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