Texas-Tough (Soft-Skin Mexican) Avocados

This is an edited and condensed version of what I published in the book Texas Tough Gardening, which is now out of print.

If you grew up in states like Texas and California, where having avocados was standard with lunch and dinner meals, I’m sure you also attempted to grow your own avocado from the seed. And you could grow something from that seed, but it rarely ever made fruit. And if it even had that capacity it could take 9 or 10 years to produce. Plus, in most of the state of Texas, those grown from seed, would eventually die from a freeze in that decade-long wait.

Finally, in Texas, the soft-skinned Mexican Avocados hit our nurseries and garden centers, it totally changed they hows, whats and whys about avocado growing culture in this region. The best part about growing your own avocados in this region is that you can get a solid crop in just the first year, and for sure into the second growing year. But there are two rather large caveats to get that kind of production in the first two years; they have to be able to make it through their first winter and they have to withstand their summer without dying.

While that may sound simple enough, the need to get the young avocado to “bark up” is the critical attribute to hit successful production.In all the years I’ve been recommending these soft-skinned Mexican Avocados, it’s still painful to hear the stories about how they were lost due to a freeze, lost due to over-watering or lost due to extreme heat. So, after I make my list of recommended avocado varieties known for this region, then keep reading, because it’s the planting and cultural care practices that are so critical to growing a successful avocado crop. And at the risk of sounding repetitive, once you do get any of the recommended avocado varieties to “bark up” they can handle almost any cold temperatures down even to 26 degrees and they can handle 100 degree summer temperatures as well – as long as the trunk is hardened bark, versus soft green tissue.

I think it bears repeating that since the need to “bark up” the tree is so critical to your success with avocados, don’t discount how important the soil preparation is as well. In all the years I have been doling out advice on all things gardening here in Houston, I wish everyone that ever purchased one of the aforementioned Avocado trees would have had this book’s distinct advice on Citrus and Avocado planting. That’s because in almost every case where someone planted an Avocado tree and then came back to me weeks and months later and asked why their tree was dying or looked so pathetic, the answer was almost always improper drainage and the highly sensitive root systems, were almost always drowning in a clay bowl of water. So, all the earlier advice in the citrus planting protocols works perfectly fine for Avocados. The only distinct difference in that planting medium is that you can make the entire area nothing but rose soil. In many cases they actually make a citrus soil these days, and while that is good in its entirety for containerized citrus, I still would rather have a fair amount of the existing clay for those going in the ground. As for the Avocados, I can see the entire planting zone (remember twice as wide and half again as deep?) being pure citrus or rose soil for the benefit of the delicate Avocado roots. Finally, plant it in such a way that the top few inches are “raised” above the existing soil line. This further insures that the drainage will be perfect.

As for feeding the Avocados… once again, follow the basic rules of citrus feeding 3-4 times a year but being done by October 1st are all very good rules. And you’ll start to notice in many cases that where they label foods specific for citrus these days, more and more fertilizer companies are including Avocados on that list as well. Despite all the similarities and in soil prep and feeding on avocados, there is one big difference – you don’t have to prune off the first year two of fruit development like you should with the citrus.

These are suggestions that I know are readily available and/or are the most cold-hardy of all the Mexican Avocados that will do well in our regions. And since I don’t want to show too much favoritism, outside of the descriptions and attributes of each, I’ve decide to simply place them in alphabetical order. Many of these names are trademarked, and there are two distinct factions in the avocado growing industry here in Texas. So, my intention is to give you all the names, not play favorites with any of them, and show you how blessed we are to actually have so many choices.

‘Brazos Belle’ – Thought to be similar to the trademarked Wilma (later in this list); hardy to the mid to low teens; known for its large purple-black fruit; also noted to have exceptional flavor.

‘Brogdon’ – This has that ultimate black, smooth skinned fruit.Can grow to as high as 30 ft. tall. If you like guacamole, this is known as one of the best choices. They will ripen late from mid-July to mid-September.

‘Day’ – This avocado may actually be the easiest to grow permanently in a container, because it may max out at 6 to 8 ft., but will produce at only 3-4 ft. in height. Day avocado is also well-known to be one of the “buttery-tasting” avocados.The fruit may seem to take a long time to harvest, known to hold onto the plant for upwards of six months. Very cold tolerant down to the low 20s.

‘Don Juan’ – This is a very nice-sized avocado with speckled green-grown skin, but with an exceptional flesh inside. When it comes to cold-tolerance, the Don Juan Avocado is known to handle temperatures down to the mid to high teens.This tree can reach upwards of 20 to 25 ft. at maturity.

‘Fantastic’ – Arguably one of the top 2 or 3 in the cold-hardiness category; also considered one of the creamiest textured of the flesh and consequently like home-grown tomatoes, you’ll never be wanting store bought avocados again. We talk about most of these being “soft-skinned” and this is likely the thinnest skin of all of these recommendations. That’s actually good news though, because it means you can actually eat the skin. Fantastic is also considered ornamentally beautiful in a landscape;

‘Joey’ – Named after Joey Ricers from Uvalde, Texas, this dark, purple-black skinned variety is more noted for its egg-shaped fruit. Joey is noted by experts I trust as one of the best-tasting Avocados on this list. But Joey’s best attribute is that it’s known as one of the most prolific producers of sheer numbers. I suspect these same experts will note that Joey is a close 2nd to Fantastic in terms of cold hardiness.

‘Lila’ – Lila is a medium sized pear shaped fruit, noted for its “rich Mexican avocado flavor” – whatever that truly means! This is another super, cold-hardy variety down to as low as 15 degrees. Meanwhile, it assuredly is not the tallest of these soft skinned Mexican avocados peaking at just bout 10-15 ft. in height.

‘Mexicola’ – This is not quite as cold hardy as many of the others, but still hardy down to the low 20s. This may be the darkest of the dark/black thin skinned Avocados. It grows to a nice size as well, making it a good choice for a medium size landscape tree. Mexicola is also known for its creamy, great taste.

‘Mexicola Grande’ –My research has pointed out quite often that this could be considered the truest of the true avocado varieties on this list. The soft-skinned, black Avocado is uniquely glossy as well. The flesh inside the Mexicola Grande has a reputation for a rather “nutty” flavor as well. And this variety has the best reputation for consistent fruit size.

‘Opal’ – Originated in Uvalde, Texas, the Opal is one of the true trademarked avocado names out there. Opal is a medium size, pear-shaped fruit that has the designation of the “richest” flavor of all the available Avocados in this region. If you noticed how many other varieties are dark, purple or black in their descriptions, understand that the Opal is probably the greenest of all the soft-skinned varieties.

’Poncho’ – This can also be found under the name ‘Pancho.’ The Ponchos is known to be a medium-large green fruit too, but definitely not as reputable as the Opal. The Pancho is cold-hardy down to the low 20s. But the best attribute of the Poncho could be that it is the latest of the producers from mid-August through October.

‘Pryor’ – I found it hard to find details on this particular one variety. And it may not be the most popular because compared to almost every other variety on this list, the Pryor is considered the smallest of all the soft-skinned Mexican Avocados. Yes, they are cold hardy down to the upper teens. This too is also considered one of the green-skinned varieties.

‘Wilma’ – Originally discovered in Pearsall, Texas, the Wilma is also one of the true trademarked names out there. Wilma is considered one of, if not the largest Avocado in this list. And it also gets high marks for its great flavor. This black-skinned variety also has the reputation as being around longer than almost all the others on this list.