One might argue that hipsters have claimed avocado toast. But sprouting avocado pits is hipsterdom on a whole different level. There are dozens of articles written on “How to Grow Your Own Avocado Pits”, and this project is all over social media. It’s trendy. But no one tells you how difficult it is to get actual avocados. I hate to be the one to break it you, but unless you graft your avocado saplings when they are mature enough, you won’t be harvesting Hass gold anytime soon. Sorry, I don’t mean to smash your avocado dreams into oxidized guacamole on stale chips.
Ok, technically, you don’t necessarily need to graft your avocado plant in order for it to produce fruit. It will just take much longer, anywhere from 7-15 years (or more), if at all. But even if it does fruit, the fruit grown from seed will likely be inedible. However, it can be done! That’s how the Hass avocado was started, after all. But today, every commercially grown Hass avocado tree is grown from grafted seedlings that have been propagated from the OG tree (now deceased). A newly grafted avocado sapling will take only about 5 years to start bearing fruit. It’s like, expediting nature.
More on grafting later.
First, let’s talk about how much fun it is to sprout an avocado pit, and how to do it! (FYI, I’m not a hipster and I know you probably aren’t either… the context just begs for it!)
This past spring, I successfully started two healthy avocado trees from seed!
It took multiple attempts. And I won’t lie, it wasn’t super easy. I know some of the online tutorials are written for third graders, but I’m a skilled pseudo-botanist and found it challenging! It definitely involved some trial and error.
At first, I attempted to grow my pit on a windowsill in the middle of January at my redwood cabin. Nothing. Nada. Not going to happen. It wasn’t warm or humid enough. Also, following common sense, I thought to myself, “Well, if an avocado tree certainly wouldn’t grow here, what makes me think an avocado pit would sprout here?” Good logic.
I decided to try again, but with four pits. I brought them to my greenhouse space, in order to give the pits as much of the environment the mature tree would favor. I stood a fighting chance.
Pro Tip: Make sure you attempt to sprout your pits in an environment similar to that favorable by the mature tree.
One week later, I saw buds forming inside the pits!
I planted them in soil after about 3 weeks. Planting the pits in soil allows the roots to soak up the necessary nutrients while they’re establishing, allowing for healthier seedlings.
Look at them roots, y’all!
How to Start an Avocado Tree from Seed
(I’m sure this is one of hundreds of lists like this, but I hope to provide you a more practical guide. Also, please read my propagation rules here on harnessing patience, confidence, and forgiveness.)
- Eat all the avocados. Take their pits – not just one, but several. Attempt more pits than you actually want to grow. This will increase your success rate.
- With the wider end of the avocado pit at the bottom, poke wooden skewers or toothpicks in the pits at an upwards angle and suspend the pits over a vessel of water. They should be halfway covered with water. They will eventually split on their own.
- Put them in a humid, warm place with indirect bright light.
- Wait patiently. Sing to them in avo cappella.
- After 3 weeks, plant the pits in a nutrient-rich soil (I used 2:2:1 potting mix:peat moss:compost). The downside to this is that you won’t see the roots grow, but the upside is that your plant will be healthier due to the nutrition in the soil.
- After the pits are planted, mist once per week for two weeks, then water regularly (2x per week).
The sprouts may not come up right away, but be patient, they will! Mine took a while. Three months to be exact.
One week later, they started taking off!
This pot was a 1 gallon size with two pits in it, which was ultimately too small, so I went ahead and transplanted each seedling into their own 1 gallon pots.
Onward and upward!
For a more in depth journey progress vlog series, watch my Instagram stories ‘Avocado’ highlight.
Little did I know, my avocado experiment turned into a lifelong project, since I do plan on growing these babies to maturity and planting them in the ground. I will never be able to live somewhere lower than agricultural zone 9b! I’ve been reading all I can about grafting fruit trees, and it’s so fascinating to me to learn about the genetic differences between seeds and fruits. The avocado fruit you spread on your toast is genetically different than the pit inside. The pit contains a reshuffling of the genomes from its parents. The avocado pit sprouts and turns into a sapling with its own rootstock, which starts over the fruiting life cycle. Grafting that rootstock with a scion of a mature variety will speed up the fruiting cycle significantly, resulting in more reliable fruit. But of course, in order for the new grafted tree to fruit, it needs to be pollinated.
Avocados are hermaphrodites, meaning they have both female and male organs in their flowers. However, avocados don’t usually self-pollinate, since their female and male flower portions are not open at the same time. They follow a flowering phenomenon known as synchronous dichogamy. The flowers open first as female in the morning for 2-3 hours, are ready to receive pollen (but to no avail), then close for the rest of the day and evening. The next day, the flowers open as males and release pollen for several hours (but the stigmas are no longer open). So how do we get around this? There are “A varieties” and “B varieties”. “A-type varieties” of avocado flowers bloom female in the morning on the first day, then bloom male in the afternoon the next day. “B-type varieties” bloom female in the afternoon on the first day, then bloom male the next morning. With hundreds of flowers blooming day after day on a continuous cycle, the flowers can be pollinated, but you’ll need more than one avocado variety.
This figure is from an amazing source¹ from UCANR, an agricultural extension blog written by University of California experts in subtropical horticulture.
Recommendations for further reading will be at the bottom of this post.
Ok, so I was successful enough to sprout my pits, and I’ve been keeping the young saplings alive. I’m serious about starting my avocados from seed the right way, so once they are about 3 feet tall, I’ll need to graft them. Have I ever grafted anything? No. Does that matter? No! My friend told me the other day, “If there was anyone who could teach themselves how to graft an avocado tree, it would be you.” And besides, you can learn anything on YouTube, right?
I even have my avocado scion connections set in place. I have a friend who owns a property with fruiting Hass and Fuerte avocado trees, and she has agreed to let me graft my avocado plants with hers! So since I have two avocado saplings, I plan to graft one of each. That way, I’ll have one with “A-type” flowers, e.g. Hass, and one with “B-type” flowers, e.g. Fuerte.
Once I’ve crossed that bridge in 1-2 years, I’ll check back in on here and write a fruit tree grafting tutorial of my own. Does anyone have experience grafting fruit trees?
- UCANR (University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources): Topics in Subtropics “Avocado Cultivars, Botanical Races and Genetic Footprints”
- “The Remarkable Avocado Flower”
- U.C. Cooperative Extension “Answers to frequently asked questions about Avocados”
If you enjoyed what you read and don’t ever want to miss a post, securely sign-up for my e-mail list here.
All photo rights belong to Cristie R. Kiley. Please ask permission before taking.