NMSU branding

Issue: March 28

Avocados are not a recommended tree for New Mexico

Q. Can I grow avocados in New Mexico? I live in Lovington and would love to be able to grow my own.

A. I am occasionally asked about growing avocados in New Mexico. The answer is a very weak maybe. The traditional avocado tree is a very large (30 to 65 feet tall) tree native to tropical climates. It cannot tolerate our winters. There are three races of avocado trees based on their native homelands, one race from Mexico can tolerate a slight frost, and the others can tolerate no frost.

The information presented above should imply an absolute no as an answer to your question. However, there have been some dwarf varieties sold on the nursery plant market recently. These can be grown in large containers and moved indoors when the weather is too cold. They will need a greenhouse or very bright sunroom location for the winter. Some of these may need some tip pruning to keep them from getting too tall for the wintering location. In this form they will be kept as shrubs rather than trees.

Another complicating factor is that the avocado plant has a very complex pollination procedure. The male and female parts of the flower are often not mature at the same time. One type matures the female flower in the morning and the male flower in the afternoon. Another type reverses the order of maturation. This complicates pollination, but some of the dwarf avocado trees are reported to be at least somewhat self-fertile, meaning that they will form fruit even if you have a single plant. You may have to help with the pollination by using a paint brush to transfer pollen from the anthers (male flower parts that make pollen) to the stigma (female flower part that receives the pollen). However, if there is a breeze when the plant is flowering, your assistance may not be necessary.

Wind may become another problem, however. Since these plants are native to very humid climates with acid soils, the mineral salts dissolved in our water combined with the wind may result in significant salt burn and damage to the leaves. Wind protection and care to acidify the soil (and irrigation water) may be necessary to minimize the problem.

There are several nurseries that advertise the dwarf avocados on the internet. There appears to be some debate among them as to which variety is best and concern that some do not sell plants with an adequate roots system (a good root system is very critical to the avocado's survival).

So, the answer to your question is that it may be possible for you to grow a few avocados on your own dwarf trees if you are able to move the large, heavy pot containing the dwarf tree indoors during the winter (keep the pot on a heavy duty furniture dolly); if you have a proper location to winter it (greenhouse or bright sunroom); if the summer location can be protected from drying winds; and salt burn does not become excessive due to the minerals in irrigation water. It will be cheaper to purchase avocados, but more fun to grow your own. The nutritional value of avocados is another incentive, but you must decide if the effort and cost are worth it (the plants are not inexpensive).

New Mexico is not an avocado growing state. California, Texas (lower Rio Grande Valley), and Florida grow avocados. The Cooperative Extension Services of their Land Grant Universities are good sources of additional information about growing avocados.

For more gardening information, visit the NMSU Extension publications World Wide Web site at http://aces.nmsu.edu/pubs/_h.

Send your gardening questions to:

Yard and Garden, Attn: Dr. Curtis Smith
NMSU Agricultural Science Center
1036 Miller Rd. SW
Los Lunas, NM 87031

Curtis W. Smith, Ph.D., is an Extension Horticulture Specialist with New Mexico State University's Cooperative Extension Service. NMSU and the U.S. Department of Agriculture cooperating.