It was David Fairchild who said “the avocado is a food without rival among the fruits, the veritable fruit of paradise”. David Grandison Fairchild (1869 –1954) was an American botanist and plant explorer. He was responsible for the introduction of soybeans, pistachios, mangos, nectarines, dates, bamboos, flowering cherries and more than 200,000 exotic plants and crop varieties into the United States. The Fairchilds built a home on an 8-acre parcel on Biscayne Bay in Coconut Grove, Florida. He covered the property with an extraordinary collection of rare tropical trees and plants and eventually wrote a book about the place, entitled “The World Grows Round my Door”. So David already created a forest garden in the early 1900s. Fortunately for him he was in a climate where you could put a lolly stick in the ground and it starts bearing fruit within months.
When we planted our first batch of trees along the driveway, we included three avocados among them. They were planted in deep holes into the ground, just like the apples and pears of the first batch. We didn’t know any better, we didn’t do any research about wet feet in winter, we just blundered ahead, like that stubborn kid… The poor things, they were sandblasted by the dry, hot summer wind and before they could even get wet feet, the frost just shrivelled them up and killed them off.
Slowly the stubborn child got educated, but only partially. We got new stronger trees and replanted them on compost-rich heaps above the ground and we put really sturdy strong shelters around them, covered with thick shade-cloth. The first shelter I build was an elaborate wooden structure, using the form wood which we saved from the backyard renovation project. It jutted out almost onto the driveway, so it looked like a bus shelter halfway up the driveway. I even searched for an old bus stop sign to put on it, but fortunately I couldn’t find one to waste any money on. Unfortunately, we never took a photograph of the “bus shelter”!
After the first elaborate structure, I streamlined the other two to sort-of look more “normal”. This second batch of avocados was treated with Valerian every time it threatened to frost, and again after it frosted, they got more water on the hottest days in summer – and so, they survived. But they did not flourish. However, with them being so far down the driveway, it was hard to really pamper them. Besides, they still weren’t in the ideal location for their needs. (At that stage we didn’t know about permaculture zones, and common sense neither…)
Third time lucky?
After much debating of pros and cons, of effort vs yield, of let nature take its course and many more related topics, we finally decided to pull the plug on avocados in the driveway and we prepared a fresh new place for them in a very sheltered spot between our water tanks and the northern fence, where the neighbours’ conifers will form a great windbreak from the harsh summer winds. There they are also much closer to the backdoor to administer Valerian in winter and emergency water at midday on those few 40C days in summer.
I’ve had them under a light shade cloth and after a mildish summer, with only a few scorching days and already two bouts of frost this winter, they were looking better than any avocados have ever looked on Homeland. It seemed that together with a much more protected position, the light shade cloth was enough to keep the frost off them. Both times when I have sprayed Valerian after a light frost, there was no frost on them. We hoped it would work the same should we get heavier frost.
However, with this being the coldest winter we have ever experienced here (that was 2017), with the most frost, by far, the majority of the avocados are not doing so well – despite the Valerian applications and the shade cloth. The Hass avocados took a particular bad beating. The one Bacon we have is still looking in very good nick. It will be interesting to see if the Hass avocadoes can recover.
And now we are stuck with a big question – we marked out places for 5 avocadoes next to a protected fence in Dreamland. Do we risk it again?
So yes, we planted 4 different avocados next door at Dreamland. One got blasted by the harsh summer sun, as they are pretty close to the neighbour’s metal fence which radiates a lot of heat. It looks like it’s recovering, but we’ll have to see if it survives this winter’s frost. It has a good frost cover though.
Two of those Hass avocados survived the forst and recovered, even though they were set back tremendously. They are now probably a foot shorter than when we planted them… but they are looking good and growing.
It turns out the Bacon that survived the frost the best didn’t necessarily survive it because it is a Bacon, if that makes sense. On closer analysis it turns out it is protected by a huge water tank from the winter morning sun, so on those frosty days it doesn’t thaw out that quickly that it causes damage. I have since changed the shade netting on the other 3 avocados so that they are now sheltered from the morning sun. They all have shade cover, which I found is stronger than the frost cover we could get locally. I tried the frost cover, but it just tore off the frame with the first rainy wind.
Now at the tail end of the 2018 winter it seems as if my scheme of protecting the avocados on the morning sun side is working. These ones, which were severely battered last winter aren’t looking too shabby now:
- If you want to plant “exotic” fruits that are unsuitable for your region, you have to create a suitable little local ecosystem for them, with heaps of protection.
- Shade cloth and Valerian only go so far… in previous winters it worked to an extent, but this year (2017 that is) the frost was just too harsh. And they were still struck by the too-fast de-thawing morning sun…
- In our area you need to plant avocadoes on heaps of humus-rich soil so that they don’t get wet feet in the clay holes during winter, and then you have to keep them irrigated in summer so that they don’t dry out. In fact, I have our avocadoes on two irrigation lines, with taps that I can close off, so in the heat of summer they can get twice as much water, twice as frequently, than all the other fruit trees.
- Frost protection isn’t only needed around the crown – you need it on the side where the morning sun hits it too. Too fast dethawing is more detrimental than the frost itself.
In our harsh climate, avocados need a lot of TLC and a lot of protection. Can we provide enough? It’s an ongoing experiment!