it was all the rage to see who could get their guacamole to turn into a taller plant than the neighbor’s
Durell Godfrey

The 1970s, when I lived in a rent-controlled Columbia University apartment, were a cool time. Macrame and tie-dyed T-shirts were in, and we all seemed to gravitate toward avocado plants.

A few charming books came out at that time, which must have inspired us, and we embraced the concept: free trees. They never bore fruit, and they never would. Instead, it was all the rage to see who could get their guacamole to turn into a taller plant than the neighbor’s. At one time I had about 10 avocado plants in pots, which I gave away after about 10 years when I decamped. Maybe they’re still somewhere above 105th Street, being passed from apartment to apartment in the same building.

The technique for growing an avocado plant is really easy. First, decide to make something tasty with avocados. They go well with pink grapefruit, by the way, or stick to classic guacamole. 

Cut open the avocado and take out the pit. It will have a papery skin around it; wash the pit off and carefully remove the skin. (If that seems hard to do, don’t worry. It will slough off eventually after it dries. 

Then get three or four wooden toothpicks, preferably strong ones. Take a look at the photos. They show that the toothpicks are spaced evenly about halfway up the pit from the flat end. Next find an eight-ounce glass or mug and fill it with room-temperature water. (The toothpicks will keep the pit from submerging.) It’s basically that simple. 

You can put it in a window; a window in a kitchen is good because you are apt to be around to watch the progress. An avocado’s roots will sometimes not emerge. If they don’t, your pit may be a dud. However, don’t give up. Try a bunch of pits and be patient. Sometimes it takes months to get a hint of a root.

Once you see roots, you can hope that your pit will crack open at the pointy top to let the plant begin to grow. After four leaves have emerged, you will have to do the unthinkable: pinch back the next tiny leaves that emerge. This will make the plant stem stronger. 

One year, I had three duds and four successes, though one of those was puny and did not make it past the first four leaves. If you get to the leafy stage consider yourself successful. Plant the avocado in some nice soil and put it in a window with good light. It is unlikely that you will get four-foot tall avocado plants like we did in the ’70s but give it a try. Bon appetit and good luck.

Durell Godfrey