Avocado Tree: Transplanting from Jar to New Home

Transplanting avocado tree from jar to pot

From jar to pot in one piece!

A wee avocado tree is a snap to transplant the first time, from jar to pot. All you have to do is take it out of the jar and put it in the pot. Right?

Well, almost.

An avocado tree is fun to grow indoors (unless you’re a cat)

Back in May this year, I posted about growing an avocado tree from seed, and included a couple of videos with minimum conflicting advice. I followed the average of all the advice, hung an avocado seed in a small jar by a trio of sturdy toothpicks, kept it watered and fed and amused, and almost entirely safe from harm. It grew quite nicely (despite a close encounter of the cat elbow kind).

With Mr Avocado Tree (Ms?) rapidly outgrowing his (her?) fourth and final mason jar —the largest one I own— it’s become evident that I need to start buying 5-gallon pickle jars worthy of a country store counter, or get this kid into his own dirt.

The avocado tree does not listen to experts

It is possible to watch too many how-to videos. Read too many advice articles. Listen to too many experienced horticulturists. Try to sort out too many conflicting Thou Shalts and You Absolutely Musts.

That’s the trap I found myself in this morning.

Since I’m still a certifiable newbie gardener, I immediately asked Professor Google how to transplant the avocado tree. Faced with 299,000 results, I gulped down a mug of coffee and settled in to speed-read.


So I had to decide to:

  • Wait until it’s three inches tall or
  • Wait until it’s ten inches tall.
  • Don’t transplant until it has three leaves or
  • Wait until it has 20 leaves.
  • Use a very small pot where the roots barely fit or
  • Use a very large pot to give it lots of room.
  • Position the tree so that the seed is above the level of the soil or
  • Position the tree so that the seed is right at soil level.

and furthermore…

  • Make sure to keep the toothpicks on or
  • Snip them off to avoid damage to the seed.
  • Use a mix of vermiculite, soil, worm castings or
  • Use a mix of soil, compost and sand (or many more variations).
  • Water the pot lightly or
  • Water the pot thoroughly and let drain.
  • Fertilize with —

Oh, the heck with it.

I decided to think like an avocado instead.

Avocado falls from tree, bird picks it up or it rolls down hill. Avocado gets stuck in some dirt or rolls into highway. Avocado grows or it doesn’t grow. Probably not if it’s on highway.

Avocado tree being supervised by Wingnut.

Apprentice Supervisor cat reports: Soil is all nicely floofed and patted and pawed and watered.

There’s no flock of wee garden gnomes following avocados around, toting bags of soil amended with vermiculite, worm castings and sand, fur-padded trowels to move the stranded ‘cado into just the right spot without bruising their minute toes, and bottles of specially balanced nutrient rich avocado-tree food.

So I dumped some dirt into a 6″ pot, floofed it up with my fingers and even tossed it a bit in the air (to emulate the effects of a windy hillside, don’tcha know), made a hill of it, took the tree out of the jar, put the tree in the pot, and watered it.

Enough fussing around. If it grows, it grows. If it doesn’t, it’s probably lucky that it won’t have to try to deal with Annie Godzilla Wingnut, my assistant apprentice gardener supervisor cat.

To your garden success!
Casey – the Garden Lass

Avocado Tree Victim of Ditzy Gardener

Avocado tree is not supposed to lean sideways without wind

Mr. Avocado Tree (Ms?) is not supposed to lean sideways without wind

Dear Mr. Avocado Tree, my humble apologies

While rushing around this morning to make up for a late start, I bumped your home jar and broke off one of your tripod supports (aka ancient soaking-wet toothpick).

Even though I dropped everything and rushed to save you, I still heard little avocado’y gasps of terror as you lurched sideways toward the yawning chasm at your feet (aka the dining room floor).

On any other day, I’d tend to blame Annie ‘Godzilla’ Wingnut the Cat, but I can’t. She was on the floor, glaring up at me in disapproval as my elbow hit the sharp pointy thing on top of the place where plants are supposedly out of reach of the cat but aren’t really.

They’re not safe from ditzy gardener elbows, if today is any indication.

Wingnut the Cat is not an avocado tree killer

Wingnut the Cat has no problem jumping up on that out-of-reach place, slinking through the four-plant jungle with the grace of a jaguar and not knocking a single leaf out of place.

I, on the other hand, am not a jaguar.

So, dear Mr. Avocado Tree, I fear I may have knocked ten years off your lifespan and left you with a lifelong limp to the left. Or right. Or west.

I will continue to care for you with enthusiasm, changing your water every time it turns greenish and gasping with glee each time a new leaf appears to think about sprouting.

Be forewarned, Mr. Avocado Tree

I can’t be sure that my ditzy elbow won’t send you reeling and teetering toward the floor next time. We’ll have to get you planted in dirt soon, so please hurry up and sprout two more leaves so we can follow the directions in the video that started me off with this avocado growing nonsense.

Meanwhile, I hope you enjoy the new jar and tripod. Let me know if you want an Epsom salt soak for that crooked root.

To your garden success!
Casey – the Garden Lass


Avocado Tree Success Depends on Location, Location, and Location

Avocado now has six whole leaves!

Mr. Avocado Tree (Ms?) now has a whole six leaves!

This new avocado tree doesn’t know it yet, but it is destined to be an indoor ornamental attraction.

Although it is doing quite well in its spaghetti jar, and popped its sixth leaf just the other day in a burst of extreme hopefulness, the odds are quite high that it will spend its life in a 18″ ceramic pot near the patio door. In the sunny shade. Indoors. Alone.

With apologies to the dedicated avocado ranchers who struggle to provide a lovely avocado harvest to our local mercado and allow me to make a ton of guacamole if I so choose (which I really don’t), the fruit of an avocado tree needs to come with a warning label:

“DO NOT PLANT THIS SEED if you’re over the age of 30 and do not really intend to grow a lonely fruitless avocado tree in your patio room, or if you live in the mountains or high desert, unless you have kids doing science projects.”

Ok… It’s a bit long. We can work on that.

After starting to grow the avocado seed, and only THEN reading a wealth of information about growing an avocado tree from seed and when to predict the bountiful harvest of its fruit, I know that my future as an avocado baroness with strong ties to the high desert is grim. I would not have built such beautiful dreams if only there had been a warning label.

Avocado trees are suitable for Zones 9 through 11

Avocado trees can grow in the desert! Avocados grow around Los Angeles all the time (among other places, of course—just not this place). This comes as no surprise given where Los Angeles is—in a desert. However, even though it’s a mere 125 miles away, its desert is not my desert. No, no, not at all.

According to the nice folks at University of California’s Agriculture & Natural Resources, “Most areas of Southern California are suitable for avocados except for the mountains and high deserts where it gets too cold and too dry for fruit set.” (We’re in the high desert to which they refer. Just my luck.)

Get yer avocado tree results here!

Get yer avocado tree results here!

That said, their desert differs from our desert in that green stuff grows there all the time—with the help of massive amounts of water, sunshine, patience, proper unlimited growing season, mildly high temperatures year ’round, and time.

Here? not so much.

Out here in the high desert, those who can afford the staggering water bills can make green stuff grow quite handily—possibly even avocado trees. Those hardy souls who can afford the water can also afford the cost of having someone out and grow stuff for them.

For the rest of us without an aqueduct bringing us water, we buy most of our green stuff in the supermarket down the road.

An avocado tree planted from seed takes 5 to 13 years (or more) before they flower and produce fruit

That means I’ll be close to 76 years old when the first flowers show up on Mr. (Ms?) Avocado Tree In a Jar  (if I’m lucky and it’s not “or more” years). I doubt I’ll be doing a whole bunch of avocado harvesting.

Then there’s the fact that avocado trees can reach around 15 feet high by the time they bear their first fruit. Since I’m not likely to grow up to be Pioneer Woman, standing on tall ladders at 90 years old and doing my own roof repairs (since I’m petrified of step stools—and FORGET ROOFS), this is getting less hopeful by the minute.

Managing Expectations is Nine-Tenths of the Job

So Ms. (Mr?) Avocado Tree in a Jar, doomed to squat in lonely solitude next to the patio door in a big ceramic pot: So sorry to disappoint.

But unless your bark comes with a built-in time travel device, and you’re prepared to whisk back to 1973 and join me when I lived in a high-rise in Santa Monica, your future is fruitless. Pun intended.

To your garden success!
Casey – the Garden Lass

How to Grow Avocado Trees From Seeds

Avocado - not just a fruit, but an entire lifetime of weird growing experiments.

Avocado – not just a misunderstood fruit — an entire lifetime of weird growing experiments.

In the spirit of getting back on the horse that threw me (and made me give away “all” my trees), after the 2.5 day mourning-and-kicking-myself period, I’ve decided to plant a tree.

“Why!?” I hear you scream. Oh, wait… That was me again.

I take it back. I’m not planting a tree. I’m going to try to grow avocado trees from seed. I’ve tried this about a gazillion times in my life. The resulting mess usually ends up in the compost heap in a week, or in the trash in a few months. Or I forget which windowsill I put the soaking seed thingie on and find it after several months, shriveled and dead. That was, of course, before I started to Learn To Garden.

I’m doing nothing different from what thousands of fourth graders do across the nation at least once a year. Why should they have all the fun, eh?

“Good morning, class. This week, we’re going to grow avocado trees from seeds. Next month, we’ll be rewriting the Declaration of Independence on handmade paper we’ll made from the bark of our avocado trees and quill pens fashioned from feathers of the geese we raised from eggs last year in the marshes we designed in kindergarten – remember those?” (That’s Martha Stewart teaching in our elementary schools.)

How to Grow Avocado Trees in the Frozen North

I wouldn’t even attempt this again, except I found this nifty video a few minutes ago, and it inspired me to give it yet another shot. Luckily my ever-patient husband likes avocados even more than I do – not that there’s any guarantee this thing will ever produce a single fruit.

Now, he says he’s in far eastern Canada, and look how well it’s doing. But since we’re in California, I figure I should look at other people’s advice.

How to Grow Avocado Trees a bit Closer to Home

This one is from WisconsinGarden, who is … in Wisconsin. Closer!

Somehow I get the feeling I am not getting the whole picture yet. So tomorrow, before I go get avocados from the avocado store, I’ll see if I can find advice closer to home.

Tamarind, Cypress, Eucalyptus – Trees Dearly Departed

Not my tamarind tree - this one is in India where it belongs.

Not my tamarind tree – this one is in India where it belongs.

I did the unthinkable this morning. I gave away three of my three remaining trees -bequeathed into the professional, loving hands of Debbie at Earth Landscaping.

“Why!?” I hear you scream. Oh, wait… That was me.

Trees don’t just grow on trees, y’know

I could get philosophical… “Success stands upon the backs of a thousand failures.”

I could get mad… “Why won’t my house hold 100-foot-tall trees and 150-foot-deep root systems?! It’s not FAIR! *wahh*”

The fact is it wouldn’t do any good for me to get mad or philosophical about the way that plants grow or don’t grow. Emotion has little to do with survival of trees that need to be outdoors – near the equator – in a monsoon, and are forced to be indoors – in a 12-inch pot – in the shade – in the middle of a desert.

Grow Where You’re Planted, Mr. Trees!

We humans can “grow where we’re planted.” Not many trees can pull that off.

I like Earth Landscaping. They’ll come out when I forget how to turn the outdoor water system on and off (it’s a switch – duh), or need a convoluted left-behind-by-previous-owner water system figured out (it’s more than a switch – duh).

I was so glad they agreed to accept my last three foundling arboreal pets before I managed to slaughter them by overwatering, underwatering, or not moving to India.

This doesn’t mean I won’t try again. I look out across the valley floor and I see lots of trees down there.
And if they can do it…

Plant Relativity: Some stuff grows faster than other stuff

Both trees at 11 months old, planted the same week.

Both trees at 11 months old, planted the same week. Tamarind (left) outdoes lime(?) (right).

Plant Relativity, Not Einstein’s

Even a six year old knows that stuff grows at different rates. One garden patch makes flowers faster. Weeds (just plants unlucky enough to grow in the wrong place at the wrong time) grow faster than the shrub they’re next to. Errant grasses in driveways grow faster than tenderly pampered lawns.

It’s the same with trees. Take a look at the photo.

In May last year, the tamarind sprouted -unnamed, as the blue label on a stick had fallen out of its nest. We figured it out, after much head-scratching. Its kid sister sprouted a few days later.

The lime —and I use that term loosely— showed up later that same week, a little leaf barely breaking the soil.

The blue thing next to the lime is a 15" ruler.

The blue thing next to the lime is a 15″ ruler, which means this year+ old tree is about five inches tall.

Plant, Yes – Label, Absolutely

At the risk of stating the obvious, plants will not label themselves. Ask me how I know this.

I use the term “lime” loosely, because honestly I don’t know for sure what it is. There are a few options. One of the seedling peat pots held a sliver of lime and a couple of seeds that I dumped in on a whim instead of tossing them into the garbage disposal. Another had some lemon seeds due to a similar whim. A third peat pot had some chia seeds that got swept off the counter after lunch. I’ve seen chia in action, so I’m ruling out that. Besides, I think those seeds were toasted.

Meanwhile, the tamarind took off like wildfire. Its kid sister is doing well, but is probably a quarter of its big brother’s size.

In a burst of me-too’ism, the lime sprouted a second leaf, the very same month! Then it took a few weeks off to recover from the stress.

Every few months, the lime hesitantly offers another leaf. It grows another quarter of an inch. We hear tiny cheers from the former dining room. It does this whether it lives in full sun, partial sun, partial shade, full shade, or in complete darkness like a ‘shroom. Whether it gets an ice cube each day or no water for a week.

No, it’s not silk or plastic. I checked. Twice.

Tall tamarind takes command of the room, photobombed by its little sister.

Tall tamarind takes command of the room, photobombed by its little sister.

Plants Grow and Grow and Grow and —

The taller of the two tamarinds can almost touch the lower side of the vaulted ceiling. Here’s a beauty shot, with Tall Tamarind being photobombed by its kid sister, Short Tamarind, in the foreground. “Take a picture of me, too!” Short Tamarind would be taller, but it spends much more time growing -out- and annoying the other plants on the bench by sucking up all their sunlight.

[DISCLAIMER: I don’t know which tamarind, if either, is a boy or a girl. One is growing like a weed, tall and gangly, doesn’t like to be hugged, tries to topple over its container, and eats like it has a hollow leg. The other is shorter, dainty, wants to hug all the time, enjoys it when I hang dragonfly pendants on its lower branches, and wants posters of Justin Bieber on the wall.]

Do You Have a Plant Point, Ms. Garden Lass?

Yes. Yes, I do —and I’ve said it before, and it bears repeating here:

Label Your Plant Containers When You Plant Stuff.

It’ll save you from those embarrassing moments when your mom visits from out of town, turns the corner into the “dining room” and gasps —at the ceiling-scraping leafy monstrosity in the corner— “OMG What is THAT?!”

And you can say, in your most authoritative voice, “Why, Mother, I’m so glad you asked.

“That’s Tamarindus indica, a tropical evergreen native to the Asian and African continents, which will grow to an estimated 75 feet tall at maturity, and bears an acidic fruit popularly used as a cooling drink.”

Better believe Tall Tamarind is going to get kicked out of the house well before it reaches its 75-foot tall self.

To your garden success!
Casey – the Garden Lass

Cardboard Palm, Take Three

So it’s been a month or so since I put in Take Two cardboard palms, soaked in boiling water overnight and planted per instructions into peat pots, kept moist and very warm – just like the instructions say. They joined Take One on 8 July 2012  – hot water soak and planted per instructions into peat pots on 31 May 2012.

Sawing Into the Cardboard Palm

Zamia furfuracea or cardboard palm

Zamia furfuracea or cardboard palm is of the cycad genus.

So this time the seeds were placed in boiling water and left to cool down overnight, then two more nights – to the point that now they’ve been soaking for nearly a week. I’m told this won’t hurt anything – in fact, tomorrow morning before I put them into their starting pots, I’m going to run a steak knife down the edge of each one in an attempt to break the seed shell.

Stubborn is Just the First Part

So this will be the third method of “shocking” the cardboard palm into germinating. If it does germinate, maybe it’ll send a message to the first two batches that it’s ok to come out into the sunlight. As it is, these have now been soaked, boiled, steamed, sliced, slashed, steak-knifed and begged. It seems like something should have happened by now, but time is a strange mistress for the new gardener. I swear it’s been YEARS since I treated the first batch, when in reality it’s only been 5 months.

Meanwhile I found out that these cycads (cardboard palms are not even real palms, dangit!) are very very poisonous. Every bit of them. This means that even if they do manage to sprout, they’ll have to be stored completely out of reach of our predatory felines who think anything that grows is being grown for their enjoyment and munching.

Since they’re poison and stubborn and prima donna and diva par excellence, why the heck am I working so hard to get them to hatch?

Beats me!



Cardboard Palm, Take Two

More cardboard palms that you can shake a stick at – no sticks yet.

Since the original planting of cardboard palm seeds hasn’t shown any signs of life since the initial seeding on 31 May, I decided to give it another shot.

Boiling Over the Cardboard Palm

Instead of soaking the seeds in hot tap water this time, I brought the water to a rolicking boil.  When I dropped the seeds in, each made a most satisfying sizzle and sneeze, bubbling water up all over the place.

Why boil? Well, I did some research (after the fact – I know, I know), and stumbled onto a site called PlantSwap.net where a group of gardeners were waiting for their cardboard palm seeds to germinate. Days turned to weeks, which turned to months, and apparently at the end of a YEAR, some participants still had no sign of palm. I stopped reading at that point; too discouraging.

How Stubborn Can a Cardboard Palm Possibly Be

I remember reading someplace that some stubborn seeds grow very durable protective coatings and need to be ‘shocked’ into germinating. The ways to be shocking include scraping, soaking, cutting, steaming, burning, boiling, slicing, slashing, pounding, and setting on fire. In fact, some evergreens require a hot forest fire to make their seeds to open and scatter. Since I’m not going to toss seeds into the fireplace and hope a palm tree grows there, boiling water sounds more logical.

Hawaii Found in Southern California Sunroom

Right now I have both the first planting (back row) and the second planting (front row, with their peat pots propped into little oval butter containers) perched on a box in the patio room – aka sunroom – aka hotter’n Hades’ hinges room. I tell myself that this is to give the cardboard palm seeds a nice warm place to nestle in and wait for germination day.

I tell myself this because there’s no air conditioning or swamp cooler inlet back there.  I’m trying to convince myself this is Good For The Plants, because that same room also acts as a great humidity chamber. This hasn’t helped the first planting at all, but then again all they got was a hot tap water soak over night, not the full boiling treatment.

So now both the original cardboard palm plantings and the Take Two seeds  can sit around with the ginger root, which craves hot humid places with plenty of indirect light and lots of daily rainfall. Two out of three ain’t bad. And if the daily rainfall in our house is more than an inch a day, we’ve got more than just a gardening problem on our hands!



Here’s why you never want to try to save money on potting soil

happy staghorn sumac in his or her new pot

Staghorn sumac twin in his (her?) new 5″ pot, stretching out and sighing happily

Yesterday the message about selecting nice, clean, evenly textured potting mix hit home in a big way.

I’d noticed that, after sprouting and shooting up a couple of inches, the staghorn sumac twins had essentially stopped growing. I tried more water, less water, fertilizer-laden water, a drop or two of tea with lemon – nothing seemed to convince either of them to gain an inch.

I thought perhaps they’d sprouted too close together, but aside from the lack of vertical growth, they seemed rather happy with their arms wrapped around each other. And who was I to separate fraternal twins?

Well, as it turns out, I should have separated them sooner, performing the surgery which would save them both – and although I waited (who knows why), it was the right thing to do.

Each of the staghorn sumac twins is in his (her?) own little 5″ pot with completely new potting soil. In that potting soil you will not find chunks, clumps, big flats of bark, inch-wide bits of branch. All you’ll find is clean, evenly sized, well-moistened Miracle Gro!

When I took the twins out of their former pot – a peat starter shell – I noticed the soil seemed a bit disjointed and loose. So I peeled off the bottom of the pot, preparing to put the remnants into the new pot, per instructions. Instead, when the bottom came out, so did a large clump of peat capsule which showed no sign of growth inside. Above that was a layer of nearly rock solid soil chunks, capped with a thick layer of bark – hard as marble. The sumac twins’ barely there roots were less than a quarter inch long. No wonder the poor things weren’t growing. I might as well have planted them in cement!

I’m such a bad plant mommy. Trust me, no more generic potting soil. EVER.


PS – A belated Happy Summer Solstice to you!

Preparations for a plentiful patch of palm

cardboard palm tree seeds being prepared in cold tap water

Cardboard palm tree seeds being prepared in cold tap water

Many thanks to Sherry Venegas for introducing me to this graceful tree, the cardboard palm. While we were busy debating the identity of Vote The Tree, she brought this to my attention. So I raced off to Amazon to see what was available, and came back with this. Well, not literally. The seeds arrived in this afternoon’s mail, about three days before I expected them to. Good job on ya, Hirt Gardens. And a hearty high-five to Sherry!

Still leery from my experience with the tamarind and the trek it took to identify it once it had sprouted, this time around I’m taking double – nay, Triple – precautions. I have my carefully hand-lettered pot signs. Well, ok, they’re not signs. They’re strips of painter tape that I know full well will pull loose and end up on the floor within a few days. So I’m also hand-lettering some cardboard strips to mark my cardboard palms.

Also still leery from my experience or lack thereof with the staghorn sumac, this time I’m not only reading the directions that come with the seeds, but also doing a fair bit of research online. In my typical belt-and-suspenders-and-trench-coat-and-five-suitcases approach, I seem to have ordered about ten times the number of seeds I’ll need. I thought I was getting three; I got 30.

So I’m taking advantage of an apparent lack of reading skill on my part, and soaking three seeds in each of two ways before planting them tomorrow morning. Three in a hot tap water soak, and three in a cold water soak.

I figure this way I’m prepared for anything, and when one of the six seedlings pokes its head above potting soil, it will be well marked, labeled, prepared and documented – and it won’t be a tamarind.

Cardboard palm trees seeds being prepared in hot tap water

Cardboard palm trees seeds being prepared in hot tap water