Last Updated on March 16, 2023 by Cristina
Growing a bonsai avocado tree is a special adventure. If you get it right you may get a bonsai avocado tree with fruit. Avocados are green gold – what better than to have a beautiful tree that also produces beautiful, delicious healthy fruit!!
I live in an area where avocado trees almost grow – other people near me have them, but my garden is a bit colder than most in my town, and this has resulted in me losing nearly 30 avocado trees over the past eight years. I have through a process of reading, and trial and error learned that for my garden, the only option I have for an avocado tree/trees, is to grow them in a pot. This means I will not have a huge giant tree, but I am limited to having a bonsai avocado tree with fruit one day. Ten to twenty avocados, produced by five to ten trees amount to a decent quantity of fruit in a year. Follow this article to learn from my mistakes, and those of other people I know too.
Avocado Trees 101
Avocado trees are native to central and South America. There are three different basic types of Avo, with the most common globally being those derived from the cluster of avocado trees that grow in and around Mexico sometimes hybridized with one of the other types. The other two types produce fruit that is a bit sweet or stringy and I tend to avoid these.
Understanding Avo Seeds
If you grow an avo from seed, you must understand that this is a completely random event. Avocados have incredible genetic diversity. If you buy for instance a Hass avocado (one of the most popular cultivars globally) and plant the seed, after 9 to 15 years depending on luck, you may get some fruit – assuming the avo can find another plant nearby that can cross-pollinate it.
The avocado is most likely not going to taste like a Hass avocado – in fact, all Hass avocados on earth are grown by taking a stem cutting from a Hass tree (derived from the original tree grown in the 1920s by Mr. Hass). These cuttings are grafted to a rootstock.
Learn more about: How To Bonsai An Avocado Tree Quick And Easy
Understanding Avo Roots
Avocado rootstocks determine the actual morphology of the resulting tree. You get giant rootstocks, medium roots stocks, and “dwarf” rootstocks. We will get back to this shortly.
Avocado roots have two functions – to hold the tree down and stop it from blowing away/over, and to source nutrients and water. Avocados tend to feed for nutrients and water in the top few inches of soil around the trunk of the tree. If you disturb this soil, you disturb your tree. As avo growers, we have to understand that this soil near the trunk of our avo is sacred. Do not disturb it – you can put compost on it, and feed the tree, but do not dig it up, or rotavate it, or anything like that. This will kill your avo.
Avocados also hate being drowned – too much water kills them. They like well-drained, compost-rich soil. If they have too much water, they get root rot, turn brown and die. I have killed at least 10 avocados this way.
How To Source A Good Avocado Tree To Get A Bonsai Avocado Tree With Fruit
I would recommend buying two grafted avocado trees. If you are growing to get a bonsai avocado tree with fruit you need to source two complimentary cross-pollinating avo trees.
Source Two Complementary Pollination Type Trees
Avocados have more complicated pollination biology than you can imagine – they are just weird – suffice it to say that if you ask your nurseryperson for avocados that can cross-pollinate, they will normally tell you they have Type A, and Type B avos, and that these can cross-pollinate. The terminology differs from area to area, and you need to just understand that if you want avo fruit, you need trees that can complement each other. You need a type A and a type B avo.
My favorite combination is a Hass (Type A) and a Fuerte (Type B). For a list of type A and type, B go here. You can never have too many Hass or Fuerte avos – both are good eating, and if you know the tricks, you can store them quite well too.
Make sure they are on dwarf rootstocks. Dwarf in an avocado is a bit of a relative term. If we look at avos like Hass, Pinkerton, and Fuerte, these typically can produce giant trees. In order to keep them smaller, we have to prune and cut our trees to keep them small. Recent advances in rootstocks have resulted in the development of Avos such as the Gem cultivar, a black skin avo grafted onto a rootstock that produces a “dwarf” tree. This is still a big tree, but not as big as its cousins.
There is no point growing a bonsai avocado tree with fruit in a very small pot – this will just be disappointing. If you use a pot about this size you will not have problems. This is not actually a wine barrel pot – it is in fact a resin plastic pot that looks like a wine barrel pot. It should last longer. I have a very nice avocado tree growing in a wine barrel pot about the same size as this, and it is one of the few avo success stories in my garden.
For my avocado trees that survived I found beach sand and washed it to remove the salt. I mixed this with compost to make a well-drained soil. Now that I figured this out, I no longer kill avo trees! You can actually buy formulated soil here.
If I had known this I would have saved thousands of dollars on the trees I have killed over the years! Now that I have made these mistakes I know how to do things, but the learning process has been EXPENSIVE!!
One of my successful potted avocados. This one is actually a double graft of two local trees that I like in my town grafted onto the rootstock of a tree that came up in a friend’s compost heap. This means that the single tree should be able to cross-pollinate itself, as it will have Type A and Type B branches on the tree. It has actually got three types of avocado in one plant – the rootstock is also growing. We shall see how it turns out! But it is a lovely robust plant and it makes me happy to look at it. Note the potatoes and Japanese parsley growing under it. The potatoes are an accident but I don’t know how to get rid of them without disturbing the roots too much so I leave them as companion plants.
When you plant an avocado you must understand how it grows in nature. Long ago, before humans got to the Americas and ate them, there were giant sloths. These ate avocados and the “eating and digesting” process removed the skin of the fruit making the seeds viable. These then “fell” down at the base of trees (remember sloths live in trees). The Avocado has a huge seed allowing the young tree to grow quite tall on just the energy in the seed – it typically uses a tree as a nursery tree to provide shelter, shade, and support.
If the sunlight hits the stem of a young avo it can actually burn and kill the tree. So you need to protect it. I have found that the most successful way to do this is to plant your avocado and surround it with other perennial, or semi-perennial plants. In my case, I used red Amaranth.
The amaranth is an aggressive grower – it ensures that the avocado has shade and shelter, and it also sucks water out of the soil. Avocados are very susceptible to root rot in their first few years – it is better than the soil dries rapidly for them to survive. These are “tropical” trees that thrive on patches of dryness followed by wetness.
After two to three years the companion plant is no longer needed. I still however plant a few things under the trees just to make sure that they have friends at their root zones. I normally plant a bit of Japanese parsley (Mistuba). The first time this happened was unintentional, but if you grow Mistuba once, and let it go to seed, you will never get rid of it. The same applies to amaranth. These things will come up in your gutters, and pavement, and for me, during the COVID lockdown I did not use my one pickup truck and I actually had a Mistuba germine in the space between the wheel hub and the tire!!
Even if you have a “dwarf” avo – trust me these things just don’t really do “dwarf” properly. Dwarf varieties easily reach 20 feet tall! As opposed to other “non-dwarf” types that can get four times that height without looking back. Avos can get huge.
You need to regularly prune and avo if you planted it to get a bonsai avocado tree with fruit. Trim it to make it bush out, and the more branches it has, the more points for flowers and hence fruit it has.
When I prune my avo I cut up the branches and throw them below the tree for nutrients and compost.
As mentioned earlier, avos feed in the top few inches of soil around the trunk. If you want a flourishing avo, you need to feed it just enough that it is happy, and not so much that you kill it. I once knew a bar that had a big avo tree. It was customary for students at the university to use it as an impromptu urinal at night. The tree thrived for 70 years with this pleasant treatment. However, the University increased in student numbers and the volume of “fertilizer” exceeded the tree’s needs it sadly died.
If you are not used to feeding trees you can buy a formulated feed such as this. Follow the instructions on the label and you will not kill your tree. The ingredients in this product look pretty harmless as well. So the risk is low.
Years To First Fruit
Do not believe all the funny adverts you see on Instagram and some posts on Youtube where people have these miracle avos that just drip fruit after a year. From seed!! This is a con. It takes three to five years for a grafted avo to produce fruit. My four-year-old grafted avos in pots definitely did not produce fruit – or even flower – at the three-year mark as promised. My friend has ten bonsai avocado trees with fruit and he planted these ten years ago – he is in his second year of fruit now.
Avocadoes need pollination. Solitary bees are ideal pollinators for them. Honeybees are too. If you have honeybees in your area they will help out. If not, buy a solitary bee nesting site. In fact, just do that anyhow – these bees are awesome and safe, and we need to conserve them. They may help your avos too. If you get this thing set up, it should have a nice population of solitary bees after a few years when you get your first avo blossoms and need pollinators.
You are now good to go growing a bonsai avocado tree with fruit (eventually). While you wait for the fruit, enjoy the beauty of the plants! Avocados have incredible energy. Their pink leaves emerge and gradually turn luminous green and then dark green. The trees are just robust and exciting! I derive great joy out of just watching these things grow. You will too. Share if you found this inspiring.
How do you grow a bonsai avocado tree?
Buy an avocado tree that is grafted and is a "dwarf" strain. Or just buy a normal Fuerte or Hass and put it in a pot and trim it so it stays small. Dwarf strains get huge. Non dwarf strains get even more so. You just have to prune it to keep it small.
How long does it take for dwarf avocado to fruit?
Three to five years. If anybody tells you they did this in less, they are probably telling fibs. Avocados grown from seed can take up to 15 years to fruit - grafted avos take three to five years as a rule of thumb.
How do I know if my avocado tree is fruiting?
You ideally need a type A and a type B avocatod tree to cross pollinate each other. After they have flowered, you will begin to see small avocados develop. If the flowers drop and another develops you have a pollination issue - consider getting a solitary bee nest (these are available on Amazon and similar vendors).
Do avocado trees grow in pots?
Yes - the pot needs to be quite big - 20 inch diameter - and filled with good quality compost rich well drained soil. Do not overwater your potted avo.
Dr. Garth A. Cambray is a Canadian/South African entrepreneur and beekeeper with 28 years of experience in apiculture and specializes in adding value to honey. His Ph.D. research developed a new advanced continuous fermentation method for making mead that has resulted in a number of companies globally being able to access markets for mead. His company, Makana Meadery, exports honey mead to the USA where it is available to discerning connoisseurs. He has also developed technologies to commercially manufacture organic honey vinegar in Zambia for export globally. He holds a few patents globally in the ethanol industry and believes in technology and knowledge transfer for human development and environmental sustainability. One of his proudest achievements is the fact that the wind farm he started at one of his old apiary sites has essentially made his hometown carbon neutral.