You and I, we go to the nursery and buy our avocado trees. Not Brad. He is so well-rounded in avocado growing skills and knowledge that he has developed a new grove of hundreds of avocado trees from scratch.
Starting from seed
Brad planted over 200 avocado seeds, mostly from Zutano fruits, some harvested from his own Zutano tree.
After a few months, he planted these seedlings in the ground. This was ground on his acreage in the hills near Poway in San Diego County. He had also already installed fencing to keep deer out and he had laid out irrigation for the trees. He did most of this work by himself.
The avocado seedlings grew for a year or two in place until they were big and established enough to be ready for grafting.
Watch my three-minute video about Brad developing his new avocado grove and demonstrating his grafting technique:
Grafting to known varieties
Over the course of the last decade, Brad has tested out dozens of avocado varieties in his “old” grove. Fuerte, GEM, Gwen, Jan Boyce, Stewart, Mexicola Grande, Mexicola, Ardith, Nabal, Nimlioh, Holiday, Lamb, Murashige, Greengold, Carmen, Kahaluu, Hellen, Sir-Prize, Pinkerton, Bacon, and many more, they all got a chance to show their growth habits and fruit yield and quality.
Through this Brad discovered which varieties he and his family most liked to eat, and he discovered which varieties were suitable to his climate and capable of high production, along with having good tree architecture. In the end, Brad’s top three were Reed, Hass, and Sharwil. These he chose for his new grove, designed as a farm and not just for the family.
As he already had a few trees of those varieties in his old grove, he was able to cut branches off them in order to use for grafting trees in his new grove. He had his own germplasm, so to speak.
Why not buy trees?
Let’s back up and ask why Brad didn’t buy trees of these varieties already grafted and grown up by a nursery. Wouldn’t that have been faster? Yes, but he chose the DIY route because it was cheaper and he wasn’t in a hurry.
Why Zutano seedling rootstock?
And why did Brad choose to grow Zutano seeds for his rootstock? Why not seeds of another variety, or why not clonal rootstocks? He chose Zutano because he had already seen in his old grove that trees on Zutano seedling rootstock grew and produced satisfactorily in his conditions. He has tried some clonal rootstocks and he has tried seedling rootstocks of other varieties — Bacon, for example — but came back to Zutano for the performance (and compared to clonal rootstocks, also because of the price).
Grafting timing and method
Brad did his grafting in early December. This time of year worked well in his location because the sap was still moving in the trees and the bark was slipping so he could peel it in order to use his desired grafting method, called a veneer or bark graft (as seen in the video). Once grafted, the trees had all winter to heal graft unions under a weak sun before beginning to grow and shade themselves by late spring, when it gets very hot in his location.
Two stages and a few failures
All doesn’t go according to plan. It never does. A few of Brad’s grafts failed, and he had to regraft them the following year.
Brad also didn’t plant out the entire area at one time. He did it mainly in two stages, with two main batches of seedling rootstocks and two Decembers of grafting, the most recent being December 2023.
And a portion of his newest rootstocks are still not ready for grafting today. In December of 2024, they should be.
Ready for avocado production
But Brad’s earliest batch of trees, grafted in December 2022, are now ready to set and hold their first crop here in spring 2024. Many of the trees flowered and set some fruit last year, in fact, but Brad removed them as he judged that the trees were not big enough to carry a proper crop at that point.
So this spring is an exciting time. The payoff period is in view. Years of thinking, planning, sweating, digging, taping, staking are about to turn into actual avocados.
Tradeoffs with this method
You might ask why Brad didn’t graft the trees while small and in pots, as is done at nurseries.
One part of the answer is that the grafts grow faster on larger rootstocks. So rather than caring for hundreds of grafted trees in pots for a year or two as they grew slowly, which requires a lot of space and more careful watering (since potted plants are more susceptible to drying out), Brad chose to let the seedlings gain size in the ground so that when he grafted, the tops would grow more rapidly.
The grafts that Brad did each December grew back in one year to approximately the size they had been when the rootstock was cut for grafting.
One other advantage of Brad’s method is that the trees are tougher at a younger age compared to container-grown nursery trees. His location is both hot and windy. By growing the trees in the field for more of their lives, they end up needing less staking and being able to handle heat better at a young age.
My take away
I have been lucky enough to watch Brad develop this new grove from the time it was only a thought. What I take away from watching Brad’s work is a sense of pride for him. He has accomplished a grand endeavor.
Secondly, I take away a reminder that we have access to all we need in order to grow avocado trees or any other fruit tree. We are not at the mercy of nurseries that might seem to employ mystical propagation techniques or experts that might seem to possess recondite horticultural knowledge.
Brad is an electrical engineer who became interested in avocado trees and spent time and effort learning about them and connecting with others who liked them and could share information and varieties. Given time and effort, every one of us can do the same, on any scale.
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