It's a complaint that's as old as the hills:

My avocado tree is tall and green and healthy but it doesn't want to bear fruit. The possible reasons for this are:

  • You planted a pip: Trees grown from seed can take up to 15 years to start blooming and bearing fruit (or can even not bear at all), while grafted nursery trees will reward you with fruit within 3-4 years.

  • You have the only tree in the neighbourhood: Avocado trees produce perfect flowers which at different times are first female (therefore 'receiving' pollen) and thereafter male (releasing pollen). When flowering occurs it's important to have both types of flowers in order to improve pollination. Therefore, the more trees in the area, the better.

  • Your tree is 'normal': Even avocado farmers complain about erratic crop with fewer and smaller fruit. Researchers are currently investigating the effects of climate change (also at micro level), as well as new grafting and pruning methods.

    Growing tips

  • Plant a grafted tree: The most popular varieties, which are available from local growers, are 'Fuerte', with it's thin, green skin, the more nutty 'Hass', which turns purple-black when ripe, and 'Ryan'.

  • Avocado trees have a relatively shallow root system, and the soil should therefore be loose, sandy and fertile, but above all should drain well. The trees need a lot of sunlight, particularly when the flowers start forming, and don't do well in regions that experience strong winds during flowering or when the fruit are still small. Frost should also be avoided.

  • Plant a pip: Wash the pip and insert three toothpicks into the top third (the pointed end facing up), so that you can suspend it over a glass or vase of water, with the broad base facing downwards. Keep the vase on a windowsill where it will receive a lot of light (but the minimum of direct sunlight) and regularly top up the water so that the bottom third of the pip is always submerged. After 2-3 weeks the pip will begin to crack and during the following month will first produce a root and then a stem. When the shoot is 10-15cm long and the roots have become thicker, you can pinch out the growth point and transplant the pip into a pot containing one part sand, two parts potting soil and one part compost. Incidentally, avocado trees are also attractive house plants.

    Pests and plagues

  • If you detect any illness or insects, discuss this with your nursery. If the leaves turn yellow, it's likely that the tree is receiving too much water (allow it to dry out for a few days). If the leaves turn brown and brittle at the tips, it's possible that the soil is too salty.