Two years ago, I inherited a 6” tall avocado stalk from my younger brother, who was moving to Los Angeles. That 6” stalk is now a 7’ tree that towers in my apartment kitchen. Even with 11’ ceilings, I’m getting close to needing to ask a friend with a backyard to take it off my hands. With sunlight, good soil, and an insane amount of water, you too can grow your largest, favorite houseplant for free. Here are 6 things I’ve learned that help my avocado tree thrive:
1. Getting the pit to root is the hardest part.
I’ll be the first to admit I had a leg up because my brother had already successfully gotten the pit to root. To do what he did, wash and dry your next available avocado pit and gather a jar and three toothpicks. Fill the jar nearly to the brim with water. You’ll use the toothpicks to suspend your avocado pit at the surface of the water. With the chubby end of the pit facing down, insert the toothpicks in a triangle formation around the top side of the pit and balance the toothpicks on the rim of the jar so about 1” of the pit is submerged in water. Place the jar on a windowsill that doesn’t get direct sunlight (north-facing is perfect, if you’re in the northern hemisphere). In a couple weeks, you should see roots start to grow. From here, you can plant your pit in well-draining soil. Make sure the top part of the pit is exposed to the air. This is important, as it will prevent the pit from rotting. It doesn’t hurt to start a few pits at once in case one of them doesn’t take!
2. Repotting your avocado tree may always be stressful.
Both times I’ve repotted my avocado tree, I’ve thought I’d killed it. After a couple stressful days though, its droopy leaves perked up and it was back to explosive growth, as usual. I now know that it’s best to water the plant thoroughly a couple days before repotting it and to always repot in spring or early summer, during its active season of growth. Doing both these things will lessen the stress of its move.
3. You will need water. Lots and lots of water.
If you’re out of town a lot and don’t know someone willing to drop in to water your plants, this isn’t the plant for you. An avocado tree is a thirsty, tropical plant that likes its soil to be continually moist but not soggy. My avocado tree and dog have a symbiotic relationship – all my pup’s leftover water gets dumped into my avocado tree. In instances where I’m worried about overwatering it, I use an inexpensive soil moisture meter to check that its soil is only slightly moist before dumping a fresh bowl in.
4. Watch for pests.
In my experience, plants that demand lots of moisture are also the ones that tend to attract pests. I almost lost my avocado tree to a fungus gnat infestation a year ago, but was able to stave it off with beneficial nematodes and a layer of volcanic sand. I’d recommend doing this before pests even become a problem. Beneficial nematodes are expensive and kind of spooky (microscopic roundworms that eat things in your potting soil?!), so best to just cover the surface of your avocado tree’s soil in some sort of pest-proof ground cover the moment you repot it.
5. Temper your expectations about never needing to buy an avocado again.
I know, I did the math too. (3 avocados a week) x (their usual sky-high cost) = I’m rich in a handful of years. Right? Unfortunately, it’s pretty rare for an indoor avocado tree to grow actual avocados. There are a lot of reasons for this, including needing pollination from another avocado tree and taking years to mature enough to bear fruit. Grow yours knowing it will be beautiful and decorative, not because you never want to run out for guacamole ingredients again.
6. Expect cycles of slow and fast growth.
The past two winters, I’ve worried that my avocado tree was unhappy. I was alarmed that there was no new sprout of baby leaves at the top. I’ve learned that this is normal. Even in their natural environment in Mexico, their growth often slows during cooler months.
7. Reserve your brightest window.
If you have a south-facing window in the northern hemisphere, this is the time to use it. Younger avocado trees will tolerate less direct light (like an east- or west-facing window), but larger trees prefer lots and lots of direct sunlight each day.
Remembering what an avocado tree needs is simple: more is more. With lots of sunlight and lots of water, you can transform your city apartment into a tropical rainforest in a couple years.