Avocados

//Avocados

Avocados

You love the creamy, rich taste of a ripe avocado and you live in the avocado capital of the world, where “alligator pears” are second only to citrus.  What’s the tastiest and best avocado for your coastal garden? Can I grow one from a pit?

When we buy avocados at the market we’re accustomed only to the pebbly, dark-skinned ‘Haas’ or the smooth, green-skinned ‘Fuerte’.  These two varieties account for nearly all commercial avocado production and are the only varieties most people are familiar with.

If you garden along the coast there’s more than just ‘Haas’ and ‘Fuerte’.  ‘Hass’ does well here, but is a very large tree, not for everybody.  ‘Fuerte’ usually fruits poorly along the immediate coast and at best produces a good crop about every third year.  If you want the best, it may be worth searching for a ‘Reed’, ‘Holiday’ or ‘Don Gillogly’.

Last week I had the opportunity to sit down with Isabel Barkmen for a few minutes and talk about avocados.  Isabel knows a whole lot about avocados, especially in Orange County.  Isabel is the assistant curator of one of the world’s largest living avocado collections. Located in Irvine, at the little known University of California’s Research and Extension Center, the center, founded in 1956, sprawls over 200 acres and is home to more than 150 avocado varieties.

Isabel recommends ‘Reed’ highly for those who can handle a full size tree.  A moderate sized, upright grower, ‘Reed’ is a heavy producer of very flavorful, unusually round fruit during Orange County’s late summer and fall months.

‘Holiday’ is a recent introduction from the University of California that is practically a dwarf in avocado-dom.  ‘Holiday’s growth habit is unusually wide, but not more than about ten or twelve feet tall.  The flavor is outstanding and the fruit ripens later than most others, from Labor Day to New Years.

My favorite avocado is the ‘Don Gillogly’.  When I first tasted this variety, about five years ago, I knew I had reached avocado heaven.  I have yet to taste a better avocado.  A natural semi-dwarf plant, the ‘Don Gillogly’ is a small tree, well suited to home gardens.  The fruit season is especially long and it stores well on the tree, from spring through late fall.  The fruit of a ‘Don Gillogly’ avocado has the unique quality of not “browning” after it is cut.

Isabel, also a UC Master Gardener and member of the California Rare Fruit Growers, extols the virtues of a variety called ‘Kona Sharwil’.  She reports the flavor as outstanding and says it fruits over an extremely long period, from February until November.  Unfortunately, you won’t find ‘Kona Sharwil’ for sale anywhere.  Isabel and I are attempting to convince a commercial grower to graft a few of this variety for sale, perhaps as early as next year.  Avocado growers are a fickle group, so we’ll see.  As I write this I have a ‘Kona Sharwil’ fruit, courtesy of Isabel, ripening on my desktop.  I can hardly wait.

All avocados need perfect drainage.  Water should move through the soil very quickly.  Planting an avocado in clay soil will result in a quick and irreversible decline.  Plant either in raised beds, on a slope or on a mound if you just can’t be without great tasting avocados from your own garden.

Cool roots and moist soil are also keys to success.  Keep the roots cool and moist by maintaining a very thick layer of compost, mulch or fallen leaves.  Regular, light applications of a mild organic fertilizer are best.  More potent fertilizers could burn an avocados shallow roots.

Finally, be careful not to sunburn a young plant.  Unlike other trees, avocados do not develop a protective bark on their branches.  An avocados stems and branches are green and they perform photosynthesis, just like leaves.  In nature, young avocados grow under the shaded canopy of their mature parents.  Not until they become large and develop their own umbrella of protective foliage do they experience the full effects of the sun.

Growing an avocado from a pit is a fun project, but has its limitations. It’s easy; just push three toothpicks a half inch into the fattest part of the pit or seed.  Now rest it on top of a glass filled with water high enough to cover the bottom of the pit an inch deep.  In about six or eight weeks it will germinate and will eventually grow into a tree.

But beware.  The probability of your seed grown tree producing edible fruit, or any fruit at all, is very poor.  All avocados grown in orchards or gardens are grafted, guaranteed to be identical copies of their parents.  Seed grown avocados are almost always a disappointment.

Ron Vanderhoff is the Nursery Manager at Roger’s Gardens, Corona del Mar

By |2006-06-09T00:00:53+00:00June 9th, 2006|Gardening|2 Comments

About the Author:

Ron Vanderhoff is a lifelong Southern California gardener and the General Manager and Vice President of Roger’s Gardens. He is a local director of the California Native Plant Society and serves on a number of state and local advisory committees involving horticultural education and natural resource protection. He was a principal contributor to The Butterflies of Orange County and The Wildflowers of Orange County and the Santa Ana Mountains, as well as a special contributor to The Sunset Western Garden Book.

2 Comments

  1. Linda Trower August 23, 2018 at 3:26 pm - Reply

    I live in Huntington Beach and I have a Don Gillogly avocado tree. I purchased it from Rogers about 6 years ago. My tree is about 10 feet tall and always had the buds on it each year and they fall off. Or the squirrels get them. Last two years we got 2 avocados. This year we had a lot but squirrels got some and I’m down to 15 nice big avocados. My question is when should I pick the avocados off the tree?

    • Roger's Gardens August 24, 2018 at 2:56 pm - Reply

      Hi Linda,

      Glad to hear that you have a Gillogly avocado. They are a patented variety and were only on the market for a few years. Wish I had bought one.

      As you probably know, avocados never ripen on the tree. They must be picked and should ripen on a kitchen counter in about a week or so. Knowing when to pick an avocado is a mysterious thing, with no absolute answer. Mostly it is trial-and-error. If you pick too early you won’t have good flavor, or even worse, the fruit will not ripen, it will just rot. But if you wait too long the oils in the fruit will make the flesh become rancid.
      When the fruit on the tree is about ready for the best picking it usually loses some of its “bloom”. The bloom is a very light, almost imperceptible dusting on the fruit surface. The fruit will also usually slightly change color, becoming a bit darker and duller.
      On larger trees, when there is an abundance of fruit, the best method is to simply make a guess and pick one. Bring it indoors to let it ripen. If it ripens and has a nice nutty and rich flavor, it’s ready and you can pick more (or not, since you can “store” the fruit on the tree pretty well).
      But if the fruit isn’t ready for picking it will either not ripen at all and just rot, or it will have a rubbery texture.
      The best approach really is to just pick one and see what happens. Hope this helps.

      Ron

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