21 November 2018

How to grow avocados in cold weather

Since first moving to the Yarra Valley in 1980, avocados have been a feature of our gardens. People are often surprised. Can you really grow avocados in cold weather? Well yes you can and the fruit tastes terrific, however, there are a few tricks. So this week we go right Out on a Limb with tips and pictures that will help avocado growers anywhere - terrific backyard trees - but first

       Thought for the day

If you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, 
You must first invent the universe.

                 Carl Sagan

So starting an avocado from scratch…

Three tooth picks, one great avocado seed and a glass of water.

Arrange as shown, with the bottom of the seed kept in the water for the weeks, even months it may take to produce roots then a shoot.

Alternatively, buy a plant ready to go. 

Avocado trees come in different sizes and produce fruit at different times of the year. They also come in 2 main varieties - called Type A and B - and if you plant one of each type they cross pollinate and the fruit set is better, although in my experience one tree on its own still does OK. In suburban settings you may be lucky and have a neighbor with a cross pollinator; or if you can talk a neighbor into growing their own, choose wisely!

Hass and Fuerte are the 2 most common commercial varieties but both grow to become big trees - 8x10m approx. Bacon - Type B - is excellent in colder weather, the quickest to produce fruit from planting (our latest produced a few in 3 years, around 50 the fourth) - and is small - around 4m so is good for a back yard.

Three excellent small type As that would pair with a Bacon are Pinkerton, Reed and Rincon. These all produce fruit at different times of the year, although avocados have this wonderful property of lasting on the tree. We have picked fruit from our Bacon over at least 6 months - just finishing now, and if planting another would probably go with the Reed given it produces over summer from November to March - Christmas avocados off the tree!!!

More details on varieties? - excellent site : CLICK HERE

If you have started with a pip - and this is not so highly recommended as maturation reputedly takes longer (we are currently testing this theory with out latest planting) - next is to pot into a premium potting mix and keep warm while developing. We have a glasshouse, but indoors would be Ok in a sunny area. Keep moist but do not overwater and young plants do not like cold, especially frosts.

Once big enough, or if you buy a plant, wait until frosts have passed and plant mid/late spring.

But - you do need to think ahead. Avocados hate wet feet and they have real trouble with clay. In our Upper Yarra area, there is a thin layer of topsoil then really tough clay. In the eighties I actually attempted a commercial orchard by mounding up the topsoil with a big machine and planting into that. All went well for a few years, then all the trees died.

About 15 years ago I made mounds by hand and planted 5 varieties that gave year round fruit. For 2 seasons this was fantastic, then the trees progressively died. One still hangs on, but looks miserable. We keep it going to see what will happen.

A commercial grower told me recently the clay is the problem. In the experience of our conditions we get 2 -3 years of good fruiting, then 1 or 2 ordinary ones, then time to replant. So currently what we do is plant a new one every 2-3 years. We are fortunate to have the space to do this, and we build the dirt up, add sand and heaps of compost to improve drainage and we remain hopeful the new ones will live long, happy lives, yet it is the clay that may bring them all undone eventually. Many Melbourne backyards are on great sandy loam areas and will not have this problem.

However, soil preparation is still always important.
Add lots of compost, something like Dynamic Lifter
and maybe some dolomite
and do consider making a mound to plant into.

With the Bacon we planted 5 years ago we used around 2 metres of soil for the mound and this has worked really well - so far!

Once the time is right to plant, avocados like protection from wind, frost and even sun - they can suffer from sunburn! In a backyard this may all be OK, but in our large, open garden we need to provide protection. Tomato stakes, hessian and wire does the job. Here is how to do it...

Set out the frame for a "lid' that will be attached once the 4 stakes are in place.

These need to be aligned roughly North, South and in a manner that when the hessian is attached, it will protect from the prevailing winds.

In our area these come primarily from the North.

            Then hammer in the stakes.

        Use the wire to attach
        the wooden frame at the top.

Use more wire to attach the hessian,
leaving the face to the East open
so some sun does touch the plant directly.

When ready to plant, know avocados are touchy in the root department.

Be careful to avoid disturbing the roots as much as possible.

We cut the pots off - bottom first - and gently place the plant in the soil, fill in, add pea straw mulch and water gently.

We once had a rabbit eat the base of a young tree so now we add protective wire, and this does support the young one a little without tying it.

After this last one we planted - as shown - we had a day of huge winds.

Without the protection of the hessian the baby tree would have been shredded; as it was, it is completely unscathed and already growing happily.

Watering is tricky. Avocados seem to hate being over-watered, and under-watered. The best way we can do it is to watch the new growth. When happy, avocados grow rapidly and constantly. So we keep the water up while the growth is happening, and watch for the first signs of the growth tips flagging. We have found this to be the best sign for the next watering time as we need to be very careful to avoid over-watering. Maybe someone has a better trick, but this has been working well for us.

With any luck this is what you get... Well worth the effort...

This one is a Bacon and now into its 5th year.



  1. Couldn't resist telling you that my sister planted 2 avocado trees in Canterbury (sandy soil) about 45 years ago. Everyone was horrified and said they wouldn't grow in that climate. They are now about 8 metres tall and produce kilos of fruit every year! The possums get the top ones and they share the others with family and friends.

  2. Hi Ian, I just bought 4 avocados today for planting and whilst my conditions are very
    different to yours (an hour inland of the Sunshine Coast) such good pointers especially
    with the planting. I knew to mound up but your explanation so very good.
    I read Out on a Limb each week and never thought I would be reading about planting
    avocados,! many thanks

  3. Thank you for this informative and interesting article Ian! I read Out on a Limb each week too like Liz does. So does my husband Tim - he is a big fan too. He met you one year at the Woodford Folk Festival and has been to some of your workshops. Your tips will help me with our food garden so thank you.

  4. They are timely and treated the entire procedure very professionally.