Growing an avocado plant is a rite of passage in the house plant world. If you haven’t germinated your own avocado can you really call yourself a plant parent?
Native to Mexico and Central America, as humans, we’ve been eating (and probably propagating) avocados, Persea americana, for over 8000 years.
And, though they originate from the tropics, it’s becoming more and more common to see avocado trees on the streets of London, there are rumours some of these trees even fruit.
How to care for your avocado plant
Avocado plants are straightforward to look after, if you remember a couple of simple rules.
Avocados are used to high humidity, and when the humidity gets too low, or the compost around the roots is left to dry out, leaves tend to go brown and crispy on the edges. You can easily avoid this by keeping the plant well watered, and ensuring it isn’t in an environment that is too dry.
Keep it away from radiators, in a naturally humid room like a kitchen or bathroom. You may also want to sit your avocado plant on a tray of wet stones or pebbles, as the water evaporates, it will increase the humidity around the leaves.
Avocados quickly want to be trees! Unless you have very high ceilings, after four to five years of growth, avocado plants will outgrow most London homes. You can slow this down by bravely pruning out the growing point at the top of the plant, encouraging it to branch sideways, and restricting the space its roots have by keeping it pot bound (if you do want a big tree, repot spring and again in late summer, increasing the pot size by 15 to 20 per cent each time).
Avocados are however so easy to propagate, you can have a constant supply of new plants to replace the monster.
Propagating your avocado plant
Avocados are house plants that are easily propagated from seed at home. You’ll need the stone or seed from at least one avocado - try not to damage the seed when cutting open the fruit. Once you have enjoyed your avocado - clean the stone to remove the excess fruit, leaving this on may cause the seed to rot.
Sometimes there is a papery brown layer that encases the seed, this may come away, that’s ok. The stone should be firm and almost spherical. If it looks misshapen it’s much less likely to start growing.
The most common method for propagating is to stick three cocktail sticks into the sides of the seed and support it over a glass of water, with the pointy side of the seed up, until the seed germinates. This does work, but the seed is a bit more likely to start rotting if it is too wet, and it can be hard to transfer the seedling from water to soil.
If you are impatient like me, the alternative method is to plant the seed directly into free draining compost (mix peat-free compost with equal parts horticultural sand and grit), again make sure the pointy side of the seed is pointing upwards, as this is where the leaves develop from.
The seed only needs to be as deep as itself, the very apex can be just sticking out of the compost. Keep this somewhere warm, (best done in spring or summer) and keep the compost moist but not wet. You won’t get the same excitement of seeing the roots develop, but germination tends to take half the time.