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Starting an Avocado

Growing your own avocado plant can be a very interesting and rewarding project for both the beginner and advanced home gardener. The avocado is started from an avocado pit in the home and rarely purchased. The plant can eventually become very large with a branch spread up to 6 feet. If you don't want a large plant, its size can be controlled by pinching and pruning.

The initial step in growing a pit is recognizing which side of the seed is up and which is down. Many are tapered with the broader end being the bottom. If you should have a pit that is split and has a root mass starting, be careful not to break the seed in two, if you do, it won't grow.

Avocado plants can be started in soil or water. Pits started in soil produce a much more durable and long lasting plant. Before starting the plant, soak the pit overnight in water. If you intend to start the plant in soil, pot it, large end down, in a large clay pot in light sandy soil. The pit should be placed about one-half inch below the soil surface.

Most people start their avocadoes in water. Three toothpicks are pushed into the pit at intervals about a third of the way from the bottom (large end of pit). These support the pit when placed in a glass of water. The base of the pit should be in about one-half inch of water. Maintain this level by adding water, never change the water. As long as the water remains clear, the pit is not rotting. If the pit does rot, discard it and start another pit.

First, small roots appear on the bottom side, then the pit cracks and you can see the developing stem. There may be more than one stem and these should always be left alone, even when growing in soil. When the stem reaches 6 inches, cut it back to 3 inches; this induces a bushy leafy plant. Don't wait more than 3 weeks after cutting it to plant it. Be careful not to injure roots. Remove or break toothpicks off before planting. The upper portion of the seed must be exposed to allow new stems to grow. The avocado should be potted in a large clay pot in a light sandy soil mixture.

Avocado plants need good light, but not too much direct sunlight. During the winter, keep the plant in a window where it gets as much light as possible. The plant wants to dry out just a bit between watering. Use tepid water. Over watered plants will begin to wilt and shed dried leaves. These plants, as tropical plants, like warm conditions with a fairly high humidity. Spray misting, especially during the winter is useful in maintaining the avocado. They will do well at normal home temperature with a minimum of 60 degrees F. Keep the plant out of drafts (hot or cold).

A young plant in new soil doesn't need much fertilizer, but an older one which has remained in the same pot needs feeding. Plants which produce small leaves which fall from the plant may need fertilizer. Mature leaves will grow to about four inches. House plant fertilizers available from the variety, garden or florist shop are suitable. As the plant gets tall, some sort of support will have to be used. Place the support an inch or two away from the seed and push it to the bottom carefully so as not to injure too many delicate roots.

Todd Weinmann, Extension Horticulturist & Master Gardener Coordinator
Phone: (701) 241-5707

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