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Please help diagnose my avocado tree

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:






Can anyone tell me if this is evidence of overwatering/underwatering, 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!


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Super Green Thumb
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Joined: Mon Mar 23, 2009 5:59 pm
Location: TN. 50 years of gardening experience.

I use to grow an avocado tree from a seed inside the house every year. I sprouted the seed starting about Christmas and by May the tree was 3 feet tall with nice large green leaves.

I discovered something very interesting about avocado trees. If I moved my plant from the house into direct sunlight all day all the leaves would die and fall off.

I discovered the only way to keep the leaves from dying was to place the avocado tree outside in full shade for a whole week. Then move it so it would get 1 hour of direct sunlight and shade the rest of the day for another whole week. Then move the plant again so it would get 2 hours of sun for a week. Then 4 hours of sun for a week. Then 8 hours of sun for a week. Every week I would DOUBLE the amount of sunlight it got.

After a few weeks the plant was able to deal with full sun all day. The leaves on the avocado tree were the darkest green I have every seen, just as dark green as the avocado fruit.

avocado is the nicest plant I have every grown, nice large deep dark green soft leaves feel like a cats ear. Plants are extremely sensitive to cold weather. One year I got my plant accustom to sun light then planted it in my yard the first of June. I watered it all summer and it was 9 feet tall 4 ft across by October. First frost killed it.

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Joined: Wed Jun 03, 2009 2:54 pm

Thank you for the reply Gary.

Would you mind telling me how frequently you watered it in the warm summer months when it was planted it outside? I'm worried that I'm overwatering it.

In regards to it being inside vs outside, I bought it from a nursery that had it living in full sunlight as long as they had it, so hopefully it should be ok by now.

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Senior Member
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Joined: Sat May 02, 2009 9:15 pm
Location: Seattle area WA

The soil looks kinda dry.

This is a neat trick to help with watering.
If you have or can get a chopstick ( chinese takeout food ) stick one in your soil so only about a inch of the top of the chopstick is poking out the top of the soil. When you want to check if the plant needs water pull the chopstick out and you can see where the water/moisture level is in your pot, Then water when you feel it is necessary.

I use this on my larger potted trees ( 4 foot tall plum and a 3 foot tall Japanese maple) it makes watering easy for me.

I use toothpicks on my smaller potted plants.
If your going to have art in your house why not make it living art. :D


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Joined: Wed Jun 03, 2009 2:54 pm

Thanks for the reply Indor,

The topsoil looks deceptively dry because I added about a 2-3" layer of organic soil (which always appears that color no matter if its moist or not) on top because the black potting soil underneath had compacted. I check the regular potting soil underneath often and it is always moist. But the chopstick method is a good one!

What I'm trying to figure out is whether the burnt appearance on the lower limbs is due to root rot or sunburn. Any ideas? Thanks!

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Joined: Thu May 01, 2008 11:21 pm
Location: Zone 6, NJ (3/M)4/E ~ 10/M

Sorry this is a hearsay (meaning I *think* I read about this somewhere) -- but I've heard that avocados are sensitive to salt in the air. You say you live in the coastal area -- may be the sea air/fog is "burning" the leaves? Did the nursery you purchased the avocado say anything about that? If this is the case, two ways I can think of to mitigate the effect is to surround the avocado with protective buffer plants and/or set up a misting system to dilute the salt-laden air.

The other is the avocado leaf blight. I can't remember if it's a fungal disease, but if it is, maybe the 1:10 solution of milk:water spray will help?

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