Please Help Me Save My Dying Avocado Tree!

tommyboygomesJune 4, 2009

Hello all,

This is my first post on the forums, so thanks in advance for any help you might have. So here's the story:

I purchased a young grafted avocado tree from a nursery about 6 months ago. It was completely healthy at the time and I've followed proper avocado watering/lighting/soil conditions to a T ever since. I don't think I've been so adamant about taking care of a tree before in my life, yet I've been having problems with it ever since I've got it. Here are some stats and pics...

1. Lighting: The tree is in full sunlight from about 10am to sunset.

2. Location: I live in coastal Los Angeles (dry but not as hot as inland). I don't have a garden but have it in a sufficiently deep and wide pot for its age. The pot sits on blacktop, which I assume gets fairly warm during the day.

3. Soil: It is in fresh potting soil up to just above where the bulb used to be. Because that soil compacted a bit through watering, I have added about 2-3 inches of organic soil loosely on top. Before transfering the tree into this pot, I put about 6 inches-deep worth of thumb-sized rocks in the bottom of the pot (which has three 1" diamter holes along the base perimeter) to ensure proper drainage.

4. Watering: During the winter, I watered it with about a half gallon of water in the morning twice a week. When things started to warm up here in April, I upped the watering to a half gallon of water three times a week. I can see the water draining out of the holes in the bottom of the pot every time I water.

Here's the problem: after it lost its leaves around february, the plant immediately budded new leaves all over the tree in March. Things looked good for about 2 weeks. Then all of the new leaves started turning brown at the edges as if they were burnt. By mid-May, nearly all of the leaves and lower branches have fallen off or look dead with the exception of new growth at the very top of the tree. By now though (early june) even those healthy leaves at the very top are beginning to turn brown and look like they're in trouble like the lower part of the plant.

Here are some pictures:

http://i272.photobucket.com/albums/jj177/metalmongrel/Avocado%20Tree/Avocado3.jpg

http://i272.photobucket.com/albums/jj177/metalmongrel/Avocado%20Tree/AvocadoTree.jpg

http://i272.photobucket.com/albums/jj177/metalmongrel/Avocado%20Tree/Avocado4.jpg

http://i272.photobucket.com/albums/jj177/metalmongrel/Avocado%20Tree/Avocado2.jpg

Can anyone tell me if this is evidence of overwatering/underwatering, root rot, or too much light? What's funny is that altough the ends of most of the branches look burnt, the braches themselves up to endpoint look green and healty. Thank you for your help, I don't want to lose this tree!

-Tommy

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jean001(z8aPortland, OR)

Oops. An avocado should have leaves year-round. So that indicates it's been in troubble for a long time.

Most likely the potting mix has dried enough to pull away from the sides of the pot.

So, in order to get water into the rootball, it would be useful to put the pot in a deep tub (or trash can) with the water deeper than the pot's height.

Let it soak until it stops bubbling -- within a few to several minutes -- then remove.

    Bookmark   June 5, 2009 at 4:02PM
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jean001(z8aPortland, OR)

Just re-read your message and saw "6 inches-deep worth of thumb-sized rocks in the bottom of the pot."

Bad mistake.

Contrary to widely held belief, rocks in bottom *don't* help drainage. Instead, they hinder.

Remove and repot, using only potting mix, and allow an inch space at the top for watering space.

Water to settle the potting mix. Set in a less than full-sun site until the plant starts recovering.

Beyond that, which avocado is it and how big will it grow. That pot is only a temporary growing site. Even if it's a dwarf kind, figure on a half barrel.

    Bookmark   June 5, 2009 at 4:09PM
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bcfromfl(z8a NW FL)

I have to disagree with jean001 a little. New potting soil (looks like yours has some perlite as well) will not compact and/or dry out such that it pulls away from the edge of the pot, and water runs right through without wetting it.

Given the size of your pot, and the amount you're watering, I'd say it's been too wet. Avocados like well-drained soil, on the slightly dry side. A new tree, with few roots to absorb and transpire water, doesn't require much. As it grows and water needs increase, it can use more, but easy does it. As jean001 suggested, growing in a pot is MUCH different than in the ground. Care must be taken to maintain the correct soil moisture.

There are perhaps a few avocado varieties that will produce in a container, but it would have to be a very large container. Also, you'll get few, if any, fruits, without cross-pollination.

If you maintain a drier pot, and keep an eye on moisture levels further down in the mix before watering, it's possible your tree will come back. The way it's looking at the moment, I'd give it about a 30-40% chance. Also, small avocados are prone to sunburn -- don't keep it in direct sun all day. Shade it slightly, and/or paint the trunk.

-Bruce

    Bookmark   June 6, 2009 at 3:11PM
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jean001(z8aPortland, OR)

It was said: "New potting soil (looks like yours has some perlite as well) will not compact and/or dry out such that it pulls away from the edge of the pot, and water runs right through without wetting it."

Well, let me disagree with the disagree-r.

To determine if the potting mix has pulled away from the sides, think bake to the last time you watered. How soon did the water come out the bottom? If nearly instantly, the potting mix pulled away from the sides.

Beyond that, stick a finger in the potting mix. Is it wet or dry? If wet, the coarse stuff in the bottom is keeping it wetter than it should be.

In any case, those rocks gotta go!

    Bookmark   June 6, 2009 at 8:52PM
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tcjotm(SoCal)

Dark brown edged leaves usually means root rot. Light brown edged leaves usually means dry soil.

Your avocado tree is in trouble, IMO root rot. I'll bet that the bottom portion of that pot is saturated, even though the top soil is drier. I would have put about a quart more perlite in that pot, especially for a baby avocado which likes the soil airy. In a year's time, as the plant matures, I would toss dirt into the pot to let it filter down to make the soil heavier.

I grew up in WLA and know that it doesn't get too hot too often in that area in the springtime. With 70 F spring days there, I'd water very little, about 1 cup of water with a little Miracle Grow fert in it in that lil' pot, every week for awhile. Keep the soil on the dry side before each watering. With young plants, you want to baby them, especially when in a small pot.

Just do everything in moderation. JMO, Good luck

... you can pick up an avocado plant in the big box stores for about 20 bucks and start again, if you wish.

    Bookmark   June 6, 2009 at 11:54PM
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tcjotm(SoCal)

Just to add, dark brown edged leaves can also mean salt burn or fertilizer burn. Avocados are sensitive to salt burn, but I've never had that problem. I'm in L.A. too, but on the northeast side of town. Good luck.

    Bookmark   June 7, 2009 at 12:00AM
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tcjotm(SoCal)

Just to add, dark brown edged leaves can also mean salt burn or fertilizer burn. Avocados are sensitive to salt burn, but I've never had that problem. I'm in L.A. too, but on the northeast side of town. Good luck.

    Bookmark   June 7, 2009 at 12:01AM
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