Avocados are, despite what anyone may say, a tricky plant to grow. They are certainly worth it. The healthy and delicious fruit seems to render any effort required to obtain it more than rewarding. Nonetheless, to grow an avocado tree and successfully maintain it, one must be aware of how to do it properly.
Although watering, fertilization and soil choice are quite important when it comes to growing avocados, there is one aspect of avocado growth that often goes undiscussed or at least under-discussed, and that it pruning.
Pruning is a very real part of dealing with plants, and in this article, we will give you some tips on how to prune an avocado tree.
Without further ado, let us get started:
#1 – Do not over-prune
This is one of the main mistakes you can make with your avocado trees. Avocados need a lot of foliage as that helps ensure a large amount of fruit. Therefore, you should not prune your avocado tree a lot. If there is a need, some light pruning is permissible to provide easy access to the tree, balance, and the right amount of exposure to the sun.
Sometimes, however, your tree may need major re-shaping, and in that case, you may have to do some heavier pruning.
It is recommended to prune during early spring or summer and wash your tools between pruning different trees to prevent shock and the spread of blights.
#2 Know the right equipment to use
Pruning an avocado tree demands that you have the right equipment and that you know when and how to use it.
For example, if you are cutting branches that are less than 1 inch in diameter, then hand pruners will do the job. Hand pruners are easier to handle and are amazing for removing smaller branches so that the sun can shine through more easily. (note: There are also specialty hand pruners made specifically for avocado trees, which have rounded tips which prevents them from damaging any of the fruit.)
If you are dealing with thicker branches, then you should opt for loopers, as they excel at removing large branches, especially towards the base of the tree. Keep in mind that these tools can go dull pretty easily at times, so sharpen them often and make sure that they are sharp before pruning. When pruning, take care to make your major cuts clean and in line with the natural contour of the trunk.
Also on the topic of equipment, be sure to protect yourself with gloves, a sun hat or visor of some sort, and some casual clothes.
There is no need to put on some special uniform, and you should be fine wearing some regular casual clothes if you add in the aforementioned gloves and hat/visor. If you are going to be wearing a T-shirt, it is still recommended that it be a long-sleeved one for better protection. Also, put on some old jeans and some sneakers and you should be ready to boot. Just make sure you are using clothes that you will not mind getting dirty.
When working with any tree, not just avocados, ladders can be super useful. Be sure, however, to use a tall, sturdy, and secure ladder that has a firm base. If you need extra stability, have someone hold it at the base. Ladders are essential when it comes to pruning newly-planted trees because they have shallow root systems that cannot balance out the accelerated growth of the top of the tree.
Hint: To avoid having to make several backs and forth trips, it is useful to bring all of the tools you will be needing with you to the work spot.
#3 – Know how to take care of your equipment
You should always spray your tools with some form of disinfectant to avoid spreading critters and disease because those tools can carry insects, fungus, and bacteria between the trees. Spraying them with diluted bleach or alcohol works well.
#4 – Know when to prune heavily
As we have mentioned before, avocado trees do not like being over-pruned, and knowing when to prune is one of the essential elements of how to prune an avocado tree. As such, you should prune them heavily only during spring or early summer as this helps avoid shock. Cutting them during the fall or winter weather may expose the tree to cold temperatures or even frost. Best times are the first few weeks of spring or summer.
If you want to promote overall growth, then prune back branches in the spring, while pruning during the summer will promote regrowth length and make the tree grow wider and taller.
#5 – Be aware of the general principles when it comes to avocado pruning
There are several general techniques that you can employ when it comes to how to prune an avocado tree.
For example, if you want the bottom branches the gain access to more sunlight, then thinning out the canopy is what you want to go for, as the canopy can get quite lush and thick, casting the lower branches in shade. Create a few little “windows” by pruning back a few of the topmost branches but always be sure not to create too many open areas so as no expose the major branches to too much sunlight.
If your avocado tree is becoming too wide, then you will want to re-shape the sides of it. This is especially essential if the tree’s branches start tangling with another or if they are blocking you from mowing or irrigating. Be careful not to over-prune.
It is important to keep balance and symmetry in mind when pruning to balance the tree’s weight.
Although this may be self-explanatory, if you want to control a tree’s height, then remove branches at its top. Remove only 1 major branch per summer starting with the tallest. This kind of pruning is of special importance for newly-planted trees as the roots are not yet strong enough to support extra height.
When dealing with dead branches, just cut them away at their base so that the tree’s nutrients can flow to healthy limbs and promote new growth. Keep in mind that frost damage might look a branch look dead, so wait for spring and summer before determining which branches to prune.
Do not fertilize your avocado tree after heavy pruning as the latter will naturally trigger more foliage. Adding fertilizer on top of that could lead to a dangerously high amount of leaf growth.
If your tree needs rejuvenation pruning, then consider cutting it back to its main trunk. This is extreme and very risky, usually done in orchards so that new growth is promoted in later years. After this, your trees should grow back after approximately three years. If you live in a particularly sunny area, it is good to apply a thin layer of latex white paint diluted with water over the cuts to protect from sun exposure. This type of pruning is not recommended for beginners as it can permanently damage or kill your tree.
#6 – Use preventive pruning year-round
To reduce the need for major pruning, you can do some preventive pruning with hand pruners. Cut off any growing tips in areas where you do not want them. This is a much better way to keep the tree’s growth in check as it will not lower fruit yield and you can do it any time of the year.
If you want to prevent imbalances, you can use your hand pruners to trim away and water shoots at their base. These leafy shoots grow vertically in the bark and pruning helps keep the tree’s growth controlled and natural.
Cut branches at their base to fix small limb breakages. Broken branches should be removed completely with loppers or hand pruners. This helps redirect nutrients to the rest of the tree and encourages branch growth.
You can control wild growth with thinning cuts. Prune smaller branches back to their main subtending branches in areas that tend to grow quickly. This helps keep the tree’s growth in check and prevents wild growth in the future.
If you happen to see any wild branches starting to form, it is much easier to cut them while they are still small. Do not wait until they have grown as that will only complicate the process and might damage the tree.
When it comes to how to prune an avocado tree, there are a few guiding principles that you should keep in mind. Avocados do not like being over-pruned. They are fragile trees and major pruning should only be done during spring and summer and great care should be taken not to damage the tree. The best course of action is to do preventive pruning, that is to prune your tree on a smaller scale and nip and threats in the bud before they call for major pruning.
Just remember to keep your equipment clean, sharp, and safe, and take care not to damage your trees. You should be fine.