There is no reason why we can’t have a Canadian West Coast variety of Avocado that will thrive in the British Columbia Coastal climate. It’s finally time for private citizens to plant Avocado seeds in backyards all over Western BC and Vancouver Island, until we have a tasty and hardy variety of Avocado that Canadians will be happy to grow in their back yards and gardens. We may even be able to create our own domestic Avocado industry in Western Canada.
For many years, I’ve been a lover of Avocados. I like guacamole on toast, hot dogs, or on hamburgers. I love diced Avocados in salads and side dishes. My wife puts diced Avocados in her Mango Salsa. I could literally eat an avocado every day, if one were place in front of me.
But the cost of Avocados is getting pretty high, compared to other fruits. $2 each, for a little one, is not an unusual price. And it gets higher every year.
(And I’ve never even seen a big Avocado in the Vancouver area. Medium-sized ones, sometimes. But big ones — never. Maybe I just don’t know where to shop.)
My brother-in-law’s next-door neighbor has large Avocados growing in the tree in his yard. But he lives in a warm climate in South America.
I live in Canada. There are no Avocado trees in Canada, except a few that are grown indoors, or in greenhouses. Everybody knows that Avocado trees can’t survive below-freezing weather.
Or, at least, that what I used to think. Then, one day recently I found out that certain Avocado trees have been proven to survive temperatures as low as -10°C (14°F)!
Here in Vancouver, BC, it almost never gets that cold. Suddenly, I have hope!
FIRST HOPE: THE DUKE AVOCADO
The first cold hardy Avocado tree that I heard of was the famous Duke Avocado of Oroville, California. The original Duke Avocado tree was one of several hundred Avocado trees, planted from seeds collected in Mexico, in about 1912. About 20 years later, several of the original trees were found to be still surviving. One of them was especially promising, and was selected for propagating.
This particular tree survived a very cold freeze in 1937 (possibly -10°C or -11°C [12°F]) that killed many citrus trees in the area, and many other Avocado trees in the area were slowed down enough by the cold that they didn’t produce a crop in 1937.
But not the Duke. The Duke wasn’t even fazed. It produced a full crop of Duke Avocados that year, as if nothing had ever happened.
Another advantage of the Duke is that it survives root rot better than most other Avocado trees. Root rot could be a problem in rainy British Columbia. If we can find a winter-hardy Avocado that can survive British Columbia winters, it would be good if it didn’t die from all the rain we get around here.
That’s definitely a key trait for any BC-hardy Avocado variety.
So, is the Duke variety unique?
ANOTHER POSSIBILITY: ARAVAIPA AVOCADO
Apparently not. Further research found that there are some other cold-hardy Avocado trees out there. Most, if not all of them, are descended from Mexican Avocado varieties.
One cold-hardy tree, which piques my interest is the Aravaipa Avocado, from Arizona. The original tree survives near a riverbed in a very cold part of Arizona (at least during the winter) that gets down to about 14°F (-10°C).
Another good trait of the Aravaipa is that the original tree survived many spring floods that covered its trunk and roots for up to two weeks at a time. This would cause root rot in any lesser Avocado. Definitely a good point to keep in mind.
It’s believed that the Aravaipa Avocado is descended from a Mexican variety.
OK, so far, so good. But, I’ve never found anyone who will sell me a Duke or an Aravaipa tree. I know that we can’t just bring one across the border without going through some serious red tape. It may not even be possible to get a Duke or an Aravaipa here legally.
Given enough time and experience, maybe I can convince someone from a university garden or some other influential institution to pull the right strings to get some imported with permission. That may be possible, but it may take a few years to arrange.
Until then, I’ll have to go forward with another plan for getting the cold-hardy Avocado trees that we so desperately need here in BC. My plan is simple: We will simply start planting Avocado seeds outdoors, until we come up with one or more adequate varieties that are adapted to Western Canada.
This plan isn’t as crazy as it may at first sound.
We already have banana trees here in BC. We also have persimmons, palm trees, fig trees, and many other warm-climate trees.
Why not Avocados?
Are you with me on this? All we need to do is to plant an Avocado seed, and let it grow to maturity.
That’s it. It’s Pretty easy.
If you’re ambitious, plant 10 Avocado seeds. That way, if 90% of the seedlings can’t hack the BC winter, then you’ve still got one that will.
We don’t want the weak ones, anyway.
I was inspired for this project by a video (see below) in which farmer Mark Shephard, decided to grow chestnuts in Wisconsin, even though it’s “too cold” in Wisconsin to grow chestnuts commercially. You may find this video equally inspiring, to use the same strategy to grow Avocados in Vancouver, Richmond, Surrey, Victoria, Nanaimo, and other coastal British Columbia areas.
(The part about the chestnut trees starts at about the 4:00 mark)
Here is the summary of several key points:
1. Observe what nature does to create a variety that grows well in a particular area, climate, etc.
2. Each Avocado tree produces many seeds. Each seed is genetically unique from all others. Each seed contains traits that are better suited for surviving certain conditions than the other seeds.
3. When the seeds go into the ground (in nature), they grow close to other seedlings of the same variety, and there are many competitive effects that they go through, that help determine the one that is genetically best to survive in that particular spot of ground.
4. The ones that are best suited for the site that you have selected (weather, wind, pests, rain, groundwater, fungi, soil, etc) are the ones that will do the best.
5. S.T.U.N. = Strategic, Total, Utter, Neglect. Just let Mother Nature do the hard work of deciding which Avocado tree will do the best in your backyard or garden. If you plant 10 seeds, after 1 or 2 years you may only have one remaining alive.
6. The Avocado seeds that die, simply won’t be able to reproduce (or grow fruit). We don’t want those ones in the gene pool anyway.
7. When a pest or disease attacks the tree (like root rot) just let it run its course. If it lives, it’ll be stronger. If it dies, it’s not the one you wanted. You want Avocado trees that won’t get root rot. Such varieties already exist.
8. Keep saving the seeds from successful Avocado trees, and have these contribute to the gene pool of future BC-adapted Avocado varieties.
9. If you have a corner in your back yard, or another land area to devote to this, plant a bunch of Avocado trees close together (like maybe 1 or 2 feet apart (you could plant 100 seeds in a 10 ft y 10 ft grid area). Within a couple of years, you may see that many don’t survive. But of those that did, one or two of them will be producing fruit earlier than normal (like in 3 years, instead of the usual 5–7 years. This is definitely a trait to keep in the gene pool. Save the seeds from these trees, and plant them back into your “orchard.” Or give them to your friends to start their own BC-adapted Avocado trees.)
10. So far, after 2, 3 or 4 years, you’ll have discovered Avocado trees with some desirable traits:
a. A few will have survived 2 or 3 BC winters — outdoors!
b. Some will be more resistant to local pests, diseases, fungi, root rot, and other environmental conditions.
c. A few will be producing fruit earlier than normal.
11. Actively save Avocado seeds from those trees that exhibit desirable traits (ie. produce fruit earlier than normal, pest resistance, disease resistance (like root rot), and other environmental factors that may be normal to BC). Then re-plant these seeds and make them a part of your gene pool for future BC-adapted Avocados.
12. It’s possible that many of the Avocado trees that survive, may struggle through a few years of freeze-and-die (like the California example near the end of this article [see below]), and then come back up from the roots again each year. This may need to be tolerated in the early years of this project, in order to get enough trees that have tolerance to all of the other pests, diseases, and environmental factors in order to survive in British Columbia well. I am confident that over time, though, we will eventually get varieties that will truly survive the coastal BC winters well, even as young trees.
13. Over time, we will be able to collect trees that will concentrate the winter-hardiness, pest resistance, disease resistance, heavy yield, early yield, and other desireable traits into a BC-adapted Avocado variety.
14. After several years, your surviving trees will simply be well-adapted to British Columbia, and to the local environmental factors, so that they will grow very well, and produce very well.
15. Continue to plant new Avocado seeds that become available from other areas, including Avocado varieties that already exist in Canada (ones that are intended to grow indoors). These may have other desireable traits that may improve the other BC-hardy Avocados that we will have by that time.
16. If, in the end, we are able to successfully import some Dukes or some Aravaipa Avocado trees, FANTASTIC! We will then be able to cross-breed our domestic BC Avocados with these classic varieties to produce even better varieties of BC Avocados!
On a final note, I want to share a story of a man, whose wife planted an Avocado seed, 200 miles inland in Northern California, where Avocado trees don’t normally grow. This story is similar to what I imagine may happen to many people who make their first attempt to grow an Avocado tree in British Columbia:
“…We started it growing in a glass on the kitchen window sill.
“When it was about a foot tall, she transplanted it into a planter on the patio. There it stayed in the protected area for a year or two.
“She finally convinced me to put it in the ground near our chicken coop. Every year it would grow a little taller than the year before, but during the winter it would die back to a point that I thought for sure it would not recover.
“But each year it would come back bigger and stronger than the year before but never produce fruit.
“Then two years ago it produced its first fruit: not many but it was at least something. (That was also the first year that it did not die back because of the frost.) By the way we live about 35 miles south of Sacramento, CA.
“The next year it produced more fruit, I cannot verify the variety, but the skin is very, very thin, making it hard to remove. It does not ripen on the tree, but does ripen very fast, once picked. It happened so fast I thought the fruit was spoiled. But I had waited so long for the fruit I decided to try it anyway. ….By the way it does taste great.”
My advice: Get started today. If we can get 10 or 20 serious people who are willing to push this forward in their backyard or garden, I’m sure we’ll get some very good Avocado varieties within 5 to 10 years, that will be fully adapted to the Western Canadian coastal climate.
QUESTIONS & ANSWERS
Q. What happens when a once-in-a-hundred-year winter kills all the Avocado trees that you’ve grown?
A. It could happen. The coldest temperature on record in Vancouver, BC was 0°F (-17.8°C), 70 years ago. That would likely kill any Avocado tree down to the ground. But wouldn’t kill the roots. Remember, these trees will be grown from seed. They will not be grafted varieties. If a bad year kills the top, then the same exact tree will pop up again from the roots, and continue onward, just like the California Avocado example above. But you’ll only lose a year’s crop from the hard freeze.
Q. If these Canadian varieties will all be grown from seed, does that mean that there will be no grafted Canadian varieties of Avocado, which will have uniform, standard traits and qualities, like other Avocado varieties?
A. Eventually, Canada will likely have its own grafted varieties. But I believe that it will still be popular to grow your own from seed here in Canada, because of the occasional freeze that may kill the tree in the winter. When that happens, you’ll lose your graft. But if you’ve grown from seed, you will get your same exact variety again when the new tree sprouts from the roots the following Summer.
Q. After sprouting a batch of Hass Avocado seeds, is there any trait that would make it easier to determine which seedlings may be predisposed to be Cold Hardy?
A. Possibly. One trait that has been suggested to be a marker for Cold Hardiness is the reddish hue that baby leaves have in the Mexican varieties. This reddish hue is not present in any other variety of Avocado — only the Mexican ones. However, since Hass Avocados are 61% Mexican, only some of their offspring will carry this trait. Does this conclusively mean that these seedlings are Cold-Hardy?
Maybe. Maybe not.
But we will have to do some experimentation to prove/disprove this theory. If this hypothesis is true, it could be a very simple thing to sprout 20–30 Avocado seeds, then pick out the 3 or 4 that have the reddish hue on the new leaves, and give away the “trashy ones.” We wouldn’t have to wait a whole year to discover which ones are the “good ones.”
That could really speed up the whole process of identifying Cold Hardy Avocado seedlings.
But if the Cold-Hardiness gene isn’t directly connected to the “reddish hue” gene, we may still get some other good Cold-Hardy Avocado seedlings that lack the reddish hue in their new leaves. So, more experience is needed before we can confirm this as “The Litmus Test” for Cold Hardiness. If some of you wish to do some experimenting to determine if this could actually be a key litmus test for sorting out the Cold Hardy seedlings, please do so, and please report back by adding a comment to the end of this article.
Below is a photo of several seedlings that I grew from store-bought Avocados (likely all Hass Avocados). Notice that one of them has the tell-tale reddish hue that is the trait that we are talking about.
Q. Would it be possible to grow an Avocado seed directly into the ground in Vancouver, BC and have it grow outdoors without any protection from the weather at all?
A. Yes, it is possible — in fact, It’s already happening! I personally have a friend who has been doing that — accidentally — for the past 3 years. He and his father have been into the habit of eating Avocados frequently. Then they toss the seeds into the compost in his back yard afterwards. Sometimes, the Avocado seeds sprout and grow. During the winter most of them die. But he currently has at least two Avocado trees growing in his back yard that are 3 years old. These two trees have never been protected from the winter cold, even when they were tiny seedlings (and it’s been down to -8°C (18°F) a few times in the past 3 years!). This clearly proves that some baby Avocado trees can survive to at least -8°C. The BC Avocado Project will succeed. We just need more people to participate, and hasten the day when all West Coast Canadians can grow and harvest Avocados in their own back yards.
This is just a “numbers game.” If only 3% to 10% of Avocado seeds have the proper DNA to make them cold-hardy, then you’ll need to plant 10–30 Avocado seeds (on average) to get one cold-hardy Avocado tree in Vancouver.
It’s that simple.
You’re already eating enough Avocados to grow your own cold-hardy Avocado tree in Vancouver. Quit wasting the seeds — Please Plant Them!
— George Stancliffe loves Avocados, and is interested in creating a cold-hardy variety that will thrive in the Western British Columbia climate, so that home gardeners can grow and harvest their own avocados. Mr Stancliffe has also written extensively on the subject of teaching Speed Reading to Children of all ages (including those with ADHD and/or Dyslexia). Many of his Speed Reading articles are on Medium.com. For more information, please read his articles here on Medium.com or go to his website: www.SpeedReading4Kids.com .
For more information on growing Avocados in Vancouver, Canada and other cooler-climate areas, you may be interested in reading the following two articles:
1. How To Grow a Cold-Hardy Avocado Tree in Vancouver, Canada — https://georgestancliffe.medium.com/so-you-want-to-grow-an-avocado-tree-in-vancouver-canada-9472ff5c0b46
2. They’re Already Growing Large, Ripe Avocados in London, England — Why Not in Vancouver, Canada? — https://georgestancliffe.medium.com/theyre-already-harvesting-large-ripe-avocados-in-london-england-why-not-in-vancouver-canada-2819a58070e8