Hello fellow readers, I adore meeting folks who take time to chat. Jolee pulled me towards Cheryl of Blairstown, NJ, as she was grabbing her mail, resulting in a lovely chat leading to her avocado dilemma: How fun to revisit the magic of sprouting avocado seeds in water.
After niceties about Jolee’s adorableness, she asked, “don’t you write about plants and things?” Then questions about her avocado. She started it as a science experiment. “It was doing so well until I brought it inside before the frost, and the leaves are now turning brown.”
Though lacking recent avocado experience, I surmised Cheryl’s plant went into shock, changing from the outside world to home heating. For most plants, a change in light or humidity can make leaves brown and drop.
Avocados like it warm.
Avocados (Persea) are tropical (zones 10-12) and can’t take any temps below 45 degrees. So perhaps Cheryl didn’t bring hers in early enough. They need to be kept moist but not saturated. If the leaves begin to yellow, it’s likely from overwatering. Underwatering, frost, or water with an abundance of salt or chlorine can also cause leaves to brown.
“Are you a teacher?” Cheryl smiled then shared she has a daycare facility providing before and after school care and helps kids with their homework.
“The science teacher didn’t know about the avocado experiment. It’s a wonderful way to inspire children to admire plants,” she said. Indeed Cheryl is a teacher and nurturer of growth.
She inspired me to be a big kid and sprout one of my own. Dusting off the cobwebs on how-to, It occurs to me there are life lessons in the instructions.
Open a ripe avocado carefully, so you don’t cut the seed. Then wash it gently, keeping the brown skin intact, a protective seed cover. Yup, it’s a seed, not a pit which seems odd given its size. But pits, such as peach, plum, and cherry, are protective shells for the seeds inside.
It’s not always easy to determine which end is up.
Some avocado seeds are almost perfectly round, as was mine, but the pointier end must be on the top as the flatter end is where the roots will sprout. Stick three toothpicks evenly spaced in the middle of the seed at a slight upward angle so when it sets on the glass, half the seed will be emersed. Choose a sunny spot and a transparent glass so you can watch the magic as the roots develop, changing the water every week or so to prevent mold.
Don’t be alarmed when it cracks.
The taproot will emerge from the bottom crack, usually in two to six weeks; then, it will sprout its upper growth.
Once the stem grows to six inches, cut it to three to encourage branching. And after it grows another six inches, plant the seed in an 8 to 10-inch pot with potting mix, leaving the top half of the seed exposed.
Plants, like people, grow best with a solid foundation.
When your baby plant reaches a foot tall, pinch off the top two sets of leaves and continue to do so with every six inches of new growth. That way, you encourage side shoots and a stronger, fuller plant.
There’s a technique of sprouting avocado seeds using a damp paper towel in a plastic food bag left in the dark at room temperature. The flaw is the paper towel must stay moist, so you’ll have to check it frequently. Plus, you’ll miss the magic; and what’s the fun in that?
Garden Dilemmas? AskMaryStone@gmail.com (and your favorite Podcast App.)
Indoor fruiting is virtually impossible
Avocados grown commercially are grafted to bear fruit in three to four years. Grafted plants use one plant’s bottom portion and roots, called rootstock, with the young upper shoots, called scion, of another plant.
Grown naturally avocados take fifteen or more years to fruit. Indoor fruiting is virtually impossible as plants need cool nights to force blooming and fruiting.
Avacado flowers behave unusually:
While avocado trees are technically self-pollinating and the flowers are complete, each having male and female parts, they behave unusually. Each flower opens and closes twice, opening for about half the day in each of two consecutive days. On the first day, they function as females; on the second day, as males with pollen for fertilization to produce fruit.
Magically most flowers on one tree will open all males or females simultaneously to encourage cross-pollination with another tree—nature’s amazing evolution to increase genetic diversity.
More about The Magic of Seeds
This story is featured in Episode 39 of the Garden Dilemmas, Delights & Discoveries Podcast
Oh, how fondly I remember growing an avocado “tree.” I had a book titled something like “The Avocado Pit Grower’s How To Do It Book.” For many years, I had a large, healthy plant. No fruit, but it was a pretty plant with wonderful glossy leaves! Thanks for writing about this. In my mind ‘s eye, I can still see that plant in a couple of different places I lived: Pittsburgh, New Haven, and even Toronto!
Hi Mary, How fun to hear about your successful avocado experience :^). I watch my “science project” every day with excitement and anticipation. It is such fun to be a big kid. And, to have something green grow out of it, even better. Thank you for reading my column. It means so much, Mary
Rather a problem: “Some avocado seeds are almost perfectly round, as was mine, but the pointier end must be on the top as the flatter end is where the roots will sprout.” But, courteously, you do not say what to do about that problem.
When a seed is perfectly round, as the one I have is, as it has now cracked and is read for soil, if I assume that the crack leads to ‘bottom’ of the pit, and plant that side down, I think that is the best I can do.
Hi Jake, Yes, I found that to be true. But during my “experiment,” I let the seed continue to grow in water until it formed further to be sure it was indeed the tap root. It was fascinating to watch. Thank you for reading the story and for your excellent question. We learn as we go, and plants have much to teach. Enjoy your baby avocado :^), Mary