The main question is: Should you just pull the avocados off the tree, or should you carefully clip the stems when you harvest avocados? Let me tell you what I do and explain why.
Harvesting avocados by hand
Whether my feet are on the ground or I’ve climbed up into a tree using the branches or a ladder, if I’m harvesting avocados by hand (not with a pole) then I usually break the stems in half to remove the fruit. I don’t try to pull the avocados off the branches because that sometimes breaks the branches.
After I’ve picked as many as I want, I’ll use clippers to shorten the stems so that there remains a stem button.
I often like to have a button on avocados because it helps me know when they’re ripe. I can wiggle that button to tell. When an avocado is ripe, the button will easily wiggle out. If it does, I usually also sink a toothpick into the stem hole to be sure I don’t cut it open to soon. (I’ve cut open Pinkertons early too many times!) A toothpick will easily sink into the flesh if the avocado is ripe.
Why not just snap the whole stem out of the avocado upon harvesting?
Sometimes instead of leaving a button in the avocado, I “snap” harvest and remove the entire stem, button and all. I do this with Hass, for example. It’s easy for me to tell when Hass is ripe so I rarely need to wiggle a stem button or insert a toothpick to test.
Additionally, there’s nothing risky about snap harvesting in terms of how the avocado ripens afterward. For example, I’ve never noticed rot occurring at the stem end more often when the stem button has been removed compared to left in, and some formal studies confirm this.
“In general, fruit quality of “snap” picked fruit was as high as, or higher than clipped fruit,” wrote Mary Lu Arpaia of U.C. Riverside in a study of Hass avocados harvested in different parts of California.
Also, the method of harvest — snapping or clipping — hasn’t been shown to significantly affect how fast an avocado ripens. (See this report on an experiment done by Irving Eaks.)
Harvesting avocados with a pole
There are two types of poles that can be used to pick avocados from a tree, one with a blade or set of blades that cuts the stem and one with fingers connected to a basket that grasps the fruit and pulls it off. They’re usually called clipper poles and basket poles.
I like to use a clipper pole as my first option because it ends up pulling down fewer branches while harvesting avocados. But clipper poles have a hard time reaching some fruit that is tucked between branches or that is very high. For such fruit, a basket picker works better. I attach a basket to a painter’s pole that extends to about 25 feet.
Is there a best time of day to pick avocados? Are there any conditions in which you should avoid harvesting avocados? I pick avocados at all times of day, even in the afternoon in the heat of summer. Commercial avocado growers try not to harvest in the middle of the day when it’s hot but that’s because they aren’t able to bring their avocados into a cool kitchen immediately like we can. I’ve harvested avocados when it was over 100 degrees, immediately brought them into the house, and the fruit has still ripened perfectly.
But do not harvest avocados in the heat and then let them sit in the heat, even in shade. I’ve made that mistake, and it ends with the fruit ripening poorly with off flavors and rotten spots.
At the other extreme, I avoid harvesting when it’s wet. Here’s why: “An interesting side outcome of the California research [done by Arpaia and linked to above] was the demonstration that the number of decayed fruit increased immediately after a rain regardless of picking method . . . The lesson learned is that avocados should not be harvested by either [snap or clip] method during or immediately after rain and before the trees have adequate time to dry out.” Reuben Hofshi wrote this back in 2002.
It’s interesting to note that commercial avocados in California continue to be almost exclusively clip harvested even though Arpaia’s research was done more than twenty years ago showing that snap harvesting yields fruit with as little or less stem end rot during normal dry conditions. Of course, snap harvesting is also much faster, and so more efficient and cheaper (if you’re paying someone to harvest your avocados). I guess old habits die hard.
You might also like to read my post: “When to pick avocados.”
A list with links to all of my Yard Posts is HERE.