In researching an avocado question raised by a reader, I found an interesting article dealing with, among other things, making the plant branch.

The avocado grown from a pit as a houseplant gives unpredictable results. Pinching out the growing tip does not always cause the desired branching. Some plants put out just one stem that continues to grow straight up. The result is a tall crooked or angled trunk with a few leaves at the top.

Jeri Fink, in the July, 1976, issue of Plants Alive, writes of a technique to deal with an avocado that "grows up and up." Some people like a long thin trunk with a bunch of leaves at the top, he says, but if that is not for you, you can take action to make branches develop.

When the young avocado is about 5 inches tall, with a few leaves at the top, you can cut it in half, and the stump will send out a new branch, which may or may not grow straight up.

But, Fink writes, after cutting it down to half-size "if you very gently split the stem, making a cut about 2 to 4 inches, your avocado will adopt a to 4 inches, your avocado will adopt a totally new character. At first the stem browns and withers, but eventually two branches will sprout, either at the base of the split or at the top of the two ends.These branches will grow large leaves after reaching about 3 to 5 inches."

The author continues, saying that you can repeat the method anywhere on the plant and repeated splittings of branches will give the avocado a tree like effect.

If you've been discouraged by your experience, maybe you'd like to try yet another avocado pit, applying this method. Or, if you are confronted daily by an unresponsive bean-pole plant, if it has any tender flexible branches at all, try reducing their length and splitting the shortened stem. What can you lose except an ugly duckling? And maybe the result will be a swan.