Purchasing, planting, and growing an avocado tree in your backyard isn’t as simple as you might think. There are at least a dozen popular varieties of avocado trees available in most nurseries, but how do you know which one to pick? Do you plant a Hass? You could, but are you aware of how tall and wide that tree will get in 20 years? The Hass is a medium spreading tree, whereas the Reed is more upright in stature. Both have excellent tasting fruit. Seeing as you can go buy a Hass avocado in your local supermarket any day of the year, maybe you might consider a different variety that you can’t otherwise find. Growing your own avocado trees can be a deceptively simple yet infinitely complicated hobby. My favorite kind. I hope you find some help in the pages of this site should you decide to do this yourself.
Well, once I got the idea of planting a tree into my head, I called up my buddy who owns a minivan and asked him if he wanted to take a ride and help me buy some trees. He was game and even wanted to pick up a few for himself. I’ve been researching and researching this project for weeks now, condensing SO much information on avocado trees that I feel like I could teach a class at this point! I finally identified the two particular varieties that I wanted to plant, the Lamb-Hass and the Sir Prize.
You see, although this site is called backyardavocados.com, I don’t exactly have a backyard. Well, I do, but it’s not a good site for planting a tree because it’s on the north side of my property and thus doesn’t get full sun, and avocado trees definitely need full sun. So my planting site is my front yard, and my space is pretty limited. I don’t have the space to plant a regular Hass because that tree is a spreading variety. I wanted to get trees that are of the upright variety. This way, if I get lazy in the future and don’t prune them, they won’t completely takeover the space where I plant them.
However, I have no intention of letting them go wild. In fact, the whole point of this project is to practice something called Backyard Orchard Culture. Avocado trees can get as high as 30 feet in just a few years! Who wants to climb a ladder just to pick your fruit? Sure, they do make picker poles with cutters on them, but the point is to make things easier on yourself. I plan to keep these trees no higher than 10-12 feet by constantly pruning them each summer.
The most important downside to pruning fruit & avocado trees is the fact that you will get less total fruit from your tree, but I honestly don’t need hundreds of avocados from each tree. When I bought the property it came with a full size lemon tree and I can’t even give all those lemons away, let alone use them!
Okay, so back to our road trip. You can’t find these particular varieties just anywhere. These are special varieties that were developed and patented by UC Riverside and any nurseries who produce these trees have to pay a licensing fee to the university. In fact, the nursery will pass that extra $2 cost on to you when you buy the tree. I was able to figure out that there are two nurseries down in Fallbrook, California that are well known by amateur avocado enthusiasts for producing good trees. They are Maddock Ranch Nursery and Atkins Nursery. They are both located down the street from one another off the 15 fwy on Reche Road.
We first stopped off at Atkins because I knew they were pretty much the ONLY place to find the Gwen variety, which is a natural dwarf variety that was developed back in the 1980s. It used to be popular commercially, however it fell out of favor because the fruit stays green when it ripens and, as we all know, the grocery shopper expects their avocados to be black when ripe like the beloved Hass. Unfortunately, the Gwen mothertree didn’t produce any good scion branches for grafting this year so there were no Gwens available. Also, I was in the market for 15 gallon size trees rather than the 5 gallon, or 2 year old, trees because I wanted trees that would set fruit during their next fruiting season. With 5 gallon trees you have to wait a year or two before this happens (and once you do have fruit it takes a year for them to grow and be ready for harvest–so you’re looking at three years before you can reap the rewards). No, I definitely wanted a 15 gallon tree. Atkins had plenty of 5 gallons, in fact I even saw one Kona Sharwil which is the variety that they grow in Hawaii which is supposed to be really good. I dunno why, but Hawaii doesn’t export these avocados to the mainland. Probably because the fruit is green when ripe and wouldn’t compete with Hass. Anyway, unfortunately, the Sharwil is a big tree when mature so it was out of the question for me. But if you’re looking to try that variety, that’s where you’ll find it!
So with Atkins being out of the question, we headed down to Maddock and there we were able to find everything we were looking for in the 15 gallon size, which are about 4 year old trees that are about 8 feet high. I picked up a Lamb and a Sir Prize and my buddy bought a Lamb, a Reed, and a Fuerte. We laid them down in the back of the minivan and they just managed to fit. I don’t think we’d have been able to get one more in if we tried! The Reed is a very prolific, upright tree that is guaranteed to self-pollinate if there is no pollinator nearby and the Fuerte is a huge, giant spreading tree that will eventually get about 35 feet high.
The Fuerte was the original commercial avocado tree back before Hass took over in the 1970s. Believe it or not, Fuertes are green when ripe and that’s what everybody was used to way back when. The avocado industry hates the fact that Hass is dark when ripe–it’s pretty much the only variety that is (Holiday, Mexicola, Lamb Hass and Sir Prize are the only others). Most varieties that have are developed by UC Riverside turn out to be green. It’s the ever long search for another dark-when-ripe avocado like Hass that drives the avocado industry to constantly produce newer varieties.
Why bother, you might ask, when Hass is so perfect? Well, for one thing, the Hass avocado tree is very alternate bearing. This means that it will produce a heavy crop one year and a lighter crop the next. No one really understands this entirely. I’ll have to go into detail in a future post. From a commercial standpoint, this costs money, so they’re always looking for a better tree. Also, the ripening period for Hass is about 6 months long, and when it begins and ends depends on what your latitude is. The farther away from the equator you are, that is, the colder your average temperatures, the more the period is delayed. So down in warmer San Diego they start picking them as early as February and go into August, whereas in Ventura and colder Santa Barbara they start in April and go to October. Now, when the seasons change, the Northern Hemisphere tilts away from the Sun and the Southern hemisphere pokes its head forward to get some rays, so when its winter here in California, it’s summer down in Chile, so that’s why the Mexican harvest period goes from October to May and the Chilean period August to March. This is how we have Hass avocados in the supermarket all year round here in California. When the California season ends, the Chilean season begins (you’re most likely to see them September through December) and then the Mexican season begins and you’ll see a combination of both with the Mexican avocados dominating our winter months. You start to see California avocados again in April. I’ll definitely have to analyze this further in a later post.
Anyway, that’s what’s so great about the two varieties I have chosen. They have Hass-like characteristics such as being dark when ripe so they are being marketed to the commercial growers as additions to their orchards. They both taste like Hass and the home consumer will probably not be able to tell the difference. That’s another rather new secret of the industry: when you buy a Hass avocado at the market, you’re not 100% guaranteed to be getting that variety any more! The great thing about Lamb Hass is their ripening period occurs about 6-8 weeks AFTER regular Hass, so when the Hass trees are done, the Lambs are still producing and help to extend the crop. Also the Lambs are twice the size of Hass!
With the Sir Prize, it’s the other way around–they ripen 6-8 weeks BEFORE regular Hass. By planting these two varieties I’ll naturally be getting a much longer ripening period. Also, and this is probably the most important thing–the Lamb is an “A type” tree and the Sir Prize is a “B type” tree. This means that they will cross-pollinate each other. I will also have to go into pollination in a future post. All in all, the combination of these trees is pretty damn cool and I am super excited to get them in the ground!
Stay tuned folks. Next time I’ll be giving you all kinds of great information about planting avocados as I take you through my plans and experience.