“Always do what’s best for the tree,” says an avocado farmer that I respect. What he means is, when deciding whether to do something to the tree — water or stake or whitewash or shade or prune — base your decision on the answer to just one question: Is it best for the health of the tree?
In other words, it’s about the tree, it’s not about you. Sometimes you should do something that is bad for you in the short term but good for the tree in the long term. Ultimately, it will be good for all.
One example of this is the occasional need to sacrifice immature avocados.
Here are three times when, in my experience, this fruit removal is wise:
Stunt or topple young trees
Certain varieties, or certain trees of any variety in a good pollination situation, will set fruit when still young and small. In fact, they can set more fruit than they can comfortably carry. A few varieties that commonly do this are GEM, Gwen, Reed, and Pinkerton.
If you don’t intervene, such a tree will at best have stunted growth. At worst, the weight of the avocados can topple the little tree.
In such a situation, I do two things: make sure the small tree is staked properly if it needs to be staked, and remove some fruit. I don’t allow my trees to hold more than one or two avocados until they are as tall as me. Even when they are up to head height, I only let them hold around a dozen.
(For more on staking, see this post. And see this post about forming the shape of young avocado trees.)
(Also see my post, “Should you remove avocados from a small tree?”)
Sunburn fruit and branches
When there are many avocados on a single branch, the branch bends down and leaves no longer shade the fruit or branch. Avocado fruit and bark are easily sunburned, especially in inland locations where the sun is stronger than near the ocean.
Avocados that are significantly sunburned will have a rotten portion inside once they’re harvested and ripened.
Branches that are significantly sunburned will have weakened growth and might even die back.
But the most severe scenario is when there is so much fruit on a particular branch that it snaps off. Ouch!
I’ve seen this happen to trees of a few varieties, but I’ve only had it happen to the Reed variety in my yard. I think this is because the Reed fruit gets bigger than most other varieties.
How to prevent branch breaking? Some growers support (prop) branches with 2×4 pieces of wood.
This can work, but it is not fail-safe. High winds during a winter storm or a Santa Ana (east wind) event can jostle the branch free from the prop.
For this reason, I prefer thinning fruit over propping branches. But which avocados to remove? And how much to remove? These are not easy questions to answer because you never know how the weather will be, and you might not have the experience to know how big and heavy the fruit of a specific avocado variety will get, not to mention that it depends on how thick and well attached the branch is.
When you do decide to remove some fruit, I suggest removing these kinds of avocados first: those nearest the end of the branch, those touching the ground or very near the ground, the smallest fruit, badly scarred fruit, and then fruit growing in clusters and rubbing their neighbors. (See my video below for examples.)
Best prevention is pinching new growth
Take note of this! Much of the above can be avoided if you visit a tree as it grows, especially May through October, and pinch the tips of new growth on branches that are getting too long without forming side branches or are too horizontal (and will be prone to sunburn). I mostly do this on younger trees; it’s usually not practical or necessary to get up on a ladder and pinch new growth on branches ten feet off the ground.
Through pinching, you can create stout and “complex” branches (branches that have many forks) that are capable of carrying large quantities of fruit and keeping that fruit shaded, thereby preempting the need to remove fruit later on.
Such pinching is especially beneficial on certain varieties: Sharwil, Ardith, Reed, and Pinkerton.
In this video I show when I have and haven’t done what’s best for a few of my avocado trees in relation to pinching, pruning, sunburning, breaking branches, and removing fruit.
Sometimes you have to learn the hard way and sunburn a branch or break one or stunt a young tree before you get a sense of how much fruit can be kept or how branches need to be trained. This is how I have had to learn, mostly.
But I’ve also been lucky to be able to visit many other yards and farms, and there I’ve observed the consequences of growers who are more and less risky, or ignorant or negligent or greedy, one might say. And this has enabled me to skip over the lessons I’ve seen them learn the hard way.
All in all, I believe that if we continually put the health of our trees above our desires for maximum avocados in the short term, our trees will reward us for this generosity down the line.
A list of all Yard Posts.
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