One of the major attractions of Florida for many people is our ability to grow a variety of tropical and subtropical fruits. It was at the very top of my list when I decided to return to Florida from a slightly cooler region. Having lived between Miami, Florida and two Caribbean Islands, I am very familiar with having a great variety of tropical fruits in the landscape. The avocado tree, known as Avocado-pear where I grew up, is a specific favorite of mine.
Avocado cultivation in Florida has a history dating back many decades. It is one of the most important economic tree crops in Miami-Dade and Collier counties. Generally, homeowners grow one or two fruit trees, depending upon the size of their residential lots. Although avocado trees do not require much maintenance, there are a few cultivation practices to follow in order to reap the best production experience.
Know Your Variety
How large will your avocado tree become when fully grown? Have you planted it to give it the optimum amount of space once fully mature with no competition or shade from nearby trees? When will this variety flower and fruit? You may want to choose a late bloomer for a delayed crop if you are a seasonal resident. The Guatemalan varieties are late producers.
Our “Florida” avocados are typically the larger fruiting variety. There are also some hybrids available. If you like the typical grocery-store variety, the smaller “Haas” avocado is what you want. Consider, also, the purple-skinned “Brogdon” as it has a higher cold-tolerance and may be grown as far north as Sebastian, Florida. The red-skinned “Hardee” is another good-tasting variation. The University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Electronic Data Information Source (UF/IFAS EDIS) publication, “Avocado Growing in the Florida Home Landscape” has a chart showing many varieties to choose from. It lists their cold tolerance, fruit color, production rate, race, and season of maturity. You could have fresh avocado off your own tree from the end of May through February!
As most of us well know, Florida is prone to the occasional stormy weather. Wind-scaping, landscaping with prevailing-wind in mind, should be considered when choosing where to plant large trees in the home landscape. Avocado trees are NOT very strong trees nor are they wind tolerant. Their limbs can and will break in very strong winds or under the weight of a full crop of fruit. Plant your avocado tree in a space where the occasional fallen limb will not damage high value items- sheds, vehicles, boats, utilities, or residence.
Be a Good Scout
Scout your avocado tree weekly. Check for overall health, insect pests, or disease issues. Make literal notes of when the issue began to see if action needs to be taken. Many pests may be knocked back by local beneficial insects. Spraying too quickly will kill the “good-guys” as well as the bad ones. If unsure, take clear photos and email them to your local Master Gardener Volunteers for specific insect identification. But if an infestation does occur, take action. Make detailed notes of when you sprayed, with what chemical, and quantity of chemical used. Be sure the insecticide is labeled for fruit trees or edibles.
With the exception of Laurel Wilt Disease, most avocado fungal diseases may be remedied with timely applications of fungicide. Keep detailed notes of when the issue began, how it was diagnosed, and when it was treated. If rain occurs before the fungicide product had time to dry, reapplication may be necessary. Again, be sure the fungicide is labeled for use on edible fruit trees. Read chemical packaging thoroughly. The label is the law!
And the best part of scouting is finding that first bloom stalk! I try not to count my fruits before they mature, but it is amazing to see them develop, to watch the immature fruits swell over the next weeks. My anticipation is part of the fun.
The Killing Chill
Avocado trees are NOT cold tolerant. They prefer tropical climates. Try to find the warmest, most wind protected part of the landscape and plant your tree there. Occasional cool temperatures which stay above freezing are tolerated but frost could mean the loss of flowers, young fruit, leaves, or even the tree. Take extra precautions, especially with young trees, when extremely cold weather or frost is expected in your area.
To get you started, here is the Avocado page of the UF/IFAS Gardening Solutions website, https://gardeningsolutions.ifas.ufl.edu/plants/edibles/vegetables/avocados.html.
“Avocado Growing in the Florida Home Landscape” from UF/IFAS EDIS is a superb reference publication to keep on hand for anyone growing avocado trees in their landscape.