The avocado is a versatile and nutritious fruit that, apart from being the perfect baby food, is high in vitamin C, full of anti-oxidants, great for our skin and a good source of beneficial mono-unsaturated fats and folic acid. The avocado tree is a generous, shady evergreen tree that may be pruned as little or as much as you require.
Generally regarded as a fruit of more tropical climes, many varieties of avocado will do just fine in Melbourne, as long as the soil and drainage is just right. Click here to see Karen Sutherland explain how to grow avocados in Melbourne.
Avocados despise ‘wet feet’, so improve the drainage of your heavy clay soil with gypsum and compost well before planting, and consider planting on a slope, or a mound. Soil-wise, a slightly acid to neutral pH is fine… so aim for about 5.5 – 7 for best results.
Choose a frost-free position and remember that many avocados can reach a height of 5 – 10m at maturity, so be sure to leave enough room. Over our warm Melbourne summers you may find your avocado looking a bit average, especially in the first few years. Avocados aren’t known for their vigorous root systems and this can cause the tree to dry out much more quickly than many other plants. Keep the water up to them when it’s really hot (in accordance with local water restrictions of course).
The other thing to remember about avocados is that each variety has a different flowering habit. This sees avocados categorized into two groups, A and B. Avocados are partially self-fertile, which means they may produce a bit of fruit on their own, but their yields will be increased if you can plant one tree of each group.
However, you only need to plant an A and B type if daytime temperatures remain above 20 degrees Celsius and night time temperatures remain above 10 degrees Celsius at all times during flowering.
The three main types of avocados are Guatemalan, Mexican and West Indian. Bacon is one of the Mexican varieties of avocados, these are the hardiest group and most tolerant of cold conditions. Mature trees can tolerate temperatures to –5 C without damage, Guatemalan types are the next cold tolerant and can withstand light frosts to –2 C, while .West Indian varieties are most frost sensitive. Fuerte is another frost tolerant variety that is thought to be a natural hybrid between the Mexican and Guatemalan avocadoes. Both Bacon and Fuerte are type B avocados. Cold tolerance is related to the place origin, many type A avocados are Guatemalan hybrids, so no, there’s no type A as cold tolerant as these!
Avocados are not small trees, Wurtz is the only variety suitable for growing in a large pot, as it is a dwarf tree which grows to around 4m in the ground, the semi-dwarf Lamb Hass is taller than that in the ground. Choose Wurtz if you want a type A avocado in a pot. Frost tolerance is not an issue as you can move the pot under cover if you get very cold weather, or simply cover the tree as it won’t get much over 2.5m in a pot!
Feeding Avocados in Melbourne
For everything you need to know about feeding avocados in Melbourne head to our factsheet at http://www.baag.com.au/feeding-avocados-in-melbourne/.
How long before my avocado has fruit?
For a grafted tree you should start getting fruit 3 to 4 years after planting, not many at first, but by 7 years you should be harvesting a lot of fruit.
For a seedling grown tree, it can take between 5 and 13 years before fruiting commences.
How to tell when an avocado is ripe
Avocados ripen once harvested, and depending on the variety this can take around 7 to 10 days.
The Hass begins its life like other avocados, smooth and green, however, as they mature the skin turns that classic pebbly purple/black colour. The trick is to understand that NO avocado ripens on the tree, you need to pick the avocado to start the final ripening process. The avocado will mature on the tree (grow and develop) but not ripen. Thus you can use the tree as a holding place, just pick the avocados as you need them and leave the rest on the tree (this is within reason, leave them too long and they will fall off the tree and not be much good). Hass matures over winter. Once the fruit looks like it has reached full size (after winter) pick the largest one (it will be rock hard) and keep it inside to initiate the ripening process. To test when ripe – hold in your hand and gently squeeze (with your whole hand – don’t poke it with your thumb – you will bruise it), if there is a tiny bit of give, it is ready. Generally the fruit will turn from green to purple, and when purple is ready to eat. If the fruit never ripens, just sort of shrivels and turns to rubber, it wasn’t mature enough on the tree, wait a bit longer before you pick the next one. If you are in a hurry try putting it in a paper bag with a ripe banana, the ethylene is trapped and increases the rate of ripening.
Avocado – Bacon (B Flowering Variety): The best cold tolerant avocado, bacon will grow to a manageable height of 4m in our cooler Melbourne climate. Fruit is a medium size and quality and appears on the tree from June – late July. Unlike most other avocados the fruit will fall from the tree when ripe. Can bear fruit in Melbourne in as little as 4 years.
Avocado – Edranol (B Flowering Variety): A very well flavoured avocado. Edranol is best in a slightly sandy, well-drained soil, and will go gang-busters in a coastal location as it prefers a warmer locale. Expect a medium sized fruit with a darkish skin and butter yellow flesh.
Avocado – Fuerte (B Flowering Variety): Another great cold tolerant variety, Fuerte produces small, pear shaped fruit with a dark green skin and a fabulous nutty flavour. Fuerte can be quite a large, spreading tree reaching a height of about 8m x 12m, so give it some space. Fuerte has a tendency to produce fruit every second year (between June and October), and can take about 6 years to produce fruit in Melbourne.
Avocado – Gem: Gem Avocado is one we get asked about frequently as it is available in supermarkets, but it is only available to commercial farmers with the payment of nursery and production royalties. It is not currently available for purchase by home gardeners. This may change in the future.
Avocado – Hass (A Flowering Variety): Possibly the most popular of all avocados, Hass bears incredibly flavoursome fruits that keep well. A handsome tree to about 9m x 10m, Hass is fairly cold and frost tolerant once established, and will bear delicious fruit between September and January.
Avocado – Lamb Hass (A Flowering Variety): Very similar in appearance to Hass, with the very dark pebbly skin. The flesh is a pale green and slightly creamier than the Hass. Maturing 4-12 weeks later then the Hass and consistently producing a heavier crop than Hass.
Avocado – Pinkerton (A Flowering Variety): Bears very heavy crops of medium sized fruit. protect from frosts when young, may be cold tolerant once established, Pinkerton will bear fruit from June – August.
Avocado – Reed (A Flowering Variety): Large, round, thick skinned variety with a smooth, green skin and a rich flavour. Reed avocados store well in the fridge once cut. This variety grows to a manageable 4m x 2m, and will bear fruit after 3 years or so. Fruit matures between November and March.
Avocado – Wurtz (A Flowering Variety): A gorgeous small tree for gardens, Wurtz is a popular variety of avocado, prized for it’s rich, flavoursome fruit. Possibly a better performer in climates warmer than Melbourne, Wurtz is nevertheless a favourite of Melbourne gardeners.
Helen’s Guacamole Recipe
2 Avocados Mashed
1 Roma Tomato Diced
1 Eschalot Diced
2 tsp Lime Juice
2 tsp Cumin Powder
1 tsp Dried Thyme
1 tsp Salt (or to taste)
1 tsp Ground or Cracked Pepper (or to taste)
1 tsp Tabasco Sauce
Mix it all together… you might not need to add all of the eschalot depending on how big the avocados are. If you are using this as a spread or similar on toast, you may want to add a bit of mayo as well. Enjoy!