Yes, You Can Grow a Fruit-Producing Avocado Tree from Its Pit—No Matter Where You Live
Have you ever reached for avocados in the grocery store and thought, 'I wonder if I can grow my own tree and harvest the fruit myself?' The answer, believe it or not, is yes. "Growing an avocado from seed is a fun and rewarding, but long process," says Em Shipman, executive director of KidsGardening. While the seeds take about six to 14 weeks to germinate, most trees don't produce fruit until they are about three- to four-years old. Although it requires a lot of patience, you'll eventually have your own tree to pluck avocados from any time you're craving a good toast topping. Plus, you can grow the plant indoors and out, so location isn't an issue. If this is a project you're interested in tackling, keep reading to learn how to grow and care for an avocado tree from seed to maturity.
How to Grow an Avocado Tree from Seed
There are several ways to get the avocado seed (the pit in the center of the fruit) to sprout, Shipman explains. "An easy way is to root it in a cup of water. Or, try wrapping it into a damp paper towel and placing it into a sealable plastic bag," she says.
To grow an avocado tree from seed, start by removing the pit from the fruit. Shipman says to avoid using a knife, as it can damage the seed. Then gently wash the pit in warm water and remove any remaining fruit. "Clean it well, as any leftover flesh can lead to rot," she notes.
Next, fully wrap the seed in a damp paper towel that's moist but not dripping and place it in a plastic food storage bag but do not seal it completely to allow for air movement. Place the bag in a warm, dark place where the temperature is about 70 degrees. "Check the seed every four to five days to ensure the towel stays moist and the seed does not rot, and to check on the rooting process," Shipman says.
In six to 12 weeks, the roots will begin to emerge from the middle of the seed—but be careful not to touch or break them (they're very fragile). When the roots are about three inches long, it's time for planting. Fill a growing container that's no bigger than a gallon with a well-draining potting mix, then dig a small hole and plant the seed just below the soil surface, leaving about a half-inch of the top of the seed above the soil line. Water generously and place it in a warm, sunny location.
How to Care for Your Avocado Tree
One of the most important things to keep in mind as you care for your avocado tree? Don't overwater it, since the plant is prone to root rot. Shipman says to start by hydrating the tree about every other week. After a few watering cycles, adjust your schedule based on how fast the seedling grows. "If the leaves turn yellow, you are overwatering. Allow the soil to dry between each session," she says. Another way to avoid root rot is by using a well-draining potting mix. "Most store-bought mixes have a high amount of peat that holds water," Shipman notes. "Try amending the soil by adding perlite or large bark to allow for proper water movement." Another important consideration is light: Avocado trees enjoy a lot of sunlight and should receive at least six hours per day. If it's growing indoors, find a location with bright indirect light.
When your tree begins to grow, it should be pruned regularly. For every six inches of growth, cut back the top two sets of leaves. Pruning will encourage more growth—and eventually, your tree will need to be carefully moved into a larger container; the plant needs ample room to flourish and develop. Finally, as you care for your avocado tree, be sure to regularly fertilize it. It doesn't require much food during the cooler months, but you should aim to fertilize it with a nitrogen-rich formula every two to three weeks when it is actively growing.
How to Grow an Avocado Tree Outside
Avocado trees are tropical plants native to Southern Mexico, and for that reason, they typically thrive in environments where the temperature doesn't drop below 60 degrees. If you live in an area where this isn't the case, it's recommended that you grow your avocado tree in a planter indoors, so it can be kept outside during warmer months, but moved indoors during winter. If you do live in a region where it's possible to plant your avocado tree outdoors—zones 9, 10, and 11 on the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Zone Hardiness Map—you should plant your variety in a spot that gets about eight hours of sunlight per day. Start by digging a hole in soil that is as deep and slightly wider than the root ball; be sure your soil is well-draining and aerated. Once the tree is planted, water it every five to 10 days with several gallons of water.
What to Expect From Your Avocado Tree
As noted, the process of growing an avocado tree from seed to harvestable fruit takes years. While it may be tiring to care for the plant regularly without reaping the benefits, simply watching your small tree grow will be a rewarding experience. They won't stay tiny for long: Avocado trees typically grow as large as 80 feet; interior growth will depend on its resources and environment. "If you are hoping to grow a taller tree, provide it with a large container and plenty of sunlight," says Shipman. Similarly, if you want to keep your tree small, keep it in its container and prune it to your needs. On average, your avocado plant will grow up to 30 inches a year once it has established. And if you're concerned your tree isn't going to produce fruit, Shipman says not to worry. "It is not hard to grow avocado trees that bear fruit, but it takes some time and the right conditions. Most trees do not produce fruit until they are about three or four years old."