Growing avocados in London

It’s been widely known that avocados can grow in London for decades, I’ve seen the trees around the city since I moved here in 1999, including two small trees a few minutes from our flat in Clapham. Earlier this week however, tropical plant enthusiast, Joe McCullough shared an amazing video on his Tropicals YouTube channel showing a huge avocado laden tree in South London. When Issy Hardman recognised the street a short tube ride from me in Clapham, well, I had to go and see for myself (I won’t share location here as it’s in a residential lane). Off I trotted.

Sure enough, there were two humongous avocado trees growing next to one another, I’d estimate between 8 – 10m tall. I’m not sure what species or cultivar this is, so if you recognise it, please let me know. The fruit look too large to be the most hardy types to me, which I spoke to Craig Hepworth about in this column.

With so much evidence that avocados can be grown in this country for so long – given the right conditions, plus long hot summers and mild winters to ripen – it’s a wonder the hardy types aren’t widely grown down south. Ben Probert tells me some are being trialled in Devon and Cornwall, which is good, and I know of many other experienced tropical gardeners trying a number of hardy and non-hardy cultivars in sheltered locations around the country. The trouble being they only crop when fairly mature after 10 – 15 years. Worth the effort though, that crop is a goldmine down Waitrose!

Sadly, the avocados were all well out of reach so I could give one a squeeze to check ripeness. I can’t wait to one day taste one of these London grown avocados!

Do you know of more trees? Have you or are you growing avocados in the UK that ripen? Let me know in comments below!

23 thoughts on “Growing avocados in London

  1. This would be an ideal candidate for the Chelsea Physic Garden, where the climate is 5°c higher than outside and they already grow a grapefruit and a pomegranate

    1. They actually got in touch with me yesterday to say they are growing one! One of their team planted the seed after eating an avocado years ago. I think more research needs to be done into hardy avocados as some species are even hardier than the types we normally eat.

  2. Very impressive! The bumpy skin indicates they are partially or entirely of the Guatemalan subspecies of avocado, which reportedly can be cold hardy to about -4 or -5C. Does that area typically stay above that temp? So this is not even one of the super cold hardy Mexican subspecies variety, but seems to be thriving. Have you talked to the owner(s) to see if these trees are able to ripen good quality fruit regularly? Also, were these photos taken recently, as in, over winter? In my area (North Florida), the Mexican avocado trees all finished their crop in October, and they’re currently flowering for the 2020 crop.

    1. Thanks Craig! That’s interesting. It’s unlikely to drop beneath -5C where it is. My own garden is a little more exposed and the coldest that has ever been was -7C for twelve hours. Usually it sits at -1C at the coldest. The photos were taken yesterday (29th December) though the video mentioned shows them looking at the same size over a month ago, so perhaps they’re just being refrigerated on the tree at the moment 😄 I haven’t spoken to the owner but may drop them a note to find out more. I know a number of other trees around London fruit too, I’ll try and hunt them down soon if I can to compare.

  3. We have a fruiting avocado in the mini forest behind my flat in Chelsea. Some neighbours want to cut it down and I am desperate to save it and the other trees in the garden.

    I think it will need to be pruned and/or propped to keep it out of trouble, and we need some help.

    Sincerely,

    Philippa Snowdon

      1. Thanks, but it is about 40ft high and growing a bit sideways. Apparently the avocados fall and smash to smithereens on the ground. I have not seen that as yet, but hope to see the fruit this year.

  4. Interesting. I’d love to get my hands on a Mexican subspecies, apparently the most cold hardy species there is. Does anyone know where to get it or do we have to search for one and grow it from seed? I’d think a cutting is a better propagation method …

    1. I looked into this but it now seems impossible to get the hardy Mexican avocado cultivars in the U.K. Scarletts in Colchester (Essex), used to sell the cultivar ‘Bacon’ (tolerant to -5C), but due to the risk of importation of the bacterial disease Xylella, from mainland Europe, they do not sell it anymore. They used to get their stock from Spain. As far as I know the U.K. remains free of Xylella.

    1. Can you climb? The top is miles up. But do come and look at it if you are passing.

      Do you know when it should fruit, if it does this year?

      1. I’d have to wait until I have a suitable plant grown from seed to graft a cutting onto. And that is best done in spring for best results. I might be able to try getting a cutting to root directly though.

        They should fruit in spring, but in our climate more likely early summer.

        I’d love to have a look at it! Where is it exactly?

  5. We have three avocado trees growing outdoors on an allotment here in St Leonards-on-Sea.
    – 2 one-year-old trees, derived from a Fuerte stone, now about 40-50 cm tall
    – 1 two-year-old tree, derived from a Hass stone, now about 180 cm tall

      1. I think the westerly gales, down here on the coast, will be the biggest challenge this winter. Protecting them while they’re small is no problem, but this is too difficult now with a large 2-year-old tree, though am propagating it (by layering) just in case something happens to the main tree. I’ll leave all three trees unprotected this winter and just see what happens …

  6. I too am trying to grow avocado outside in London. To my mind London’s hardiness zone is about 9b and therefore it’s definitely doable for the hardier Mexican varieties or even the Mexican/Guatemalan hybrids. Alas like others I am finding that sourcing these trees is impossible. It makes no sense that I can easily buy a grafted Haas to grow as a houseplant that will never bear fruit, but I can’t buy a grafted Mexican variety that will grow outside and bear fruit! So I’m doing it myself and will just have to see what survives, what doesn’t and what eventually bears decent enough fruit. I just started with a single Fuerte seedling from a bought avocado fruit which has yet to face its first winter! I desperately scan the supermarkets for anything other than Haas but it’s proving virtually impossible. I may end up trying several Haas in the hope that one of them will have inherited enough cold hardy genes to tolerate going below freezing. I figure if it can survive the first winter, it’s looking promising! Very buoyed by the St Leonard’s Haas above!!!

    1. If I may reply to my own post…It seems that Fuerte, Bacon and Ettiger are often used as pollinators for Haas so actually it’s very possible that a seedling from a store bought Haas fruit may actually be more cold hardy than a genuine Haas depending on what genes it inherits. I shall renew my scouring of supermarkets for good looking, tasty Haas!

  7. @Susana.
    Good luck with the avocado trials – I’ll follow this with great interest. However, the base of genetic variability for cold tolerance in the ‘Hass’ or ‘Fuerte’ hybrids will be very narrow compared to the hardier Mexican parent. That said, in London, given a very sheltered but sunny south-facing site, it’s clear they can thrive. Down here in St Leonards-on-Sea, the frosts tend to be mild, infrequent, and brief (1-2 hours), when they hit. Gales and burrowing animals are more of a problem. Rats or squirrels (I’m not sure which one) have just burrowed in a ring around the base of our largest avocado tree, and enjoyed snacking on the anchoring roots in the top 6″ of soil! I’ve now trussed up the tree with 4 tree ties & wires to stop it wobbling precariously – it’ll be a bonus if this tree makes it through its 3rd winter outdoors …

  8. Hi all has anyone seen and tried the “baby avocado” they sell in Coop infrequently? They seem to be small but mature avocados. I have two sprouting on my south facing windowsill with the intent on planting in the allotment next year. I live in bright, mild but also wet and windy west Wales so not ideal but thought i’d try anyway. Partly because i remember reading that some of the more cold tolerant varieties have smaller fruit and partly for the fun of it.

  9. Hi there Jack and everybody,

    I’m an Arborist and am fascinated by this discussion. Like others here I want to try to grow the Mexican variety but can’t get hold of seed!! V frustrating!!!. So i’d love to be able to go and climb this tree and extract a few apical fruit.

    If anybody can share where this is, please e mail me, Spriggslandscapes@gmail.com.

    Thankyou.

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