It’s exciting to see a small avocado tree flower and set fruit. But should you allow it?
My rule of thumb is to remove all avocados from a tree until it’s nearly as tall as me.
What this means is that if you’ve recently planted an avocado tree from a sleeve or five-gallon container, then it’s almost surely too small to carry fruit. If, on the other hand, you’ve recently planted a 15-gallon avocado tree, then it may or may not be ready to carry fruit. (If it’s ready, then it’s probably only ready to carry a few at the most.)
I’ve seen what happens when you let small avocado trees carry fruit. I’ve allowed it myself, and I’ve seen it done by others. It’s almost always regretted.
There are two main problems encountered if you let a small avocado tree hold fruit. The first is that the fruit often gets sunburned because the little tree doesn’t have enough foliage to shade it. The second is that the tree spends a lot of energy growing that fruit and doesn’t have much leftover to grow new branches and leaves.
But I’m growing this tree for the fruit not the leaves, you might say. That being the case, you’d rather sacrifice the one or two avocados that a small tree might be able to handle so that it puts on a lot of leaf and shoot growth and reaches the size to where it can handle a dozen avocados next year. Let it hold a couple avocados this year and it will still be so small next year that it can again not handle more than a few.
One reasonable exception is if your tree is of a variety that is new to you. In that case, you’re so eager to taste the fruit for the first time, and it might be acceptable to let a small tree hold one or two avocados. But watch the tree’s growth through summer. If it’s not growing many new leaves during the summer flush, which usually occurs sometime in July, then remove that fruit impediment.
A video showing some examples from my yard of avocado trees that are too small or big enough to hold their first crops:
When to remove the avocados?
If you’ve decided that the tree is too small to carry a crop, then you might as well remove the avocados as soon as possible — even before they’ve been pollinated and become fruit, while they’re still flowers.
The reason that I sometimes don’t remove flowers on certain small trees is because I’m looking to learn about their flowering and fruitset behavior. (A or B type? Sets fruit without a pollenizer nearby?)
Often, a small tree will self-thin to a large degree, possibly even shedding all small fruit and making it unnecessary for you to remove them. It might set a dozen fruitlets, for example, only to drop them all by mid-July. You can wait for that, but removing the small fruit even earlier will only turn the tree’s energy to leaf and shoot growth earlier.
Naturally, an avocado tree that grows from a seed will not produce fruit until it has a canopy that is far larger than those sold in typical five-gallon containers. These ungrafted, seedling trees know that they need many leaves and strong branches to develop and support avocado fruit.
On the other hand, unnatural, small grafted trees sometimes need our intervention so that they don’t hurt themselves through fruiting too much too early.
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