I call this tree the Japanese Fuerte. I’d seen many pruned avocado trees, I’d pruned many avocado trees, and I’d read much about others’ pruning of avocado trees, but I’d never encountered an old tree that had been so consistently and artfully molded to a shape and size as this one. It was grown in the yard of a Japanese family living near San Diego. The day I met this tree was the day that affirmed what I had always imagined could be achieved over the long term by a visionary avocado tree pruner.
Despite being decades old, the tree is ten feet tall and twenty feet wide. The branch architecture reminds me of bonsai.
Why prune avocados?
We’re used to the idea of pruning other fruit trees, like peaches, but pruning avocado trees is not so familiar — for good reason. Unlike peaches, even if one never cuts a branch on an avocado tree, it can remain healthy and provide oodles of fruit for a century. (See the old trees at The Huntington, for example.)
But there are some good reasons to prune avocado trees, some situations where it’s advisable. I can think of three. One is to keep them down to size, whether in height or width. This was obviously the main objective of the pruner of the Japanese Fuerte. The tree had to be kept back from the fences and wall that surrounded it.
Another reason to prune is for balance. Some trees are determined to be lopsided, it seems. The danger of that is that they might fall over in high winds or under the weight of a lot of fruit.
(This is especially applicable to young trees. See my post on training young avocado trees.)
Pruning low branches that interfere with sprinklers is also a good idea. This is something that mostly needs to be done with young trees, but it has to be done or else the low leaves can entirely block the sprinkler’s spray.
Beyond these three good reasons to prune avocados, don’t do much fiddling. Removing upright shoots (sometimes called water sprouts) or dead inner branches can be done, but is unnecessary.
Best size or shape for an avocado tree
In terms of pruning an avocado tree for size and shape, is there an ideal that we should aim for? Is there a best size and shape for an avocado tree? Not universally. It all depends on the location and goals for the tree. An avocado tree can be healthy and productive at only eight feet tall and forty feet tall. An avocado tree can be healthy and productive shaped like a shrub, like the Japanese Fuerte, or like an upright Christmas tree.
However, there are some principles to keep in mind. The most important one is that lower and inner branches will become less fruitful and eventually die unless they get enough sunlight. This is why large avocado trees are like caverns, where the inside is nearly empty and most of the leaves and fruit form a dome.
This is a hundred-year-old avocado tree at The Huntington. Almost all of its live branches and fruit are up high or at the outer edge of its canopy.
If you want to keep your avocado tree smaller than it would naturally grow, then you’ll want to aim for something like a globe or fat pyramid shape where the upper foliage is narrower than the bottom so that it doesn’t shade the bottom foliage too much. See the shape of the Japanese Fuerte above and see my 15-foot Hass tree’s shape here.
This will ensure that the lower and interior parts of the tree remain fruitful. Here’s the inside of the Japanese Fuerte.
(For more on this, see my post “Pruning avocado trees to keep them small.”)
Making cuts and the tree’s response
Cutting back to a lateral branch is best, specifically a lateral branch that is at least a third as thick as the branch you’re cutting. If you do this, that lateral branch is likely to take over the growing energy of the branch you cut, and it’s also likely that your cut will heal well, maybe even close up its wound entirely. Here’s an example of such a cut and response:
But sometimes avocados, more often than other kinds of trees, decide to send energy into a lateral branch growing somewhat below your cut. Don’t be surprised or dismayed if this happens. An example:
Why not just trim an avocado tree like a hedge? You can do that, but be aware that, in the words of Ben Faber, farm advisor with the University of California, it “leads to an explosion of water sprouts that result from bud break up and down the branch because the terminal bud which control the buds lower down have been removed.” Cutting back to lateral branches leads to calmer regrowth.
Also, if done at the wrong time of year, giving the tree a buzz cut can leave you with little fruit the following year.
When to prune avocados?
When is the right time to prune avocado trees? The best time to prune avocado trees is late winter and early spring, especially if you’re cutting branches thicker than your finger.
The reasons are that from late winter we’re past the time when a serious cold snap can damage your tree (thereby “pruning” it further). Also, the tree is beginning to flower and grow new leaves, so as soon as you make your cuts the tree will begin filling in the gaps. Any branches that have been newly exposed to sun will likely be protected by foliage before the heat of summer threatens to sunburn them. (See my post, “Avocado trees get sunburned — what to do?”)
Furthermore, avocado trees create the buds that will produce flowers during summer. So if you prune by early spring, then the tree has the summer to create those flower buds. This way you’ll get maximum flowers and fruit the following spring.
What if you prune in summer? The new growth that comes out of the tree will not be mature enough to flower the following spring if you prune later than about early July.
Nipping back a little branch that is going in a direction that you don’t like is still fine during summer, however. In fact, it’s better to do this than wait until it is bigger and you have to make a bigger cut in late winter.
What if an avocado tree is 30 feet tall but you’d like to bring it down to 15? This is much more challenging than maintaining a tree at 15 feet tall, but it certainly can be done. In fact, it’s done all the time in commercial groves in California.
There are two ways to approach this. One is to “stump” the tree. This is drastic pruning where the tree is cut down to a stump of about five feet. All exposed bark must be painted. As the tree grows back over the next couple years, you then shape it and maintain it at your desired height. You’ll get no fruit for the first couple years.
I stumped this Sir-Prize avocado tree recently:
A less severe method involves cutting back one or two large limbs each year over the span of a few years until your tree has been brought down to the desired height. You still have to paint any exposed bark, which can be difficult since the painting sometimes needs to be done high up in the tree. But the advantage of doing this is that you won’t lose all of the tree’s fruiting capability.
You might also like to read:
Hi, Greg. Would you have information on growing blueberries here in Ramona? Thanks.
I wrote this post about my experience growing blueberries: https://gregalder.com/yardposts/growing-blueberries-in-southern-california/
Also, MG Donna here in Ramona has some large and productive blueberries in the ground that are about 15 years old now. It can certainly be done. Her favorite variety is O’Neal.
I have an avocado tree in Maryland grown from a seed. I will never have avocados from it but I like it. It has a 5-foot stalk with all the leaves on the top can I cut that off and still reroot the top and or have something grow after I’ve done that?
No, avocados don’t root easily like that, unfortunately. But you can cut some off the top and expect the tree to grow a new top again.
Hi. I have a 6yr old Reed avocado tree and no fruit last year. 3 questions. 1. what can I do to encourage fruit? I get lots of buds. 2. It had a very crooked trunk like scoliosis. Any pruning help correct that?
3. Know anyone who would/could do a home visit? I am able to pay consultation fee if needed. I am in Murrieta CA
Did your Reed produce the year before last? Are you sure it had lots of flowers last spring (but then didn’t set fruit)? That would be unusual for a Reed, and it would be something to be concerned about.
I have a few trees with crooked trunks and they just require some staking and pruning to make sure they don’t fall over, but later the trunk will stiffen and the crooked part won’t be a problem.
I can sometimes do consultation visits, but let’s see if we can figure things out here so you don’t have to pay a bunch of money!
We had lots of buds April/may but then we’re gone for 5mos and no fruit. I don’t know if buds were new leaves or flower buds.
The tree is staked but looks like it needs a spinal fusion haha
Tree looks a little horrid after this cold rainy weather. Tons of brown tips.
I don’t know if I can send a pic via this chat?
Thank you so much for your very interesting and practical information regarding avocado trees. Your writing style is engaging and easy to understand.
I work in the biomedical research field. Scientific data is fundamental for the understanding of empirical observations. I would like to thank you for the very interesting article regarding the pruning of avocados along with the fertilizing and watering information.
Thank you so much for the kind words, Juan. I plan to write an expanded post on watering avocados sometime around March or April, by the way.
We have a mature avocado tree in our Mt Helix front yard. It was stressed during heat this year and many branches died or looking sickly. Armstrong’s recommends trimming it back good.
Can you refer us a good avocado trimming person.
Hi Don and Sue,
I would think twice before pruning an unhealthy avocado tree. Anything more than cutting a little branch here or there seems to only worsen a sick tree’s condition. I say this based upon my own unfortunate experiences. I once heavily pruned an unhealthy avocado tree and it simply died. In addition, this is the experience of others (for example: http://ceventura.ucanr.edu/?blogpost=12732&blogasset=19305).
If a mature avocado tree like yours has much dead or sickly looking foliage, especially in the upper part of its canopy, my first suspicion is root rot. A tree with root rot can’t handle heat waves well because its roots are unable to function at full power, and so will be particularly stressed during those times. But pruning is not a cure for root rot. Read this article to consider if your tree might have root rot (Phytophthora cinnamomi): http://ipm.ucanr.edu/PMG/r8100111.html
Let me know what you determine and I’d be glad to give you my best advice on what to do next.
Hi Greg –
I planted my avocado tree on the south-west side of my Venice backyard 28 years ago. It produces beautifully, but has been neglected for too long. It leans to the north to avoid the overgrown cotoneaster to its south. I would like to reduce both the cotoneaster and the avocado in height so that the rest of my yard gets a bit more sun. Is this a safe thing to do to it? What is the best way to have the avocado pruned?
Unfortunately, I forget what type of avocado it is. Would a photo be helpful?
It is safe to bring down the size of an old avocado tree. The safest way is usually not to do so all at once if you’re reducing the size drastically. Rather, spend the next three years or so bringing it down incrementally.
After each pruning, remember to paint any exposed branches — especially south- or west-facing branches, as well as horizontal branches.
As I mentioned in the post above, cutting back to a lateral branch is always preferrable, but sometimes that’s not realistic if you are trying to drastically reduce size.
The tree will always try to regrow to its original size, so small prunings at least once a year will be continually needed in order to keep the tree in check.
What would you say are the cons to having a 30 foot tall tree?
I like this question. Let me first say that 30-foot tall avocado trees have their good qualities. They can give splendid, dense shade on a hot summer day. And they are very fun to climb in.
But the cons remain. Smaller avocado trees outproduce bigger avocado trees, in terms of costs (specifically, water) per yield. This is now well known by avocado farmers, and this is why new groves are almost all “high density,” where they plant trees around 10 feet apart and keep them pruned to around 10 feet tall. Good examples can be seen from the 126 Freeway near Santa Paula in Ventura County. Here’s a recent article about this: http://californiaavocadogrowers.com/sites/default/files/documents/5-Research-Project-Indicates-High-Density-Viable-Option-Winter-17.pdf
Besides getting more fruit per water input (as well as space required), if you have a 30-foot tall tree you often have years of more avocados than you can eat because it’s just one variety. It’s hard to eat 300 avocados in six months unless you have a large family. And that’s with a Hass. If it’s a variety with a shorter harvest season then the problem is exacerbated.
Alternatively, if you had two smaller trees that were different varieties with different harvest times (e.g. a Hass and a Reed), then you would be able to harvest almost the whole year round. Eating 300 avocados over the course of 11 months is easier.
Then there’s the fact that it’s hard to pick the fruit up high on a 30-foot tall tree. You need a long pole picker or a ladder. It’s hard to even see some of the fruit way up there. Inevitably, some of it is wasted.
We were out of town from 7/6-7/9. Even thought we watered our Fuerte Avocado tree before we left, the unseasonably scorching heat 107+ has severely damaged many branches/leaves of our tree. The little avocados on these branches are black. I have deep watered the tree every other day for a week. But now it is dropping many of the dead leaves. My initial thought was to cut away all the dead branches to help the tree conserve its energy. But after reading some of your previous comments, maybe this is not the best idea. Your suggestions would be greatly appreciated. We are heartbroken about our lovely tree.
So sorry about your tree. You’re right: don’t cut anything just yet. Leave it be even though it’s ugly. See this post for details: https://gregalder.com/yardposts/avocado-trees-get-sunburned-what-to-do/
Thank you for the wealth of information regarding sunburned avocado trees. I have shared your site with my sister. She too has a badly burned tree. Without you we would have done more damage!
Thanks for the great info! I’d like to try eating 300 avocados in 6 months. You know, for science.
I support your scientific goals.
I planted a small (4′ tall) Hass avocado tree back in February this year (I’m in So. Cal.), and since then it’s grow to 7′ tall with multiple branches, some larger than the tree was originally. What I’m wondering is if I should cut some of the lower branches, or just let them go until a later date.
I attribute the crazy growth to your watering schedule and using 6″ of mulch under the tree to hold it all in.
What great news to hear that your new Hass is growing so well. This is a challenging summer for avocados in Southern California unless you live within a couple miles of the beach.
Whether to cut those branches depends on a couple things. If you want a tree that is shaped like a pyramid with one central trunk, then you do need to cut back or cut out any side branches that are larger than your desired central trunk. If you don’t, those side branches will become the main branches of the tree over time. If you don’t care about this shape issue, then let the tree grow at will unless it is imbalanced and hard to keep staked upright.
Secondly, cut some lower growth if it impedes your irrigation. For example, I just cut a couple branches and a few leaves from very low on the trunk of a first-year Gwen tree because those branches and leaves were blocking the micro-sprayer from spitting its water widely under the tree.
If any cutting ends up exposing the lower trunk to sunshine, then be sure to paint it to prevent sunburn.
Thanks for the info Greg, I do live about 4 miles from the coast, but I here you on summer heat. The super hot day we had a few weeks ago cooked most of the tips. Since then I have put up a reed fence around the tree to help block some of the direct sunlight. The tree is recovering fine so far, and am amazed at how quickly it branched out where the tips were burned. I think I will cut 2 of the lower branches as they will eventually block walking around the tree.
Thanks for your article! I have a 3-4 foot potted outdoor Hass Avo tree, and I’m in Laguna Beach, CA. I’m guessing it’s a few years old. The pot is 2 feet in diameter and about 2 feet deep. The tree gets plenty of sun, and it looks healthy/green/always new growth, but all of the fruit dropped this year. I’m assuming it’s because it was repotted right when it was flowering, but not sure. I got it less than a year ago and repotted immediately. Anyway, I’m thinking I need to prune the tree soon so it can remain in the pot. You suggest doing this in February? It has two big branches 1.5 feet from the base of the trunk (with several smaller ones branching out of these two), and a few other smaller branches towards the middle of the tree. The top seems a little leggy, so I’m guessing I need to cut that portion back to keep the roots from becoming to large for the pot. Can you please confirm your recommendation for when to prune the tree and if I should just cut back the top? Or do you recommend cutting more back since it’s potted? Thank you much!
Your tree most likely dropped its fruit because it’s so small. It was probably nothing you did wrong in caring for it. Rarely do avocado trees hold more than one or two fruits to maturity at that size.
You have to keep it in the pot, right? You can’t put it in the ground? (Maybe you’re renting or only have a patio?) Avocados are so much happier in the ground.
You can do light pruning any time of year, even today, August 22. That’s especially true in Laguna, where it’s never terribly hot or stressful on avocados. (I guess the exception would be during a strong Santa Ana.)
Rather than pruning, if possible, the tree would be happier to get into a bigger pot. That would make it more likely to hold fruit while still in a pot. A tree with a larger canopy can support more fruit. You can repot any time of year if you’re careful. Just do it late in the day so the tree can cope with it at cooler temperatures and have the whole night to help settle in. You ought to keep it in the shade for a couple days right after, too.
If this isn’t possible, I still would hesitate to prune it. A 2×2 pot for a 3-4 foot tree is not way out of proportion. The tree will probably only have one more flush of new leaves before it stalls for the winter.
Let me know what you’re situation is and what you’re thinking you might do.
Hi Greg! My son just bought his first home in Visa. It happens to be an avocado farm with 450 trees. The back acres have many, many 40 foot trees. He’s spending a FORTUNE on irrigation and would like to prune back a few hundred of these 40 footers. He’s having a well dug because the farm’s irrigation uses public water! The well waters tend to be saline in the area. So I guess I’m asking you about the best way he should go about pruning back a few hundred avacado trees, and what would you suggest about the watering situation. How much salinity can an avocado tree take and will it reduce the harvest?
When we were buying our first home we almost bought a property similar to your son’s. Those are some challenges. In Southern California these days, it’s very hard to turn a profit on 40-foot avocado trees.
There are a few common methods of reducing the height and then rejuvenating the production of such trees. The best single source for that information is here: http://ucanr.edu/sites/alternativefruits/files/166825.pdf
It’s “Avocado Production in California.” See chapter 7 on canopy management.
As for water, the short of it is that higher salinity requires more water volume in order to keep the salts dilute and to leach. Still, at a certain salinity level, yield is reduced no matter how much you water.
As a resource to get some hard numbers about irrigation and salinity, you can see chapter 1 of the same book above.
Hi, I planted what was labeled a dwarf avocado tree about 12’from my house. I live in a coastal community. It grew so fast, but almost sideways towards my house. It is now about 18′ tall so I don’t think its dwarf. My concern is having branches over my roof could give mine roots under my house and plumbing. Also a main branch it close to electrical line coming to the house. When I get fruit, the squirrels run on the roof into the tree and destroy the fruit. How small can I trim this? Can I cut large branches? Do I already have underground roots as wide as the canopy? Thank you for your guidance!
Everybody’s idea of dwarf is different, there’s no standard, and even the smallest of avocado trees all get over ten feet eventually. But 18 feet is not even close to dwarf!
Feel free to prune that tree as heavily as necessary. Since you live close to the beach, frost isn’t a concern so prune any time of year. Just paint white any exposed branches. You can cut even the largest of branches, no problem. Avocados can grow back well even if you cut them all the way down to four feet tall, as long as they’re healthy before the pruning.
It depends a bit on where you are watering the tree, but most likely it has roots as wide or wider than its canopy. Avocado roots are not aggressive and won’t buckle a sidewalk or anything like that.
Hi Greg, what kind of paint would I use when I cut my avocado tree? I need to top it off by about 5 feet. I live in SW Florida so can I prune any time of year? It is loaded with fruit at the moment. I don’t know what variety it is.
Where can I take a hands on class on pruning an avocado tree to keep it small? Can I watch you prune sometime? I try watching youtube videos but its hard to see the details. Thanks for all the info!
Glad you wrote in with this. I was thinking of doing a video when I prune in the next week or so. I’ll try to do it, and I’ll try to show and describe details as far as possible.
I live in Culver City and planted a dwarf avacado tree about 2 years. After about two months, the trunk began to die from the top down so I staked a smaller limb upward as an alternate. Now that limb is about 6 feet and there are there a number of other limbs growing out of the trunk and it is beginning to look like a bush. We are now getting avacados but they are either falling off the tree or being eaten. Can I prune the tree now when new avacados are growing or must I wait until after the the season? Also, what is the best way to protect it from squirrels?
You can prune avocados anytime, just being aware that in summer you’ll make the tree vulnerable to sunburn and in winter you’ll make it vulnerable to cold damage. As for fruit, whatever fruit you’re willing to sacrifice in the pruning process will determine that decision.
Unfortunately, I know of no way to protect a low-growing tree like yours from squirrels except to eliminate the squirrels.
Hi Greg. Thank you so much for the information on avocado trees. I adore my trees and I’m always looking for any information I can get and yours is the best I ever read. I havehave 1 old and 1 Young Hass, 1 Pinkerton all on the ground and 1 fuerte in container which is the youngest. And 2 Fuertes that I’m going to try to graft soon. Ones again THANK YOU VERY MUCH for catering for plants and share in your knowledge. I also like to mention that I have 3 lemons 1 Mandarin 1 kumquat and 1 fig. Have a great rest of the day and I’ll be looking forward to have more information from you.
Hi Greg, thank you so much for all the helpful information you share! I’m wondering if you recommend pruning avocado trees right after planting? I have one about 3-4 feet tall I’m about to put in the ground. Thank you!
Hi Greg. Thanks so much for your wonderfully informative website. I bought a Day Avocado from Logee’s four years ago. Their website says it will fruit in a pot and at the time I was renting and didn’t want to invest in a tree in the ground that I would soon be moving away from. Two years went by without any fruit or much growth and then I bought my own house. I put the tree in the ground and it has roughly doubled in size in those two years. But it is still only 2.5 feet tall as most of the growth has occurred in the widening lower branches that sit on the ground. I’m wondering if I could encourage vertical growth by removing those lower branches? Or should I be patient? It’s only grown about 3-6 vertical inches over the past year. It finally has one fruit this year that has made it past the early fruit drop stage so fingers crossed that I’ll have a my first harvest soon. My other question is about the fruit quality on this variety. Have you tried it and is it a fruit worth being patient for? Part of me wants to just start over with a faster growing variety.
I just read your post: How long until and avocado tree fruits? It seems that I need to continue to be patient with my young tree. I’m still curious if pruning the lowest branches will encourage faster vertical growth? Also, still wondering if you’ve tried this variety and whether or not it’s worth the wait.
I’ve found that if a young tree is healthy and you remove or pinch back some lower limbs, it often seems to direct energy into other limbs, including higher, vertically oriented limbs. But there’s no way to really tell. Regardless, if you want higher growth and not low horizontal growth, then do the pruning and be patient. I like to do such pruning while the tree is in a growing phase because then it’s more satisfying to watch the other branches continue to grow in the directions I want.
I have not ever had a Day avocado nor grown the variety, I’m sorry to say.
Hi Greg, we are so happy to have come across your blog. We have 2 Fuertes (which give minimal fruit), 2 grafted Haas and one lone, straggly Reed that we planted a year ago. It had One avocado which we greedily awaited but it was snagged by a squirrel or rat before we could tested it. Anyway, this to thank you so much for the article on pruning and the watering schedule. It’s the best article we’ve seen about how and when to water. So practical. Just what we needed. Thank you so much. We are grateful.
Thank you so much for taking the time to write that!
Hi Greg, thank you so much for your insightful blog – its one of the best resources I’m aware of for avocado growers. I have a Don Gillogly planted next to a Fuerte, each is now about 8′ tall, second year in the ground and planted on a relatively steep hillside. What is your view on central leader/pyramid vs. Japanese Fuerte style pruning in this situation? If I wanted shorter 10-15′ trees to facilitate harvest would it ever be appropriate to prune the central leader to promote lateral growth? The Japanese Fuerte is a beautiful tree, but the thought of lopping off the top of my trees (particularly after nursing them through the summer of 2018) is a bit intimidating.
It’s probably not best to think of it as central leader/pyramid vs. Japanese Fuerte style pruning at this point, but rather just think of the ultimate height and width you’d like the trees to be. If you want to maintain the trees at 15 feet tall, then you can just wait until the trees get more than 15 feet tall and cut them back down to size at that time.
As for width, if you’ve planted the trees close together or you need them to be narrower than they are tall for some other reason, then you do the same thing: once the tree grows beyond the space you’ve allocated, cut it back.
That’s what I do for the most part, anyway. It’s true that I also do a certain amount of pinching of limbs growing strongly in an undesired direction, but mostly I let avocado trees grow to size before much pruning. One reason for this is that avocado trees are constantly surprising you with which branches they decide to put maximum vigor into. Another reason is that a lot of pruning reduces bloom, especially on young trees.
I don’t think you’ll find the need to prune the central leader in order to promote lateral branching. Avocado trees do a pretty good job of growing lateral branches without this encouragement (unlike apples, pears, or cherries, say). I’ve rarely found this necessary with avocados, but if you do, it’s best to just pinch the tip of the central leader wherever you want it to bush out. This prevents needing to make big cuts and worrying about sunburn.
Thanks very much, Greg! This makes a lot of sense and is definitely a different philosophy as you point out relative to stone fruits. Glad I asked before making cuts!
Hi Greg, love your blog. When I prune my GEM avocado branches, there is a white powdery substance (a type of pitch?) that develops at the cut spots. I prune carefully with clean tools. I’m assuming this is normal, but any insight? I can’t find anything online about this. Much obliged.
Totally normal. Nothing to worry about. That’s just the sap as it’s crystallized. It’s called mannoheptulose or perseitol. Here’s more about it: https://ucanr.edu/blogs/blogcore/postdetail.cfm?postnum=30403
Thanks for the reply and link, Greg! That’s exactly the type of information I have been trying to find online without success. One last follow-up question–the sap seems to build up into a bubble over time. Should I just leave it there as protection or can I remove the crystals? I saw some ants milling around the crystals the other day and thought I should probably try to wipe it all off, but I don’t want to hurt the tree by doing so.
That white crystallized sap is sugary so I can understand why ants are attracted. (Even I can taste the sweetness.)
You could probably wipe it off without doing harm, but I’d leave it be considering that it’s function is to protect a wound, like a scab on your knee.
Hello Greg I recently decided to grow an avocado tree from a seed, after eating the fruit I peeled the paper like skin off the seed. Got it set up in a nice cup and waited, what felt like forever after several weeks the seed fractured and finally dropped its first root followed by a sprout. It exploded after that growing roughly 2 inches a day, but it only had 3 leaves. Right now it is more than 12 inches tall, but still only has 3 leaves. Everything I’ve read said to prune it back by cutting the stem above a node. Is it safe to just cut it off?
Congratulations on getting the avocado tree growing. I see no point in pruning the baby tree, unless you’re hoping to make it bifurcate at the point where you cut. Don’t be worried about it only having three leaves. Often, young avocado trees will grow a long stem with only a few leaves on top at first, but eventually they grow more leaves.
I am from Lebanon-Middle East, we had an Avocado tree i guess similar to the Japanese Fuerte. Anyways it was huge and very fruitful. Now its spring time in Lebanon and we have cut all the tree and left only the trunk and a V-shaped branches. How much time will it take to grow back again? And did we do the right thing?
Usually, mature trees that are cut back like you have done to yours will grow back very fast this year and flower next spring so you can be eating fruit from the tree again in about two years from now. As for how long it will take for the tree to grow back to the size it was before, that depends on a number of factors but it usually takes less than five years.
Did you do the right thing? It all depends on your goal. Late winter or early spring is the best time of year to do such drastic pruning in California, and I think the same would apply in Lebanon but I’m not sure. If so, then at least you got your timing right. If you want to keep the tree smaller in the long run, then it’s probably best that you do less severe pruning at least once every year — that way you’ll never have to do another severe pruning and go a couple years without fruit.
Do you travel to give advice on how to cut a tree back to keep neighbors happy since they call it a nuisance. Especially with the leaves that fall. I inherited it by buying the home and now roots and leaves are an issue. I do t want to ruin the 40ft tree and I’m trying to find out what to do besides tell him to chop the roots under the fence and they’ll stop?!
You’d want a certified arborist to visit and advise in this situation, but I can tell you that avocados take well to severe pruning as long as they’re healthy.
Your blog is so addictive! So much info and so well explained! May I ask you a few questions.. I bought a Kona Sharwil (15 gal) from Atkins 2 years ago and is in the ground. It is about 6 feet now and healthy. This was the first year fruit set, about 2 dozen, but they all fell. I’m hoping it’s because the age of the tree which I’m thinking is around 4-5 years old. I know from your blog that avocado trees are self pollinating, but I was thinking to get another tree to increase yield. I live in OC, 15 miles inland with a small backyard. Sharwil is a type ‘B’ and was looking for suggestions on an ‘exotic’ Type A tree. I was thinking Jan Boyce? Can I keep this variety to 10-12 feet? Do both of those trees flower at the same time to complement each other? Perhaps a Gwen or a Gem? Can I plant them 10 feet apart due to my small backyard? Thank you so much for your time!
Thanks! I’d guess your Sharwil holds fruit next time it blooms. And it can never hurt to have a second variety nearby. Any variety will overlap in bloom somewhat, and even another B type will aid in pollination somewhat. Jan Boyce, Gwen, or GEM all could work. Out of those varieties, Jan Boyce is the most vigorous in my experience, and GEM is the least. But much depends on how much the trees are fruiting while they’re trying to grow.
It so happens that I have a friend who has a Sharwil and a Jan Boyce in her yard side by side, and she keeps them pruned down to about 12 feet. So yes, that is absolutely possible. In her case, she gets more fruit from her JB tree than from her Sharwil.
And planting them 10 feet apart would work fine too.
In terms of complementary harvest seasons, I’d pair your Sharwil with Gwen or GEM rather than Jan Boyce. Both Gwen and GEM harvest later than Jan Boyce (and Sharwil) so you’d have avocados for more months of the year with a Gwen or GEM.
I have a Hass tree that I planted from a 15 gallon container back in Oct 2018. I suspect it was about 2 years old at the time (unless you know a different age for Hass about 4ft tall). Last year it flowered, but I removed the buds to keep the tree focused on growing. This spring 2020 there was a huge bloom and now there is what I would guess to be 80+ fruits growing on the tree. What I have noticed is that the tree has also grown A LOT this year and has continued to grow like crazy even during the bloom and fruit set. When they say Hass is vigorous now I understand. There is even a new branch that started from the lowest lateral branch growing straight up and ove the last couple months is now the tallest point of the tree. Many other branches like this have grown so fast that they can’t even support their own weight and eventually droop over. Is this normal? It seems like it is growing faster than the weeds in my yard. If this is normal, do I just leave it be for whatever happens or do I need to prune these even though it is not July? Thank you for your help and continuing this fantastic resource of knowledge.
That’s great that your Hass tree is so healthy. Don’t get in its way! Those vertical shoots are sometimes called water sprouts, they are usually extremely fast growing, the bark is lime green, and they are juicy. If you cut one, a bunch of sap will flow out of the cut immediately.
Some people like to cut these shoots out. I usually leave them, unless they are interfering with the shape that I want the tree to take (sometimes they’ll overtake the leader that I had chosen and lean off to one side, for example). But if left, they eventually slow down, harden off, branch laterally, and become a normal part of the tree’s branch structure.
Since your tree is young, I’d let them be as long as they’re not imbalancing the tree. If they are, just cut them wherever they are drooping or making the tree lopsided.
I hope you and your’s are well. Mahalo for such an amazing site….pure knowledge for the beginner & the pro.
I have included a Google Doc link that contains pictures & comments concerning my young Hass. If you can, I need early stage pruning advice.
On another note, I grew up in Ocean Beach & now live in the foothills of the San Gabriels. I miss San Diego climate so much!
Mahalo in advanced for sharing…experience teaches wisdom.
Thanks. You could take that lateral branch back a bit in order to balance the canopy. I would only take about four inches off it though, or nothing at all — that branch doesn’t look exceptionally vigorous to where it’s going to take over the tree’s top growth. In general, I’m inclined to prune young trees only as much as necessary because you want them to put on as much foliage as possible so they can fruit and hold fruit soon.
The tree looks great, by the way. Nice work.
Ocean Beach is a nice climate, indeed. So comfortable. I went to college at Point Loma Nazarene, and I used to hate visiting home in the summers in the San Gabriel Valley because it was so hot, but now I appreciate some of the gardening advantages of that area. You can grow an amazing array of plants there.
sorry to bother you but my avocado tree (im in fort lauderdale florida) was chopped off on the top about 5 years ago, before i bought the property. now one of the two main trunks has died. can i cut it off? and where? may i send pix? i tried to upload here without success. my internet skills are limited.
It sounds like you could safely cut off that dead part of the tree. Just beware of sunburn on the remaining live branches: https://gregalder.com/yardposts/avocado-trees-get-sunburned-what-to-do/
You can post a link to photos you’ve uploaded to a platform like Google Drive if you like.
hello again greg
thanks for your help
here are my pix
i have a pix showing where the 2 trunks separate about 7 feet off the ground.i circled the dead part in blue and the live part in white. both trunks were topped about 5 years ago and the one side is ok but the other side started dying from the top down. there is still a healthy branch coming off the dying side but the top is clearly dead.
any suggestions are greatly appreciated
I would cut off the dead branch/trunk just above that lateral branch coming off to the left that is still alive.
My avocado tree is higher than the power lines and as you described it, it has most fruit at the very top, beyond reach. Can I cut back the main branch, the one that is the thickest and grows straight up? Thank you!
Yes, you can. However, it’s best to cut a big branch like that in late winter.
thanks for taking the time to look at my problem
i will take your advice and keep you posted
Another question from Los Osos! Hope I’m not bugging you too much with all of these. You’ve been a great resource and I really appreciate that you offer this blog, it’s been a big help for me.
On to the question. We moved to Los Osos a little over a year ago, and on the property were a number of neglected fruit trees, including this little teeny avocado about 2′ tall. We’ve been watering it and giving it some nutrition, and it is bouncing back wonderfully and putting on new growth, but before we got here its central leader died, and now it’s got a bit of a weird form.
Not sure if this is accessible to you, but here is a photo of the tree in question:
As you can see from the photo (I hope), the central leader at 3 died off, and I’ve seen no sprouts or shoots at that location that look to be regrowing. So, I’m left to decide how to prune the tree to get the best form I can (assuming taking it out and replanting isn’t a better idea).
I’ve labeled the 4 main stems that it has put out (1, 2, 4, 5).
From my limited knowledge, it looks to me like the real contenders for a new central leader are 2 and 4. 1 and 5 are both healthy branches with plenty of new growth, but they seem too far off-center, which I imagine would put a serious strain on that crook when the tree gets bigger.
Assuming discarding those two as options is correct, then it’s down to 2 and 4.
2 is a smaller branch, but closer to the “main trunk”, although I would say the attachment to the trunk is maybe a little less “ideal” than 4.
4 is a larger branch, with the most new growth of any, but further from the trunk and with another kink in it’s structure which is out of plane and hard to see in this photo. Here’s another one that shows it: https://photos.app.goo.gl/24iPfgWoEFQJkPMK8
I’d probably lean towards 2, but I thought you might have a suggestion? Any help would be welcome.
I’m definitely aware that the central leader that died may also have been the scion wood, and that this may be all rootstock growth, which means I may have to graft a new variety on top of whatever ends up being my central leader, but one thing at a time.
Thanks again for providing this wonderful resource!
This is an interesting situation, but actually not unheard of. From the photos, I think you’re right about 3 having been the scion. If you do want to graft the tree, then I wouldn’t do any pruning until after grafting and seeing what takes. I would do side grafts down low on all four of those remaining branches.
But that wasn’t your question! Branch 4 looks like it is being preferred by the tree itself based on how thick it is. I’d go with that as your central leader despite its other deficiencies. And I would not remove any of the other branches, but I would pinch their tips whenever they flush again so that branch 4 grows unimpeded, tall and takes over. Later, you can encourage its growth back over the center, over the lower trunk, and pinch/prune to balance the overall canopy.
After a couple years you might forget that the tree has that crooked trunk down low. I’ve got a couple trees like that. Once the top grows big enough and you’ve balanced that whole canopy, the crooked lower trunk will be hidden from your eyes and the tree won’t care.
Thank you so much Greg, this is very helpful!
And especially thank you for answering the question I should have asked but didn’t – at our next scion exchange, I’ll grab wood enough to graft all 4 and see what takes, what a great idea!
Hi Greg. We are new residents of the Big Island of Hawaii and inherited two huge and prolific avocado trees in our front yard. They’re probably 20-30 feet tall but very big around with thick branches. It is obvious to me they would benefit from some pruning once this harvest season is over (been doing some reading). There are some large full branches touching the ground they are so heavy with fruit. In the meantime, we came home yesterday from a trip to town, and a big lower branch had broken off the tree from the weight of the approximately ten avocados on it. We cut off three and have them in the kitchen to see if they will ripen, but left the others on the branch outside overnight, and this morning when I went out those had ridges on them and looked like they were shriveling. Obviously we should’ve cut them all off. So, the three things we are hoping to learn are (1) when to pick them (2) how to prune them (not worried about height, but they are spreading out too wide, and (3) what to do when a branch breaks off like this one did? Thanks.
Thank you for your reply. I’m beginning to learn that the fruit needs to be left on the tree for at least 10 months before I pick it. The picture of the Japanese fruete looks just like my tree. I will prune the “suckers” when they appear as they don’t seem to produce any blossoms and, indeed, only weigh down the tree itself. Again, thank you for the information.
Such great information! I have a 10 foot wide sunny space that I would like to use for a small avocado tree. Do you think a holiday variety would do well here in Northeast Los Angeles?
We used to have about a 30 foot 80+ year old fruitful avocado covering most of one section of our yard which died about six years ago. We miss it so!
You need to replace that old tree! I don’t know if Holiday is the variety for you. See my profile (and comments from others) on Holiday here: https://gregalder.com/yardposts/the-holiday-avocado-tree-a-profile/
A couple of other avocado varieties that can easily be kept to 10 feet wide through pruning include Gwen, Lamb, and GEM.
Hi Greg. I’m mainly looking for courage. I have a one-year-old avocado plant that I grew from a seed. It has been inside for all of its life. It is now five feet tall and in a pot. I have never pinched or cut it back, so it is a single stalk with a circumference a little smaller than a woman’s finger. In the last couple of weeks, it has branched into a “V” at the very top.
I live in South Carolina, so I don’t think I can plant it in the ground, but I would like to have the option of having it as a patio plant that I take in when it freezes.
So… can I safely cut it back and have it branch out? If so, how much can I cut off?
Thank you so much. I have loved reading your blog.
Great to hear from you in South Carolina. I met someone this winter who grew up in Charleston, and he got me very interested in visiting your state.
If your tree is healthy (fully or mostly green leaves, and many leaves), then you can cut it back at any height and it will regrow well with usually a couple of sprouts below the cut point. If the health of the tree is questionable, then don’t cut it back. Cutting back an unhealthy avocado tree sometimes kills it.
Thank you! I’m going to cut half of it off! It looks healthy to me. One more question, though, it is in dire need of a bigger pot. I don’t want to overwhelm it with change. Should I prune and repot at the same time or repot a couple of weeks before or a couple weeks after pruning?
Charleston is lovely, as is that whole area from Savannah, Ga., up the intercoastal waterway. Dotted with barrier islands, hospitality, and good food! Put it on your list!
I would do both at the same time, but the pruning immediately before the repotting would be my preference. The pruning removes some of the canopy such that you create an imbalance of more roots and fewer leaves. Then if you damage some roots during the repot, you’re really only balancing the equation again.
Thank you for the path forward!
If I am cutting 10 feet off a 30 foot tree , I need to paint the bark on the remaining 20 feet?
No. You only need to paint bark that is exposed to sunlight. See this post: https://gregalder.com/yardposts/avocado-trees-get-sunburned-what-to-do/
I moved to a house in South Florida about 3 years ago that already had a 20+ ft tall avocado tree in the backyard. unfortunately I never have seen a single avocado grown in this tree all these years. Every year I see the tree growing more with a lot of new branches and fresh leaves. I have never pruned the tree so you can imagine how the tree is keep growing taller. I am not an expert in this so could you please advise what is wrong with the tree that I am not getting any Fruits at all from it? I don’t even know what Variety of avocado it is. Should I trim it down to around 10 to 15 feet tall or it is missing any special care. By the way the tree gets full sunlight throughout the day and it isAbout 10 feet away from a lake so I assume water is not a problem.
I would really appreciate your any valuable advice.
Thank you in advance
My avocado tree is about 15 years old. It has an abundance of fruits this year, never saw so many. Three of the branches are draping almost to the ground and the grass underneath is hard to cut.
after removing the fruit which are all ready to eat can I cut those branches off, The top of the tree also have lots of fruits.
I live in SW Florida in Lehigh Acres close to Fort Myers
Sure, you can cut those branches. That is a common practice called “skirting”.
Hi Greg, My 7 year old 14′ high avocado is showing signs of leaf burn from the hight 90’s we had in early July. I live in Mission Viejo. When we had a repeat of this heat in high 90 a week or so ago I put up 4 54″ die beach umbrellas to reduce the amount of direct sun. It only shades maybe 60% of the tree.
Is it OK to leave these up until were past the high heat we have during the months of August and half of September? Keep in mind it’s not a total sunblock and there is always 40% of the tree with direct sun and it moves as the sun moves.
It’s a bit of a project to put this up and take them down. This is the first year we seem to have a high avocado count on both our fuerte and reed trees. Both trees have at least 50 plus avocados.
Yes, I think you can leave those umbrellas up without slowing the tree a lot. I’ve left similar shade over trees in the past and they didn’t seem to mind.
That being said, I’ve never seen high 90s cause leaf damage on a healthy tree that is in good soil conditions and is watered properly.
I have, however, seen some trees in my own yard develop leaf damage in such temperatures, but I’ve always later discovered that they were compromised in some way (root damage from gophers, root competition from a big tree nearby, etc.). I mention this just so you can be on the lookout for contributing factors that make your tree extra sensitive to heat.
Hope you get to harvest a bunch of Fuerte and Reed next year!
Hi Greg, In May of this year we purchased a 15 year-old tree (Its about 13′ tall and has a 10″ diameter trunk) from a local nursery and had them plant it on our front lawn. Its meant to be ornamental tree and I’m anxious about properly training it come its first pruning next year.
The tree was double staked to ensure the trunk remains straight. However, the people that planted it installed a third stake toward the middle of the tree and tied one of the main branches that is growing from the center of the tree and pulled it to one side. I’m concerned that its going to give the tree a bad shape and that its putting pressure on the other branches. I can certainly send pictures if possible so that you can see what I’m talking about. The tree has lots of fruit, but most of it is on one side.
Your thoughts would be greatly appreciated.
Trees that have been grown in a container and staked for many years usually need a combination of stakes and pruning for many years after planting until they can stand on their own. This is to say that you’ve probably got a long term project on your hands.
Having lots of fruit on one side of the tree makes the task even more challenging. I’d wait to harvest that fruit starting in late winter, but for next year’s fruit you’ll probably want to remove some so that its weight is balanced throughout the tree. This will help the tree start to be able to stand up straight with less help from stakes.
You might get some help from this post and the video within: https://gregalder.com/yardposts/training-young-avocado-trees/
My honey and I planted our first avocado trees last spring (March 2021) and they have taken off and seem happy and healthy. Two of them snapped at the base in last night’s wind storm and we are wondering what to do with the nubs that are remaining. Are they goners or can we salvage the two inches left of our beauties? Any advice would be so appreciated. We live in so cal (Redlands) and will likely only have a couple of days through the winter that will dip to dangerous temps.
I’m so sorry to hear this. I had some damage in my yard in those winds too; they were surprisingly strong coming from the west.
If the trees broke below the graft unions then you’ll have to graft them in order to regain the same varieties as before. If that’s intimidating, then you’ll want to just plant new ones.
If they broke above the graft unions, then you can just let them regrow. As they were healthy, they should regrow vigorously even though they’ll take a pause through winter.
How to find the graft union? This post should help: https://gregalder.com/yardposts/fruit-tree-grafted/
Hi Greg I live in Chattanooga Tennessee and have a 6Foot tree that is 5 year old avocado grown from seed currently in a 2′ by 2′ pot. It was pruned back from 12 ft a year ago. I put it in my garage when it gets below 32 degrees and it’s doing well. What advice would you give me to help this tree along in the future.
That’s so cool to hear. A five-year old avocado tree in Tennessee. You seem to be doing everything right if you’ve gotten the tree this far along, but you might think about your goals for the tree. If you’re hoping for fruit, then grafting will speed that along.
I have a Holiday that’s about 10-12 years old, and has not produced much fruit except for one year. I am examining the tree structure for winter pruning and have read all of your avocado posts, especially those on pruning. Because the Holiday is such floppy/weepy tree, I don’t know how to approach shaping the tree for optimum sun exposure to encourage production. There is dense growth inside the tree with those young branches growing long to reach the sun (or so it appears to me). All flowering seems to occur on the outer exposed limbs. Should I prune out the interior so the tree does not waste energy on these shoots? Should I aim to shape the tree into an umbrella of sorts? Right now, I use thick bamboo poles to support major weeping branches. My plan is to prune out any branches growing inward and to train new upward growth toward the outer canopy. I will also attempt girding on one major branch, while using an ‘injuring” technique on the others (I wrote to you about this before). Today, we are getting a huge rain storm through the Bay Area (I live in Mountain View), and I expect many of my bamboo supports will be dislodged by end of it. This may end up causing the type of injury that resulted in my one bumper crop year, though I don’t think it will knock the whole tree over. I planted a Hass about 6 feet away last year and I just bought a Lil Cado during a Fall sale. The hope is that between the 3, we will harvest more than a couple dozen per year. I currently have one large fruit on the Holiday (still shiny) and tiny cocktail looking fruit that must be a mutant. None of the other 6 or 7 babies that set earlier in the year held on to maturity.
I would appreciate any advice you have to offer on how to shape my Holiday (about 10′ tall). On another note, a neighbor has a 40’ Mexicola Grande in their front yard. It dropped some fruit and I picked one up to try. It didn’t suck. It actually peeled nicely and was the perfect size for covering one slice of toast. They don’t appear to harvest the fruit and it may have been planted as a city street tree decades ago. Still, it didn’t suck.
I planted a Bacon avocado tree in my lawn last spring and it’s thriving, huge leaves, abundant blossoms, sprawling branches. I kept it shaded all last summer and fall, removing the lattice enclosure in November. It loved it. Two questions: Should I provide shade again this coming spring/summer? A friend said I should remove all of the blossoms to encourage better root development. True?
I have a 5 year old Haas avocado tree that is about 15 feet tall and very full. It started to bear a small amount of fruit when it was only 2 years old, a bit more at 3 years and at 4 years old it produced about 150-200 amazing avocados and then 6 months later only about 10. Is this normal?
I live in Laguna Hills , in So Cal.
The main problem I have is that there are 2 locations on large branches that have an obvious white mold that is also powdery. What should I do to eliminate the mold safely and to keep it from spreading/coming back?
Thanks so much for all your incredible and insightful information you give!
It’s normal for an avocado tree to have an “on” year with lots of fruit followed by an “off” year with little. As for the white stuff on branches, see this post: https://gregalder.com/yardposts/white-powder-on-avocado-branches/
Hi Greg: here in Fallbrook at March 12, 2022, my fuerte, hass and gem are already blooming. too late to prune?
Not too late. March is a great time even if bloom has started because it’s still likely a couple months away from any serious heat waves so the trees will have time to grow new leaves to help guard against sunburn.
Hi Greg. I planted 8 avocado trees about 12 months ago, most were 24″ size and a few 15 gallon trees. I cannot thank you enough for all of the knowledge I have gained reading your posts over the past 8 months. The trees are doing fairly well, but they are on a slope so keeping them pruned to a manageable size will be very important in the future. I seem to struggle with proper pruning techniques and don’t want to make critical mistakes early on. Do you do any onsite consulting? Or do you know anyone in the Escondido/Rancho Santa Fe area that does this service? I have made a few pruning decisions but I am reluctant to do much more.
Your articles on pruning trees are so helpful – my father gifted me a Bacon Avocado and a Valencia Pride mango for my birthday and I was freaking out a bit as I do NOT want my entire yard taken over by trees – I have dogs and kids that need some open space to play. So glad to see I can trim them to a manageable size. My only question is, is it possible to trim the lower branches in order to raise the canopy more than some of the photos I’ve seen? I know I’d sacrifice some fruit, which is fine, only a few of us here even like avocados. Just wondering if instead of training it into a small bush shape I can make it more “tree” shaped, just smaller. With the canopy high enough to get under it to mulch, retrieve a kicked ball, etc.
I have an alvacado tree that I planted from a pot to the ground one year ago. It is now about ten feet tall but the trunk is very thin. It currently has about twelve alvacados growing. The tree is graphed and is a Catalina tree. Is it ok to prune the top of the tree so the trunk will grow more? Please let me know. Thank you!
Hello Greg, your blog is so clear and helpful! Would appreciate your insight about a special problem with the pollination of a Stewart that I planted because I live in a frost pocket. The tree is large but has only had a decent crop once–2 years ago. It has had a nearby pollination partner of some kind for 3 years, but last year that didn’t help.
I am considering grafting onto it. Could you please let me know if you have references to good grafting advice. I will be reducing the size of the tree at the same time.
Check out this post about grafting avocados: https://gregalder.com/yardposts/grafting-avocados/
Wonder why your Stewart isn’t producing well. Does it flower a lot each spring?
I have a probably 45 year old Haas in our backyard that is struggling. I have been sneaking up on the idea of doing some significant pruning, as it is unreasonably tall, and has several large unproductive branches towards the top. That said, I am a bit concerned that in it’s weakened state, it might not survive the prune. It is producing fruit, but small and with very few brown-tipped leaves. It is producing new leaves, but sparse. I am concerned about the possibility of root rot. If you were in this situation, would you apply gypsum and mulch and perhaps make one significant prune this year and see what happens?