Death of an Avocado (Salesman)

Thursday, November 12, 2009

OK -- this isn't going to work. So -- I'm going to put a stop to this right now. I was trying to be a little silly -- you see -- with the pun based on the Pulitzer Prize winning play "Death of a Salesman," when I realized this just wasn't going to work.

Besides -- my Avocado tree isn't named "Willy." It's a "Bacon." How do you reconcile "Willy" with "Bacon?"

Short answer: You can't.

The only thing the two items have in common is that playwright Arthur Miller kills off character Willy Loman at the end of the play. And I have managed to kill a Bacon Avocado tree. My story doesn't have nearly the drama. But it does have a rather sad ending.

This blog posting is to let other gardeners know that Bill Bird isn't perfect. His wife -- however -- is. She made me write that. Seriously.

No -- in all honesty -- all I ever do is blog about my gardening successes. I haven't told you about my NUMEROUS and EPIC gardening failures (except maybe that time when I hacked into the wrong PVC pipe...) -- and trust me -- I've had my fair share of FLOPS.

The Bacon Avocado tree -- sadly -- falls into the category of FLOP. I haven't dug it up yet. But it's a goner -- much to Venus' chagrin. She's the one that's just wild about Avocados. She can't get enough of them.

I will be honest. The wife does make a killer guacamole. And this is from a gardener who really isn't wild about guaca-anything. However -- my lovely wife was inspired by a recent trip to Rosarito Beach in Baja, California. That is where she discovered a guacamole caused her eyeballs to literally roll back into her skull.

She had to have the recipe -- and after getting a few tips from a restaurant owner in nearby Primo Tapia -- she managed to reproduce a pretty good facsimile of what we had dined on south of the border. The next step? A tree. Venus wanted her own Avocado tree -- so she could pick tree-ripened avocados for her special guacamole creation during the Super Bowl and other family gatherings.

To be honest? I didn't know much about growing Avocados. In fact, I don't think I'd ever even noticed an Avocado tree. Did they grow this far north? I had no clue. But thanks to some rather great friends at the California Rare Fruit Growers (CRFG) Association -- I not only discovered that Avocados grew well here -- but what varieties did the best.

Yes -- Virginia -- there is more than just the standard Haas Avocado that you find in your local grocery store. There are more varieties than you can shake an avocado pit at. There are Mexican varieties and there are Guatemalan varieties. There are avocados for warm weather climates and there are varieties for cold weather climates.

So -- after some research and some good advice from those "in the know," I felt rather confident when I purchased my Bacon Avocado tree at Home Depot a year ago last summer. I didn't pay much attention to the knot that developed at the base of tree a few months later. I even ignored the light black streaks that developed on some of the lower branches last fall.

The first indication that something really wasn't right was when the tree failed to grow a single inch this summer. Oh -- it grew a new crop of leaves sure enough. It leafed out just fine. It just didn't grow much -- if at all. But as light black streaks on the bottom branches of the tree grew darker and slowly moved up toward the top -- I knew something was wrong.

Then -- the other day -- I noticed this. This is the very top of the Bacon Avocado tree. Notice the lack of leaves? Notice the black color of the tip top of the tree? That ain't normal folks. There should be some leaf cover there. That tip should be green in color. It's not. It's not going to turn green either. The top of the tree is dying. In another week or four it will be dead -- and that black death will slowly envelop the rest of the tree if I allow it to stay in ground.

Don't worry -- it won't stay in the ground. It has an impending date with the Green Waste Can.

If the slowly blackening tip of the tree isn't enough proof of impending Bacon Avocado DEATH -- then this branch just below the tip should serve as the kicker. This is a month or two of the ahead of the top of the tree -- which means it's DEAD. Yup. And like a dead twig -- it snaps in two with relative ease.

So -- what went wrong? What is this BLACK DEATH infecting the wife's Bacon Avocado tree? As for the answer to the first question -- I don't know. I honestly cannot tell you what went wrong. I can tell you that the tree got the best soil. It received the best fertilzer. It never once sat in standing water. It received regular irrigation of fresh, clean Sacramento and American River water.

What then, is this Black Death? The answers arrived in the form of a helpful information page from UC Davis. Venus' poor Bacon Avocado tree is infected with not just one nasty disease but two! The names of both are just as nasty as the pictures -- Dothiorella Canker and Phytophthora Canker and Crown Rot.

Yeah -- the Bacon is cooked. It's a goner. It's not going to get any better.

I'm off to Green Acres nursery now to roam around in the dark for a Zutano. Wish me luck!


The Vintage Vignette said...

As soon as I saw the blackened cane of your avocado tree I had an immediate unpleasant flashback. I had a battle with canker a few years ago after planting 7 new rose bushes. The canes began to turn black in a spreading fashion as well.

I contacted the grower who said that they couldn't be saved as canker is a highly contagious fungal infection. They would send me a completely new order.

With some research however, I learned that it IS possible to run ahead of the canker and save healthy tissue by giving the plant a severe pruning back to healthy tissue and disenfecting the pruners with bleach after each cut and then treating with fungicide.

I tried the advice and was able to save all but one plant. I wonder if this might work for you as well. I also wonder if the canker came from any nearby rosebushes on your property? :)

Bill Bird said...

Interesting! I hadn't made that connection! And I didn't know cankers could kill off rose bushes. I didn't think anything could kill a rose bush to be honest with you.

There is another avocado tree planted 25 feet away from the infected one that shows absolutely no signs of infection. That's good. I'll keep watching it. It's not doing great mind you -- but it was just planted this year.

As far as the Bacon is concerned, it's just too far gone at this point to save. If I had attacked this earlier, I might have had some success. But with this disease and avocados, you have to regularly treat with fungicide. You can knock in back. But you can't knock it out.

My guess? The rootstock was already infected when I bought it. This does happen quite a bit. It's a big problem with nursery stock. And -- since no other tree -- citrus included -- has shown any type of disease -- I'm guessing I got infected stock.

Tracy said...

You mention a life changing amazing guacamole recipe and you don't post it?!?! I need the recipe asap!

Bill Bird said...

We have just returned from Green Acres nursery, where the wife picked out an eight foot tall Zutano Avocado tree that normally retails for $125.

Fortunately, for us, they were on sale -- the price was chopped down to $85. That was still a little steep for us. We ain't made of money, but Venus wants to harvest an avocado before she turns 50 -- so we decided to shell out the cash.

Little did we know that the manager would chop the price even further. $50 for an eight foot tall Zutano? DEAL!!!

The Vintage Vignette said...

Unfortunately roses are the prime targets for canker infection due thier constant need for seasonal pruning. The pruning creates open entry points for all types of fungus but especially canker.

It can even be transmitted from insects chewing on infected plants and then hopping aboard new canes to munch. Fortunately you can keep it in check if you catch it early enough to do battle with it and keep it at bay long enough to hold out for warm weather where the fungus cannot grow well enough to proliferate.

Also, will we get to see a photo of Venus next to her prized avocado tree? :)

Anonymous said...

I grew up in Orange County, where avocado trees are fairly prevalent.

Next to our baseball field was the remenants of an old orchard. Probably 40-50 trees, still bearing a LOT of fruit. We used them for batting practice.

Now I think back, and wish that I had all of those avocados sitting on my counter right now, waiting to make a giant vat of guacamole.

Bill Bird said...

Sorry -- avocados and viagra do not mix -- so there is no room for Viagra comments. Bananas and Viagra DO mix -- but I'm not growing bananas. Therefore -- any comments left with viagra links WILL be deleted. Since you know this up front -- why waste your time?