I go through avocados like most people go through their morning cup of joe…well, I go through that pretty quickly too. But you understand, I eat lots of avocados. Then, I read somewhere that instead of throwing away the avocado seed, I could use it to grow my own avocado tree! Can you imagine plucking your own avocados right from the plant each time you wanted to make guacamole or top your toast? I had to go on this adventure. Of course, I live in Chicago, and avocado trees like to live in places like Florida. So, I have no choice but to learn how to grow an avocado indoors. So here is what I’ve been learning about Persea Americana (that’s fancy for avocado) and where I’m at on this superfruit journey so far.
Sprouting Your Avocado Pit: How To Grow Avocados Indoors
There is quite a lot of advice out there on these unique houseplants, but I’ve not found it all to be useful. So far, each time I’ve tried, which is many times, I’ve sprouted my seed successfully with next to no effort. This is what has been working for me in 5 steps.
Gently remove the seed (pit) without breaking or puncturing it greatly and place it in a glass of water to soak overnight. This will make the next few steps go more smoothly.
Peel the thin brown seed cover from the pit. Most people will tell you not to do this, and I’m not sure why. But, I’ve also read that this cover can be a source of pathogens that can cause problems. Either way, it’s working. So peel that skin!
Press toothpicks into the sides of your pit. Don’t worry; it doesn’t hurt them.
Identify the top and bottom of the seed and use the toothpicks to suspend the pit in a glass of water, bottom side down. Usually, the pit is an oblong shape, similar to an egg. The top is pointed while the bottom is flatter and usually has a lightly colored ring around the base. When the seed splits, the root will grow down into the cup of water, and the stem will come out of the top.
Place the glass in a warm place, out of the way of harsh direct sunlight, like a windowsill. Make sure to refill your glass as needed to ensure that the base of the seed remains in the water.
Most of us have only experienced a few avocado varieties in grocery stores, such as Fuerte winter, Hass, Gwen, Bacon, and Pinkerton. But there are more than 50 avocado varieties in existence. Most of these varieties are uncommon and are only available in their native regions.
For indoor growing, you want a cultivar that is a mature height of only about 8-16 feet tall. Larger avocado varieties that grow over 20 feet are not recommended for most homes. The smaller varieties, call dwarf varieties, include the following types:
- Lamb Hass
- Little Cado
Plant Your Avocado Seedling – The Perfect Condo Avocado Tree
When To Plant
When your stem is about 6 inches tall, and you have a few healthy leaves, you are ready to plant. This can take quite some time. You may not see roots and stem sprout from the split seed for up to 6 weeks. I have read that if you see no progress within eight weeks, go ahead and give up on your seed and try again. But, I have never experienced this.
When your stem is about 6 inches long, cut it back to 3 inches, then wait for new leaves to grow before planting. This is not an absolute necessity. I have planted several seedlings without doing this. However, pruning it back to about 3 inches can promote new growth and a strong stem. Trust me, I almost fainted the first time I did this because every plant is precious, but it was effective. So, give it a try.
Pot and Add Potting Soil
Avocados enjoy good drainage, so choose a more sandy soil like a potting mix meant for cacti or succulents. Never use a regular garden soil on any of your houseplants. Here are some recommended options for potting mix:
- Miracle-Gro Cactus Palm and Citrus Potting Mix
- Espoma AP 8-Quart Organic Potting Mix
- Perfect Plant Organic Potting Mix
Choose a terra cotta pot with drainage holes that is at least 10cm wide and about twice the root’s depth.
When Should You Repot An Avocado Tree?
When your Avocado tree becomes root-bound (the root ball becomes a tight mass with little room to expand), you know it’s time to repot your Avocado tree. You can check this by sticking your hand inside the soil and feeling the root system. Repotting is typically the most successful in the spring, and you should expect to repot every 1-2 years.
Avocado Plant Care – Grow Avocado Indoors
Water regularly but not excessively. This plant loves to be well hydrated but must have adequate drainage to avoid root rot. Like watering a succulent, water your tree deeply until water drips from the bottom of the pot. Then, allow the soil to drain and dry before watering again. I have found about once, sometimes twice a week, to be about right, but you can test your soil by dipping your fingers in it to the second knuckle. Overwatering can lead to root rot and yellowing leaves. If you begin to see yellowing leaves, allow your soil to dry completely before watering again.
If you begin to see browning and drying on the tips of your leaves, you may have a build-up of salt in the soil. You can solve this by exclusively using rainwater to water your tree. Or you can flush the soil by running distilled water through the soil continuously for a few minutes.
Avocado trees thrive in warm places with moderate humidity. West Indian varieties (Pollock, Russel, Simmonds) prefer 65% humidity, Mexican cultivars (Hass, Brazos Bell, Brogdon) want 45-60%, and Guatemalan varieties (Fuerte, Wurtz) should have 60% humidity.
If your home lacks the necessary humidity, start by purchasing a simple humidifier to give them the moisture they need.
Sunlight and Heat
Your avocado will enjoy full sun, so a south-facing window, or supplementary sun lamp, especially in the winter months, will be best. They also enjoy rather specific temperatures. 65-85 degrees Fahrenheit makes for a very happy tree. Like many, I happen to enjoy a similar environment in my apartment, so this makes the avocado a fantastic indoor plant.
Feed Your Tree
Fertilize with water-soluble fertilizer about once a month, especially during the growing season (typically the more warm and sunny months). Fertilizers meant for citrus trees are recommended.
Prune Your Tree
This is a bit scary for me but necessary for potted avocados to keep their size manageable while promoting a healthy root system and new growth.
I mentioned before that when your sprout grows to 6 inches in the cup, you should cut it back to 3, then wait for new leaves before planting. That’s the first pruning.
The second major pruning should happen at 12 inches. Cut the stem back down to about 6 inches, cutting just above the growth node (base of a growing leaf). This will encourage your plant to grow new lateral stems, creating a much stronger, more shapely tree.
You can continue to trim new growth every 6 inches or so. Trim like this during the plant’s first year. After this, you can continue to shape your tree with occasional pruning.
Here is the rather unfortunate news: there is no guarantee that an avocado grown indoors will produce fruit. However, though it can take years, it is not impossible! I’m in this for the long haul and don’t mind putting in the work, so here we go!
Buy A Grafted Tree
If the goal is to grow new fruit, some advise that you buy a cultivated indoor avocado tree from a store instead of growing from seed at home. These plants have been grafted rootstock for the ideal combination of avocado varieties to guarantee health and fruiting production.
Where To Buy A Grafted Avocado Tree
If you plan to purchase a grafted avocado fruit tree, you can either do so through a nursery or an online provider like Amazon or Etsy. This option can be slightly expensive, with indoor saplings costing anywhere from $90 to $250. Here are some of our favorite growers for grafted fruiting avocado trees:
Grafting Avocado Trees
You can also graft an avocado tree cutting onto the rootstock of your avocado tree for a cheaper option. This is the method that nurseries use before charging exorbitant prices.
To graft an avocado tree, you’ll need to purchase scion wood from a nursery or other provider. Here’s a good option from Etsy:
Scion wood usually costs about $20 and includes multiple fresh-cut scion wood pieces.
The most popular approach to graft avocados is the cleft graft, a technique that has been used for decades to graft avocados. To graft, first cut a vertical split in the middle of the rootstock. Cut the bottom of the scion wood to a point and insert it into the rootstock’s split. The light green area, called the cambium layer, of both the rootstock and the scion wood should touch. For full instructions on how to properly graft your avocado tree, check out this simple tutorial video:
One thing to point out is that grafting is more of an art than a science. You can only expect an avocado graft success rate of 60-80%, so don’t get disheartened if you struggle the first couple of times. For this reason, we recommend that you purchase multiple scion wood pieces to help stack the odds in your favor.
In order for your avocado tree to bear fruit indoors, you will have to take on the work of the bees yourself. Pollinating by hand can be straightforward. You can use a paintbrush or Q-tip to spread the pollen from one bloom to another. Another way to promote pollination is to have an oscillating fan blowing near your avocado tree.
Though your avocado tree enjoys warmer temperatures during the day, fruiting requires cooler nights. This is one reason that indoor trees often do not fruit. However, lower temperatures should not dip beneath 50 degrees Fahrenheit.
That’s it! Most of my trees are just over one foot tall right now, so I’ll be updating this post as they grow, and I learn and experiment. I’m having so much fun and can’t wait to see if I can feed my avocado habit from my own indoor grove.
How Big Do Avocado Trees Get?
Avocado trees can grow up to 80 ft tall when fully grown, and they can live more than 100 years. The avocado tree in a container will start to fruit when it reaches 6-8 feet, which will typically take 2-3 years before this point.
Are Avocado Trees Toxic To Pets?
Avocado leaves, seeds, bark, and fruits all contain a compound called persin, similar to a fatty acid. Persin is toxic to a wide range of animals – some more than others. For instance, persin can cause dogs and cats to vomit and have diarrhea, but it is not typically life-threatening. However, persin can cause animals like horses, birds, or rodents to become seriously ill.
Avocados are beautiful houseplants that thrive with limited amounts of maintenance. Of the ones we’ve germinated, only two bit the dust – and both of the untimely deaths were caused by pets terrorizing them. Our cats offed the first one, and then a friend of ours plant-sat the other – and her pet bunny Claude decided to plow down the sapling.
So pet deforestation notwithstanding, these are simple plants to grow. Getting them to fruit is a challenge, but it’s possible with proper grafting.
So crack open an avocado, and when you’re done putting it on toast or making guacamole, save the seed and start your very own avocado grove today.