My Avocado tree is sickly

sunqueen57(9b SoCenFL)May 17, 2013

Hi All!

I'm very new to gardening. I helped my grandparents pick and put up tomatoes on their farm in upstate NY every summer when I was a kid. I also would help my dad with his veg garden when I'd go home to visit him many, many years ago in the Poconos.

We were living in Palm Beach County for the last ten years. We lived on the coast less than a mile from the ocea and I couldn't get anything to grow. Previous owners filled in the swimming pool and graded the yard with fill dirt which consisted of mostly crushed cement. Nothing, and I mean nothing, would grow in it. I got very sick in 2010 and started to consume more organic vegetables and hormone free meats. We moved to south central FL a year ago (90 miles inland) and after I got the house all painted inside and everything put away, I began to work on the outside. First I fenced a portion of our yard so my jack russell terrorists would have space to run wild. After that, we set about getting the first round of trees planted. That was the first weekend in February. The avocado we picked was the brogdon variety, which I understand handles the very occasional cold snap well. For the past few months, it has been coming in nicely. The other day I noticed that the leaves looked spotty brown, wilted and would fall off with the slightest touch. I don't know what is wrong with it. The people who owned the property before us apparently didn't believe in growing anything but grass with the exception of one lovely gardenia bush. The other day I noticed that the gardenia had a thick coating of black on the leaves that would scrape off easily with my fingernail. I looked it up and found that it has been affected by sotty moss. Well I pruned it way back and we purchased some insecticide for killing aphids on rose bushes. Since I planted the avocado, I have sprayed it 3 or 4 times with a combo of insect soap/water/neem oil. I've been trying to go the natural route. I read that avocados can also get sotty moss but I could not find any pictures of what that would look like. Has anyone here ever had this problem? I'm a little anxious because I paid well over $100 for this tree and have grown attached to it. Like I said, I'm new to all of this and am at a loss for what to do. Any help would be greatly appreciated. Just bear in mind that I'm a noob and don't get things easily when they're too technical.

Thanks bunches!


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bamboo_rabbit(9A Inverness FL)

How often have you been watering? Our sand just loves to wick the moisture away from the potting soil surrounding the trees roots. It is why I always try to bareroot the trees I plant.

    Bookmark   May 17, 2013 at 7:31AM
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whgille(FL 9b)

Hi Corrine

I don't know what happened to your avocado because it could be a lot of reasons. You said that the soil was bad, did you amend when planting? a common problem for avocado decline is root rot, that is the reason that I planted my two avocados in a mound. For me, they are care free, I have never spray anything on them and every year they have an abundant crop, this year it is not different.

My young avocado

And my older one, loaded with fruit like every year


    Bookmark   May 17, 2013 at 7:45AM
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It appears you may have 'burned' the leaves with the excessive application of the soapy/neem oil spray. If the tree is healthy it should come out with a flush of new leaves.
Sooty mold can be washed off the leaves with running hose water and a soft cloth (an old clean face cloth). The only way sooty mold hurts a plant is by blocking the sunlight to the leaf.


    Bookmark   May 17, 2013 at 8:00AM
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You're likely killing it with kindness. You have to be very careful with neem oil. In hot weather it will burn your trees, and some species just cant handle it at all. Just remember a simple rule: if it's hot and sunny, DO NOT SPRAY. Wait until late afternoon at least.

Sooty mold is not the root of a problem, it is a symptom. Aphids, whiteflies, and other sapsuckers drink the plant juices and then poop out a sugary substance called honeydew. This drips onto nearby leaves and the sooty mold is growing on the honeydew. It's actually very helpful because its a giveaway that something is sucking your plant dry. Then, and only then, should you go about treating for the aphids. I would not preemptively spray for aphids, myself.

I think the best thing you can do is leave your tree alone for now. Just ensure that it's getting enoug water. (But don't go crazy either, too much water is also very bad.)

    Bookmark   May 18, 2013 at 8:52PM
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sunqueen57(9b SoCenFL)

Thank you everyone for your thoughtful replies. I kept reading whatever I could find and also wrote to the gentleman who sold me the tree. It seems the neem oil is most likely the culprit. I burned the leaves with too much attention. I've thought it would be harmless to use the little bit of oil/soap I had left in the sprayer on the tree. I mix it up to battle whatever it is that is eating my lettuces. From now on I'll mix less or dump the leftover.

We have an irrigation system that goes off 2x week and I normally get out and hose water many of the plants and shrubs another two or three times a week. Everything is so new.Five months ago the yard was only grass. We put in a paver patio and the lawn guy had some trouble riding his mower between the back side of the patio and the new cyclone fence we had installed in Dec.. I turned it into a rock garden with a solar fountain, firecracker plants, a bit of ginger, snow on the mountain and some MandeVino. and passion fruit vines. On either side of the patio I planted several serissa and Mexican Heather shrubs plus a Jatropha on each side. I saved a space on each back corner to plant a palm tree but haven't decided what type I want yet. We built two 10'x4' raised beds for our veggie gardens. I made one corner of the yard a large patch for corn and watermelon.I have a small fence around the perimeter to keep the dogs out. We also put in a lychee tree, mango, black mission fig,and a meyer lemon/key lime cocktail tree, in addition to the avocado. I also planted a bottle brush but it appears to be dead.

The soil is actually quite good here at the new house. This whole area is sand and it looks like they've laid several layers of topsoil and sod, so the top 12' is dark and rich. When I plant, I dig huge holes and mix in some black kow compost and potting soil. The raised beds were filled with peat moss, vermiculite, topsoil, and composted manures.

My next mission is to dig a 25' bed about two feet wide along the back of the house which is currently bare. I can see where the lawn man beats the stucco to death with the weed whacker, so I've decided to make it into another bed. I'm going to plant things that grow tall in there like okra, icicle radishes and sunflowers - found some sweet potatoes that I'm going to toss in there as well.

All of this has been done since January. I'm currently trying to teach myself planting times and how to keep the soil rich and fertile while eliminating pests as naturally as possible.

I write mini novels so thanks for hanging in here. Maybe soon I will post some before and after pics of the work we've done on the yard thus far. Like I mentioned, I'm brand new to gardening. I wanted to do this at our old house but a mile from the ocean made for very salty air and like I said, they filled in the yard with crushed cement. It was nearly impossible to dig through it and the few things that I tried to plant died immediately. I just didn't have the time, energy or money to tear it all out and start with new soil and salt resistant plants,

Anyway, thanks again. I will leave the avocado tree alone and hope that it develops new growth. I'm sure I'll be around asking lots of questions. I like to learn from people who enjoy the same interests, especially when they share stories of both their failures and successes. I learn from other people's mistakes as well as my own and enjoy celebrating the success of others,.

Ciao for now!

    Bookmark   May 20, 2013 at 1:13AM
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Just FYI if you plan to plant any more citrus trees. black Cow can actually be harmful for citrus loving plants. It can raise the pH of your soil. I would recommend you try peat moss for any acid loving plants such as citrus, kiwi, muscadine, or blueberries.

    Bookmark   May 21, 2013 at 9:14PM
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