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The One Essential Your Avocado Tree May Need

By Edited Jun 8, 2015 3 4

"But I'm giving my avocado tree everything"

Maybe not

Plenty of water, sunshine, fertilizer and, if you're smart about avocados, pine bark mulch and the tree's own leaves left in place.  Avocados are strange rascals, and seem to spend their first few years on the verge of giving up the ghost.

Here's a tip for helping your avocado tree survive its first few years.  Avocado branches and even the main trunk start out green and are sensitive to sun scald.  Later on, if they survive, avocado branches grow a protective layer of light colored bark.  But it takes awhile.  

Want to help?  Mix about a cup of whitewash, made from 50% white acrylic paint and 50% water.  Paint the green trunk and branches with the whitewash.  Your tree will love being whitewashed and it won't look weird, just more . . . mature. 

Avocado growth "flush" happens all at once

Happy Avocados Pay You Back
Credit: Own image

Avocados are from rain forests.  They expect less sun, moist surface soil, and mulch.  Keeping their feet cool is priority one. They don't really take off until they get enough foliage to shade the ground around their trunks.  Avocados will go to great lengths to make that happen -- putting out branches that go horizontal and rest on the ground.  Let them.  They know what they need to do.

Happy avocados grow faster

Avocado Growth
Credit: Own image

"...the avocado is a food without rival among the fruits, the veritable fruit of paradise" - David Fairchild, botanist

The avocado grows on its terms, not yours. Learn the secrets of avocado growing.
Having grown avocado trees and enjoyed bushels of luscious fruit, I will tell you the secrets of growing these strange trees.

Scientists believe that the giant avocado seed must have required a gigantic animal to eat the fruit whole and, um, deposit the seed elsewhere in its dung.

The animal big enough to be "Johnny Avocado"? The extinct giant ground sloth that once roamed South America.

Okay here's the biggest avocado secret

It's gypsum

Soils in Southern California that grow excellent avocados often need a "secret ingredient."  It's gypsum.  What is gypsum? It happens to be the main ingredient of the drywall in your home.  But you will be using agricultural gypsum from your local Home Depot or garden store.  You can pay a lot for pelletized gypsum or get it for dirt cheap in a 50-pound bag.  Get the later.

When you first plant your tree, put a couple of shovels of gypsum in the bottom of the hold and mix it in a bit.  It's not rocket science, just stir it around with about as much soil. Once your avocado tree is established, sprinkle gypsum around the base as far out as the dripline (where the out leaves drop water). Then water the hell out of it.

What does gypsum do?  According to soil experts, gypsum leaches out sodium and replaces it with calcium.  Sodium in soils binds otherwise beautiful silt into a hard clay-like soil that percolates water very slowly. Gypsum is calcium sulfate dihydrate, with the chemical formula CaSO4·2H2O One form is know as alabaster, very soft and easy to sculpt.  

Gypsum in powdered form is magic for soils.  With plenty of water - so much that that the gypsum percolates down through the soil - the calcium in gypsum takes the place of sodium.

Soil that was once hard "clay" changes its "tilth" to that of a fine loamy soil that allows water infiltration, air and, yes, the entry of tiny avocado roots seeking out a home.

Of course, "gypsumed" soil is great for all plants but it has especially amazing results on avocado trees.  Remember that gypsum parts with its calcium as it leaches out sodium? Surprise! Avocados love calcium (as do many other plants).  

Many gardeners know the power of agricultural lime (powdered limestone) to supply calcium in acid soil.  Lime or calcium carbonate also raises soil pH, making it sweet instead of acidic.  Your avocado likely doesn't need a sweeter soil (it's easy to test soil pH with a kit from the garden store or Amazon. But you probably just need to test once for peace of mind.

Test Once and Forget About It

Luster Leaf 1612 Rapitest pH Soil Tester
Amazon Price: $13.99 $1.10 Buy Now
(price as of Jun 8, 2015)
Cheap, easy, highly rated and probably not necessary. But it's worth testing your yard's soil once so you can stop worrying. Most plants accept a range of acidity near neutral. Blueberries like a very acid soil, but that's a different article. :)

Gypsum, Git Sum

I wish it made sense to buy gypsum from Amazon but I doubt it they even carry it.  Well I'll be darned, Amazon has everything and at not a bad price, especially if you are a Prime subscriber and get free shipping. See below for your basic ag gypsum at the lowest price I could find.  But try your local home store first.

Hoffman 17005 Garden Gypsum, 5 Pounds
Amazon Price: $13.51 $4.17 Buy Now
(price as of Jun 8, 2015)
Given up on finding garden gypsum near a store near you? This is not a bad price for the simple compound that will put your avocado tree into overdrive. Yes, it's dusty but much cheaper than the pelletized stuff. You have a hose, right? Throw it on and soak it in with a lot of water. Then add some more water. Gypsum needs that to work its magic.

If your avocado tree is happy it will show it, with new growth

Healthy new avocado growth comes in "flushes"

Avocado Growth
Credit: Own image

Get Water to Where Your Trees Need It

I just tried one of these

Green King GKDD024 Deep Drip Tree Watering Stake, 24-Inch
Amazon Price: $16.51 Buy Now
(price as of Jun 8, 2015)
I just tried one of these. Penetrates soil with surprising ease. Drips water (and fertilizer) deep into the soil to encourage deep rooting. (You can deep watering from the surface but it takes longer.) The watering stake also aerates soil. The interior is lined with landscape fabric so soil doesn't clog. Comes in 36-inch, and 14-inch. Get the water to where your trees need it!

Bee Drinking From An Avocado Flower

Pollinating In the Process

Bee On An Avocado Flower
Credit: AstroGremlin

Avocados are Odd

They have strange mating practices and do extreme things


The avocado flowers open in the morning with one set of sexual organs and in the afternoon with another. Self pollinating, avocados bear better when another variety is within a bee's journey.

Avocados will lose all their leaves sometimes and then grow a whole new batch. They will blossom like crazy, set fruit, but many of the tiny gumdrop sized avocados with drop off. The tree seems to have a wisdom about balance and not breaking its limbs. But it will let its limbs go all the way to the ground to protect its roots from drying sun. Let it.

There is not really any need to prune an avocado. They self-prune by letting shaded branches die naturally. It can be alarming when an avocado sacrifices limbs, even large ones, under the shade of its canopy. Don't be concerned. This is the avocado's way.

Fruit can stay on the tree for months without ripening. The oil content increases in fruit that stays on the tree. Only when you pick an avocado does final ripening begin. It takes about two weeks to ripen. Left on long enough, avocados will begin to sprout right on the tree and the flesh will become orange and mealy. Don't wait that long!

When you enjoy your first home grown avocado, try it with a little lemon juice and salt. Giant ground sloths lacked this advantage.
Photo Credit: AstroGremlin

Is Your Soil Mostly Sand, Silt or Clay?

Shake Up a Soil Sample in a Jar of Water and Find Out

Test Your Soil in a Glass Jar
Credit: University of Arizona


Directions for Soil Texture Test

You can test your soil's texture by putting a sample in a jar of water.  Add a few drops of detergent. Shake up the jar and let it stand. Sand will drop out immediately.  Silt several seconds later.  Clay will remain suspended in the water for hours.

Buy a Known Avocado Variety from a Nursery

In California, you can buy Avocado trees at home stores and nurseries. Or you can order them by mail. Top varieties are Hass, Pinkerton, and Reed. The size of the tree is not as important as its health.

Your tree will grow to about 20 feet and create year-round shade, so plan accordingly. But this will take many years.
You can plant an avocado in Southern California at any time. Dig a hole about 3 feet wide and about as deep. Avocados like well drained soil. If you have heavy soil, add about half a bag of gypsum in the bottom of the hole. I like to mix in compost or soil amendment with the soil. Put a mound of soil in the bottom of the hole, take the tree out of the pot and drape the roots over the mound, like a wig.

Plant the tree the same depth it was in the pot. Don't let the roots dry out! Spray them with water, work fast, and then soak the planted tree. Soak it until the tree tries to float. This gets rid of air pockets. You tree should feel as though it never left its moist pot.
Young avocado trees are very susceptible to sun scald. Mix any old white paint with half water to make a whitewash and paint the trunk and large limbs. Your tree will thank you. I've also seen people lean long roof tiles against the trunk to screen out sun.
As your tree grows you will notice that its one goal is to shade its trunk, limbs and the ground that holds its roots. Avocados are surface feeders and they like their feet moist and shaded at all times.

Avocado Grafting Videos

Carlos Has Many Great Avocado Videos on YouTube



Feb 1, 2014 5:51pm
Your tips about doing a whitewash and gypsum are something I've never heard of before. Since they require shade around their trunks to "keep cooler" it makes sense to just spread agricultural gypsum around their base. Wonder if they'd like some snow?
Apr 14, 2014 10:05pm
Very helpful ideas. We have very hard soil or should I say clay here and you need a pick to penetrate the surface. So we use buckets of gypsum. And mix leaves, mulch, and straw in with the soil to break it up and at last we are starting to get things to grow.
Jun 28, 2014 8:41am
Goodness Astro, I should add your article to my latest one. Will PM you now.
Sep 9, 2014 12:04pm
Thank you so much for this info about avocado trees. I have one in my backyard, and understand it a lot better now. My wife is the real gardener, I will have her read this. I mainly care for our animals, and plants tend to die if I do anything to them at all.
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  1. University of Arizona "Collecting Your Own Soils Data." Watershed Steward Resources. 09/03/2014 <Web >
  2. B. J. Messenger, J. A. Menge, and E. Pond, Department of Plant Pathology, University of California, Riverside "Effects of Gypsum Soil Amendments on Avocado Growth, Soil Drainage, and Resistance to Phytophthora cinnamomi." The American Phytopathological Society. 7/04/2014 <Web >
  3. Dr. B. O. Bergh ""The Remarkable Avocado Flower"." University of California Agiculture and Natural Resources. 13/04/2014 <Web >

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