(Last updated May 26, 2021)
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, if 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 in my yard:
This Hass tree is carrying about 150 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. I’ve been doing so, and I know of other Hass trees that are kept this size while still being productive as well. (My post, “The Hass avocado tree: a profile.”)
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.
But do Reeds taste good? They certainly do — plus the fruit is bigger, and they also don’t brown when you cut them open and leave half in the fridge. In case you haven’t seen Reed avocados, here are a few (not yet full size) hiding under the canopy of my tree. (My post, “The Reed avocado tree: a profile.”)
Another productive and naturally smaller tree similar to Reed is the Lamb, also called Lamb/Hass. If I couldn’t find a Reed, I’d go with Lamb. In fact, I have a Lamb growing 7.5 feet away from my Reed. (My post, “The Lamb/Hass avocado tree: a profile.”)
Gwen and GEM
A couple other productive, tasty, but naturally smaller avocado varieties worth growing as single trees in a small yard space are Gwen and GEM. Unfortunately, trees of these varieties are not easy to find at retail nurseries. For guidance, see my post, “Where to buy an avocado tree.”)
(Also, for more information on all of these avocado varieties, see my post, “Avocado variety profiles.”)
Keeping avocado trees small in the long run
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.
Note well that Fuerte is a vigorously growing avocado variety. In other words, if you can keep a Fuerte down to size, you can keep any variety down to size.
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. For more on pruning, see my post “Pruning avocado trees.” But also check out my post “Pruning avocado trees to keep them small.”
“Dwarf” avocado varieties
How about planting one of the dwarf avocado varieties? The two widely available avocado varieties that are called dwarf are Holiday and Wurtz (which is also sometimes called Wertz, Littlecado, Minicado, or Dwarf Hybrid). The advantage of these varieties is that they are naturally slower growing than most others. Therefore, you won’t have to prune as much to keep one of these trees small. But that is the their main advantage.
There are disadvantages. The Holiday is less productive than Hass or Reed. This has been my experience with two Holiday trees that I’ve grown in two different locations, as well as my observations of the Holiday trees in the yards of friends and others. So yes, you’ll have a small avocado tree, but you’ll also have a small amount of avocado fruit — smaller than you could have with certain other varieties. (See details in my post, “The Holiday avocado tree: a profile.”)
As for Wurtz, however, I can only give secondhand information. Wurtz trees in other yards do seem to produce better than Holiday, but I’ve never grown a Wurtz avocado tree myself. The fruit of Wurtz is good, but I don’t find it quite as tasty as Hass or Reed or the other varieties mentioned above.
Taste is subjective though. The owner of the Wurtz avocado tree below told me that he very much likes the fruit:
Anyhow, in my view, the only reason to choose Holiday or Wurtz instead of Hass or Reed or Lamb or other avocado varieties would be if you wanted a naturally small avocado tree that didn’t require much pruning — and you couldn’t find a Gwen or GEM tree to buy.
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.
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