Growing Avocados In Phoenix Arizona

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Photo
The avocado tree on the right was photographed in March of 2009, which is about 1.5 years after it was planted in October of 2007. It is planted on the north side of a wall and the east side of a large pine tree. The pine tree almost overhangs the avocado, so it gets morning sun and afternoon shade.

This avocado tree is a variety named Winter Mexican, a Mexican x West Indian hybrid, and was mail ordered from Florida. It is doing really well so far and has almost doubled in size to 6 feet tall. It has flowered once but has not set any fruit. This plant has also tolerated 115 F. in the middle of summer without problems, and there should be no worries of this variety being damaged in the winter because it is reportedly hardy to 22 F. This avocado tree shows no signs of salt burn which is quite amazing considering my experience with other avocado trees.

Previously, I attempted to grow two avocados trees from California and they both died. All the avocado trees available in local stores are from California.

Winter Mexican Avocado Tree

My first attempt, a Haas avocado tree, was planted in early spring and died in the
middle of summer, even though it was in full shade. The Haas shriveled up like a piece of lettuce in the sun when temperatures went over 115 degrees Fahrenheit. It just couldn't take the heat.

My second California avocado attempt was a variety called Zutano. It took the heat better than the Haas and faired well in the winter even when temperatures went down to 26 F., which is very unusual weather for the Phoenix metro area. However, the Zutano slowly racked up salt burn damage which eventually finished it off. It lasted about 2.5 years, and didn't grow much if at all.

Florida avocado trees might do better here in Arizona than the California grown plants because they are grown on more salt resistent rootstock such as Lula and Waldin, where as the California variety rootstocks are more resistant to root rot, but salt sensitive.

Overview
Avocado trees seem to be the gardening urban legend of Phoenix. Supposedly there are large mature avocados somewhere in the Phoenix area, producing bushels of wonderful fruit, and when the moon is full there are fairies and leprechauns playing in the branches. Okay, I made that last part up, but I have yet to see a large avocado tree growing and producing in the ground here. The above picture does show that there is hope but the jury is still out as to whether this tree will at some point produce delicious fruit. The main problems with growing avocados in Phoenix is that they don't like the summer heat or the salty soil and water. Winter cold does not seem to be a problem with the more hardy varieties.

Heat Tolerance and Sun Exposure
Young avocado trees definitely need afternoon shade in the lower Sonoran Desert and should be shielded from the sun with shade cloth in June, July, and August. Being on the east side of a deciduous tree is an ideal spot because the tree will get the protection it needs in the summer, but will get full sun in the winter. As for heat tolerance by variety, I have found that Haas avocado trees cannot take the summer heat here no matter how much shade they get while other varieties fare better.

Cold Tolerance
The more cold tolerant Mexican avocado varieties are able to take temperatures as low as citrus trees can. So, there is not much reason to be concerned about them in developed areas of town. My Zutano tree survived temperatures as low as 26 F. without a single damaged leaf, while many of the ficus trees in the neighborhood were killed. I have not seen no evidence of frost damage on my Winter Mexican avocado tree and it has been in the ground two full winters with no protection.

Planting
Dig a hole at least twice the size of the rootball. At a minimum, make the hole 2 feet in diameter and 2 feet deep. Back fill the whole with the same native soil that was removed. It also is a good idea to finish with the hole an inch or two recessed so that a watering basin is formed. After planting, spread a thin layer of compost on top of the soil to help conserve moisture and to supply some nutrients.

Watering method
The biggest challenge for growing an avocado tree here is the salinity of the soil and water. Basin irrigation is the most effective watering method for pushing salt away from the trees root ball.

Watering frequency
Avocado trees do well on a grass watering schedule. An occasional deep soak is beneficial if the trees leaves are showing signs of salt burn. Deep soaking is done by turning the house on very low and letting it run at the base of the tree for several hours. Deep soaking will help to wash salt to the edges of the area of soaked soil. After deep soaking, one can often see a visible ring of salt.

Fertilizing and Growth Rate
Avocados are very salt sensitive, so it is safest not to use any chemical or organic fertilizers on them. Maintaining a light layer of compost around the trees base is the safest way to supply it with extra nutrients.

Pests
Avocados have no significant pest problems in Arizona.

Links to more avocado information

Growing avocados at TAMU      Growing avocados at CRFG      Avocados at Wikipedia