chart above, most people say the Reed season is later.
Also keep in mind that because it’s slightly warmer the farther south you go, if you live in San Diego your avocados will mature a little earlier in the year than if you live in Santa Barbara; likewise, avocados up north will maintain quality longer. For example, I’m in San Diego County and I’ve been picking good-tasting fruit from my Hass tree since Thanksgiving. That’s early. On the other hand, I have picked good-tasting fruit from a Hass tree in Carpinteria an entire year later, around Thanksgiving, after the fruit had turned black on the tree. That’s late. But that same piece of fruit probably wouldn’t have tasted good until that spring.
You might also be interested in knowing that the California Department of Food and Agriculture’s Avocado Inspection Program controls when commercial farmers can pick and sell their fruit. They issue release dates such as this one, and these dates can also be used by us backyard growers as guides for when to harvest. For example, the 2017 release date for any size of Hass (even small) is January 16.
If you don’t know the variety
But what if you don’t know which kind of avocado tree you’re picking from. My mom has a seedling avocado tree in her backyard, and some years back we had to figure out when its eating season was. Also some years ago, a friend of mine moved into a house that was shaded by an enormous old avocado tree with large round fruit that had shell-like skin but whose varietal name no one told him. Through trial and error, we figured out when to eat that tree’s fruit (and we later concluded that the tree was an old variety called Nabal).
Here’s how I’ve learned to approach situations like those:
Pick the biggest fruit on the tree at any time and see how it ripens. Be patient. Ripening (the softening of the flesh inside) sometimes only takes a couple days but can take a couple weeks. If the skin shrivels or if the fruit never softens beyond a rubbery texture, then it’s immature. Wait about a month to pick and test another big fruit.
If the fruit has hard skin like a shell (e.g. the varieties of Reed and Nabal), you may want to pop the stem off and stick a toothpick in to judge whether the flesh is softening.
If the fruit ripens nicely but when you cut it open the flesh is dark yellow, tastes overly rich, even smelling near rancid, then you’re too late. Next year, start picking about six months earlier. In other words, if you pick one that’s too mature here in January, then try picking the next crop starting in about July.
By the way, if you want to try to figure out which kind of avocado tree you are picking from, feel free to send me a photo and maybe I can tell you. Or use the maturity season that you discover and refer to one of the charts above in order to get names of possibilities. For example, if it tastes good in the summer then that eliminates Bacon, Pinkerton, and Fuerte, but it leaves as possibilities Hass, Reed, and Lamb. Then search for those names on the U.C. Riverside Avocado Variety List to see if one fits the description of your fruit and tree. This is better than doing a general web search because a lot of what you’ll find there is mislabeled.
No matter what, mark your findings on a calendar so you don’t have to keep dates in your busy mind. Or, what I often do is associate a harvest season with a holiday or birthday. For example, Bacons can be picked starting after Halloween. And by the way, Bacons are at their peak right now. I just had some that were so sweet and buttery.