Creative Planting Projects for Every Season!

Cathy Olson and Carol Seick
Adam's County Master Gardener Program

Avocado Project - The avocado tree (Persea americana) when grown by a hobby gardener, is grown from seeds removed from ripened fruit. There are two acceptable methods of doing this, either by sprouting the seed in water or by actually planting the seed in soil.

Many people start avocado trees as novelty house plants by piercing the seed with its pointed end up, partially through with toothpicks on three or four sides to hold it on the top of a jar or vase partly in the water with a few pieces of charcoal (to keep the water sweet) just covering the base. In 2 to 6 weeks, when roots and leaves are well-formed the plant is set in potting soil. Unless the seeds are moved into soil within a few weeks or months after germination, they'll begin to deteriorate.

Seeds can also be easily sprouted in a well-drained 4 or 5-inch pot of porous, fertile soil. The top of the seed should just barely peek above the surface of the soil. If the soil is kept fairly moist and the temperature is between 60 and 70 degrees, the seed will begin to sprout and a pretty, leafy plant will develop.

When the seedling reaches 12 inches, it should be pinched back to about 6-8 inches to produce a rounder, fuller plant. Avocados grown inside thrive in sun or in a good, lighted location. Once they've filled their pots up with healthy roots, they should be potted in larger ones. Repotting should be done in the spring.

Well-rooted plants should be given a diluted liquid fertilizer every week or two. Watering should be done so that the soil never becomes really dry but isn't ever soggy and waterlogged. They should be fertilized with a balanced houseplant food every two or three weeks in the summer and about every six weeks during the winter. It's also a good idea to mist the leaves of your avocado if the air in your home is very dry.

Indoor trees need low night temperatures to induce bloom. Transplanting should be done in early spring. Potted plants should be moved outdoors gradually, so they can acclimatize themselves, and adjust to the new elements. Other potentially helpful tips can be found at

Pineapple Project - Pineapples were our souvenirs from Hawaii in 2004; we had a wonderful time and decided to share some fruits with others. The carton held three full- grown pineapples so we carried two cartons home. We enjoyed every bite. You can purchase pineapples at the local supermarket in lieu of a trip to Hawaii!

When I returned home from our trip, I decided to make an attempt at growing more pineapples at home and followed this procedure: I cut off the top stalks , called crowns, removed all the pulp and prepared two pots with potting soil. It was too cold outside but we do have several sunny windows. After watering sporadically, I realized that they were actually developing roots. Wow, what a surprise!

By the time spring came, I needed to repot each crown; the stems are very sharp, and after several stabbings I learned to use gloves and long sleeves to care for them. The pots remained on my deck all summer long, in nearly full sun. With regular watering, the pineapple plants really began to grow. Winter came and the plants came inside.

This continued from 2004 until 2008. In the spring of 2008, one pineapple plant showed a small change in the center; some very small purplish flowers appeared. They disappeared and the fruit began to develop. It was still too cold to put the plant outside but in the deep center, there was a very hard inch-thick stalk growing. By late May we were able to move the productive plant back outside on the deck. It was really heavy - about 3 feet across and at least 3 feet high by this time.

Both plants sat, one unchanged for 3 years and the other with a stalk now 2 feet high inside the middle of the plant with a pineapple on top that finally measured 15 inches across by late summer. We decided to harvest our prize, and needed a real heavy duty knife to cut the stalk. The pineapple was delicious, so juicy, sweet and a wonderful reminder of our trip to Hawaii.

Characteristically, the pineapple plant produces one fruit, a process that usually takes close to 2 years in Hawaii. Often there are sucker plants located at the base of the main plant. One sucker can develop another fruit after 12 months; this second fruit is called a ratoon. I did not try this; I am now watching the other orginal pineapple for signs of flowering.

I must admit this project requires a lot of patience but the plant itself requires very little care. It's fun to try something new!

Sweet Potato Project - Sweet potato tubers are very similar to the avocado to root. Buy a sweet potato. If possible, find one that has some small sprouts on it. If not, place the potato under the sink for awhile until it sprouts. Some shipping companies spray the potatoes to delay sprouting in shipment.

When sprouts appear, place a wood toothpick on either side of the middle; suspend pointed side down in a glass of water, and place in bright location until soft roots appear.

Soon there should be tiny red sprouts at the top. These will grow into long green shoots and can be planted when they are about 6 inches high. Keep indoors until all possibilities of frost have disappeared. Ornamental sweet potato plants have become

very popular as an accent plant for gardeners; enjoy growing your own garden accents from the vegetable itself. Kids love a project like this - just give it a try and you'll see!

Read other articles on gardening techniques

Read other articles by Carol Sieck