Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Avocados and Clay Soils Don't Mix

Avocado trees, planted in a clay soil in an area of high rainfall, will frequently be unhealthy. Various species of trees can tolerate ‘wet feet’ such as the great magnolias of the South which grow in the swamps. Other trees, like avocado and citrus, do not like to sit in water. In order for most trees to thrive in places of high rainfall, they must either be able to tolerate lots of water or be grown in well-drained soils. Unfortunately, a clay soil does not facilitate good drainage.

A key element to remember is that roots need oxygen as much as they need water. When it rains, water fills the air pockets in the soil. For good plant health, a portion of that water needs to quickly drain away to allow the air to come back. In clay soils this does not happen; the clay holds onto the water.  

In arid climates, farmers who have clay soils simply apply water less often. In tropical climates, the clay soil has little or no chance to dry out; oxygen is excluded, and the roots die. In the case of avocados, it has been shown that after 72 hours in a water logged soil, their roots begin to decline.  Once this happens, leaves turn yellow and drop resulting in twig and small branch dieback.

Clay and rain are a bad combination for many plants. There is not much to be done for existing trees; the soil can’t be changed neither can the rain be stopped. A good recommendation is to plant on a slope where there is better drainage. Sometimes trees can be planted on mounds about 3 feet high. It won’t do any good to dig a hole, put the tree in and fill the hole with a different type of soil. That is like putting sand in a bathtub, plugging the drain and planting a tree in it.