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GARDENING

How to Grow Avocados Indoors

March 01, 1997|From Associated Press

After eating an avocado, it is hard to resist planting its seed. The seed is so robust that you can imagine a 60-foot tree locked inside, waiting to be released.

Even if the seedling can never be allowed to grow large enough to yield bushels of fruit, its large size and eagerness to sprout are fascinating enough to warrant planting, especially in the winter, when any sign of plant life is welcome.

To get that seed sprouting quickly, it needs immediate planting. For thousands of years in tropical and subtropical America, people planted avocado seeds in the ground by just barely covering them with soil--and then they waited.

More recently, indoor gardeners have developed their own "traditional" planting method. They poke three toothpicks into the side of the seed so that it can perch, halfway immersed in water, on the rim of a drinking glass.

The seed could just be planted in a pot in potting soil, but then you miss being entertained by watching the roots, and the shoots, grow.

Avocado roots, like those of most other plants, need oxygen, so the seedlings would actually grow better in soil than in water. If you do grow a seedling in water, at least change the water every couple of weeks, before it gets dirty and depleted of oxygen.

One way to speed germination in soil is to remove the parchment-like seed coat and slice a thin layer from both the top and the bottom of the seed before planting. In water or in soil, set the seed with its base (the wider portion) down.

Outdoors, in Florida or California, avocado trees present lush masses of greenery; indoors, these plants are too often gangly and sparse with leaves. One reason for the plant's gawky appearance indoors is light. Lack of sufficient light causes stems to stretch for it.

Another reason is that avocados shed many buds along their stems--buds that might have grown into side branches. The gawky effect is worsened because avocados also readily shed old leaves. Just picture this plant: stretching out for light, sending out new growth mostly from the tips of branches, and shedding old leaves.

Not a very pretty sight, but you can do something about it. Most obvious is to give an avocado tree bright light. Stretching for light is exaggerated when warmth stimulates growth, so the ideal spot for the plant is at the brightest window in the coolest room. Beyond that, pruning back a stem or pinching out its growing tip stimulates branching by awakening dormant buds (not all are shed) farther down the stem. There's nothing that can be done about the shedding of older leaves.

Every indoor avocado grower holds out hope for fruit from his or her plant. A hundred years ago, Charles Dudley Warner wrote that one purpose of gardening is to teach "patience and philosophy, and the higher virtues--hope deferred and expectations blighted."

An indoor avocado, then, is a valuable teacher. The time from seed to fruiting under good growing conditions is about a decade. Indoors, this time period is lengthened, and plants may never experience good enough conditions to flower, let alone ripen fruit.

Lack of fruit on an indoor tree is no great loss, because seedling trees rarely produce fruits as tasty as those on commercial trees, which are grafted to good-tasting clones. Indoors, avocado is best looked upon as a houseplant that is inexpensive, fun to grow and somewhat attractive.

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