My parents have a few avocado trees, and every now and then, one of them starts to die for seemingly no reason. I wanted to help out, so I did some research on why avocado trees die and how to fix them. Here’s what I found.
Avocado trees typically start to die because of improper watering, environmental stress, a lack of nutrients, or disease. However, the two most common issues are under-watering and environmental stress—such as temperature swings or transplant shock. Once the source of stress is reduced, the tree should recover.
So, while avocado trees can die for many reasons, how do you identify what’s causing it, and how can you fix it? Let’s take a closer look.
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Can Dying Avocado Trees Be Saved?
But first, can avocado trees be saved in the first place, or is it just a wasted effort?
Avocado trees that are dying can be saved if you find the primary issue and employ the right solution. Typically, it takes several weeks or months for an avocado tree to completely die, depending on the issue. To see if your avocado tree is still alive, prune a small branch and see if there’s any green inside.
The best way to find out what’s wrong with avocado trees is to use the process of elimination. Check one potential issue at a time and if it seems fine, move onto the next.
To help with this, let’s look at the top 4 reasons that lead to dying avocado trees and how to fix them.
The Top 4 Reasons Why Avocado Trees Die
As a general rule, only water avocado trees when the top 2-4 inches of soil are dry. Additionally, provide 2 inches of both compost and mulch to increase water retention and reduce evaporation from the soil. Reapply compost every 1-2 months and mulch every 3-6 months.
If avocado trees are under-watered, their leaves will quickly begin to droop, brown, and fall off—especially in the summer.
If this persists, the tree’s fruit will be undeveloped and, eventually, the tree will start to die.
Along with my parent’s avocado trees, I have a potted Hass avocado tree, and I noticed that these plants are highly sensitive when it comes to watering.
It’s easy to under-water avocado trees as they tend to grow in hotter climates and need plenty of water. Being from the tropics, they’re used to lots of rain and well-draining, sandy soil. Because of this, watering is one of the most essential practices to get right when caring for avocado trees.
So, what’s the best way to water avocado trees?
The best way to water avocado trees is to push a finger into the soil, up to the second knuckle. If the soil is dry, water it generously. If the soil is sopping wet 1 or more hours after watering, the tree’s soil likely needs to be amended to promote better drainage.
Generally, aim to water avocado trees every 1-2 weeks. While this can seem like too little water, especially in drier areas like California, using compost and mulch will be a great help in maintaining moisture in the soil. Use the finger test mentioned above to check if you need to provide more or less water.
Additionally, providing compost and mulch are incredibly helpful practices for avocado trees.
Compost increases the soil’s richness which helps it hold more water. Every 1% increase in the soil’s richness can hold an additional 20,000 gallons of water per acre.
Mulch protects the soil and the beneficial life (such as mycorrhizal fungi) by shielding them from the sun and keeping water in the soil. This water retention goes a long way, especially in hotter climates. Some good mulches to use on avocado trees are leaves, bark, straw, pine needles, and grass clippings.
Keep the compost and mulch at least 3 inches away from the tree’s trunk to prevent mold and disease from spreading.
However, if you’ve tried all of the above, and your avocado tree is still declining in health, consider checking its nutrients next.
2. Improper Nutrients
The best fertilizer for avocado trees is one with an NPK (nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium) of 2:1:1. For example, a fertilizer with a 6-3-3 NPK works well. Alternatively, you can use compost. The quality nutrients in the compost not only provide well for the tree but also for the beneficial soil life.
Similar to under-watering, an excess of nutrients can also cause avocado trees to develop drooping and brown leaves. Under-fertilizing can lead to other issues such as
While it can seem difficult to know exactly what nutrients avocado trees need, they actually have the same nutrient requirements as citrus trees.
Because of this, if you have some citrus fertilizer lying around, odds are you can also use it for your avocado tree.
Alternatively, you can use compost or homemade fruit tree fertilizer. Compost also helps keep the soil healthy, which leads to the avocado tree having better nutrient uptake and disease resistance.
However, soil pH is equally as important as the nutrients in the soil. If the soil is either too acidic or too alkaline, the avocado tree won’t be able to properly absorb the nutrients. This can lead to issues such as yellow and dropping leaves.
A good way to check soil pH is by using pH strips or a pH meter. I prefer using a pH meter since they’re affordable and easy to use. To see which pH meter I use and recommend, check out my recommended tools page.
Typically, sandy soils are more acidic and clay soils are more alkaline. For best results, keep your avocado tree’s soil pH between 5.0-7.0.
If you find that your avocado tree’s soil is either too acidic or too alkaline, there are some soil amendments you can use to adjust the pH. For soil that’s too alkaline, use acidic amendments such as coffee grounds, sand, or peat moss. For soil that’s too acidic, use alkaline amendments such as biochar, charcoal, or wood ash.
While you can’t go wrong with a quality, organic fertilizer or compost, there are a lot of options out there and it can get a bit daunting to choose one.
Because of this, if you’d like more information and my recommendations on avocado tree fertilizers, feel free to check out my recent post: Avocado Tree Fertilizers: The Full Guide & Top 3 Brands.
3. Wrong Climate
If you’re in the US, then the above USDA hardiness zone map will be your best friend when it comes to gardening. One of the best ways to maximize the health and fruiting of your avocado trees is to mimic their native conditions.
Avocado trees evolved in hotter climates with heavy rains and well-draining, sandy soils. If you provided all of these conditions for your avocado tree, then you shouldn’t need to do much else.
Since avocado trees are native to zones 9-11, they’ll have a tougher time growing in other zones. While it’s still possible to grow them in some colder zones, they’ll likely need more assistance. For example, most avocado trees can handle temperatures as low as 28ºF, but this depends on the variety.
If you live in a colder climate, there are some things you can do to better provide for your avocado trees:
- Get a cold-hardy variety
- Plant in a southern-facing direction
- Place along a southern-facing wall
- Insulate the trees with sheets or cardboard in times of frost
- Grow in a greenhouse
Planting avocado trees along a southern-facing direction will maximize the amount of sunlight and warmth it receives. Planting along a southern-facing wall will reflect even more sunlight and heat onto the tree, even into the night.
Additionally, you can insulate the tree with bedsheets or cardboard to reduce the effects of frost. Or, you can simply grow them in a greenhouse.
While some greenhouses can be expensive, there are many affordable options out there. For starters, check out these affordable greenhouses on Amazon.
4. Pests and Diseases
Avocado trees can get many pests and diseases, but the most common are grasshoppers and borers, and diseases such as root rot and Verticillium wilt. The best way to reduce pests is to encourage their predators, while fungal diseases can be treated by pruning infected leaves and applying fungicides.
While diseases aren’t as likely to affect your avocado tree compared to watering, nutrients, and climate, they can still be an issue.
A good way to tell if your avocado tree has pests is if you see signs such as holes in the leaves, branches, or trunk. On the other hand, you can usually spot diseases if your avocado tree has spots on its leaves.
This article would be too long and not a good experience if I provided all of the pests and diseases avocado trees can get, so I’d like to provide you with a couple of great resources if you’d like more information.
How To Save a Dying Avocado Tree
If you’ve tried following the above information for the most common avocado tree issues, but don’t feel you’re any closer to saving your avocado tree, there’s still hope.
Here are 3 steps you can use to save your avocado tree, for just about any condition.
3 Quick Steps To Save a Dying Avocado Tree
1. Identify the Possible Issues
The first step in reviving a dying avocado tree is to identify the possible issues. After all, the process of elimination wouldn’t work if we didn’t know which options we were eliminating!
If you haven’t seen it yet, for more information on the most common avocado tree issues, reference the above section.
2. Isolate the Actual Issue
Once you’ve checked the specific symptoms your avocado tree has, you can now cross off potential issues from your list.
Try to get it down to 1-3 potential issues that best match the symptoms your avocado tree is exhibiting. This will give you the best chances to provide the right solution for it (you don’t want to spray the tree with neem oil if the problem is a watering issue).
If you’re still not sure about the issue your avocado tree has, that’s okay! Call up your local nursery and get their opinion on what’s happening. You may need to talk to a few people to get their experience, but there’s a strong chance they’ve seen it before and can point you in the right direction (or even provide you with the solution!).
Additionally, you can contact your local professional orchard or cooperative extension service.
3. Test Solutions
Now that you have a narrowed-down list of the potential issues, it’s time to try the solutions one at a time.
Start with the least invasive and work your way up to the most invasive (for example, providing less water is much easier than going through the process of repotting the tree. Try to save that option for last).
Continue testing the treatments you believe are most likely to fix the issue. Hopefully, one of them sticks.
Worst case scenario, start from step 1 and make a new list of possible issues. There’s a chance you might have missed something or notice something new the second time around.
Stay persistent! It’s easy to say, “Dumb plant, why don’t you want to live?”, but there’s always a reason why plants act the way they do. Keep the course and see if you can uncover it.
More Tips to Keep Your Avocado Tree Alive
- Mulch and compost all avocado trees, especially if you’re in a hotter climate.
- Plant avocado trees in a south-facing direction for maximum sunlight and warmth.
- Provide 2 hours of afternoon shade in hotter climates. This will give the avocado tree the chance to cool down from the hot afternoon sun.
- Use compost for the highest quality nutrients. While chemical fertilizers are effective, it’s usually a short term benefit at the expense of the tree’s long-term health. Additionally, chemical fertilizers (along with pesticides, herbicides, and other sprays) can kill beneficial soil bacteria and pollinators.
- Transplant only when necessary. Relocating or repotting avocado trees can cause a lot of stress, causing the tree’s leaves to droop and fall off. Sometimes, it can take up to 1 year for avocado trees to completely recover from transplant shock.
- Keep avocado trees within 25-50 feet of each other for optimal pollination. Avocado trees have 2 types of flowers, so planting both Type A and Type B avocado trees will lead to the best pollination.
Is Your Fruit Tree Beyond Saving?
Generally, you can tell if a fruit tree is still alive by either pruning or lightly scratching off some bark from a small branch. If there’s any green inside, the plant is still alive.
In the off chance it’s not alive, revisit what may have happened (ask yourself if it was the wrong climate, watering, nutrients, etc) and adjust as needed for any remaining plants.
If you’re looking to replace your fruit tree, or add more to your orchard, the best places to get them are your local nursery or an online nursery. For example, I got my Fuji apple, brown turkey figs, and bing cherry tree from Fast Growing Trees, and they were all delivered quick, neat, and healthy (see below).