Jason Powell owns and operates Petals from the Past nursery in Jemison, with his family. They specialize in antique roses, cottage perennials, herbs and fruit plants. Visit petalsfromthepast.com.

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Home Grown Citrus
by Jason Powell    

Late fall and winter mean many things to us as gardeners. There are trees to be planted, catalogs to read, soil to be amended and if you are fortunate, oranges, lemons and kumquats to be eaten. I say fortunate because only a small number of grocery stores market fresh citrus – most is brought into our area from California. This simply means the fruit has to be picked early enough to ship, so we do not get the real flavor of tree-ripened fruit. I am fortunate to have grown up in a family that grew citrus, and I know how a ripe satsuma, lemon or kumquat should taste. If you are like me and crave the flavor of great citrus, consider growing your own.

You will be happy to know that growing citrus does not require tractors, gallons of pesticides or a labor force. In fact, if you are careful and select the right types of citrus along with good varieties, you can grow enough on a small patio to enjoy with your family. My favorites include kumquats, calamondins, satsumas and lemons. All of these choices are self-fruitful so you only need one of any of them to produce fruit. After variety selection, the next most important consideration is care and maintenance. And finally, keep an eye out for a handful of pests, all of which can be controlled organically, and you will be the envy of your neighbors when you showcase your home grown citrus.

           


Kumquat fruit is delicious eaten whole, sliced and added to salads, or used in jams, jellies or marmalades. Eight kumquats contain about 100 calories, making them a good alternative to less healthy snacks. They also provide a good source of fiber and vitamins A and C. [1]

Kudos To Kumquat

The kumquat is the most cold hardy of the citrus we grow – cold hardy to 15 or 16 F. This means it can be grown outside in many Southeastern states with proper protection during severe freezes. Fragrant flowers occur in the spring and are followed by fruits that ripen in autumn. The fruits are generally between a quarter and half-dollar in size and turn a brilliant orange when ripe. There are both sweet and sour selections of kumquats. I enjoy eating the sweet ones, skin and all, while my wife prefers the sour type. Once you have eaten your fill of fresh kumquats, make marmalade with the rest.

           


Calamondin. [2]

Calamondin Culture

The calamondin is next in line for cold hardiness – hardy to 17 or 18 F. The calamondin is considered a cross between a sour mandarin and the sour kumquat. Wonderfully fragrant flowers occur in spring and often again in the summer. The fruit is round, bright orange when ripe, seedy, sour and similar in size to the kumquat. The fruit ripens in October and November and the tree appears as if orange ornaments have been hung on every limb. The only way I can eat calamondins are in marmalade, but my wife and Mother can eat them fresh. They are great in tea, squeezed over fish or chicken and in dressings.

 


Satsuma is a deliciously sweet citrus that’s easy to grow and perfect for containers. Accentuate the satsuma by planting trailing annuals such as violas or periwinkle around the edge of the container. [3]

Savory Satsuma

Satsumas fill the niche for a sweet, hardy citrus plant. A type of mandarin orange, satsumas are cold hardy to 20 F. We graft the satsumas at our nursery onto a rootstock called ‘Flying Dragon’ trifoliate orange which creates a dwarfing effect and contributes additional cold hardiness. Sweet scented flowers occur in late April and are followed by fruit that ripen in fall. Satsumas are considered the finest of the fall season citrus for many reasons: They are seedless, peel easily and are very sweet. Another distinct advantage for those of us north of Florida is the fact that the farther north the plant can be grown and winter protected, the greater the flavor and the longer we can let the fruit hang on the tree. I have talked to several people who as youngsters considered themselves fortunate to find a satsuma or two in their stocking at Christmas.

 


‘Meyer’ lemon [4]

The Luster Of Lemon

Last but not least, lemons are a must have. There are many varieties to choose from with varying degrees of hardiness. My personal favorite is the ‘Meyer’. I have found this cultivar to be cold hardy to 22 F and have two planted on the east side of our nursery and grow many more in decorative pots. Heavenly fragranced flowers may occur two or three times during the year followed by 3- to 4-inch-diameter fruit that ripens to a bright yellow. The lemons are deliciously flavored and have dozens of uses. The fruit, when ripe, can actually have a slightly sweet flavor.

           

Citrus Varieties & Ripening Time

Kumquat

• ‘Nagami’ (sour) ripens November and December

• ‘Meiwa’ (sweet) ripens November and December

Satsuma

• ‘Brown Select’ ripens October 15 to 30

• ‘Owari’ ripens November 5 to 25

 

Sources for Citrus Plants

Johnson Nursery
888.276.3187
www.johnsonnursery.com

Petals From the Past
205.646.0069
www.petalsfromthepast.com

Soil, Fertilization & Watering

All of the citrus types I have discussed prefer a well-drained soil with a pH between 5.8 and 7.0. If growing citrus in a container is your preference, a soilless potting mix will work fine. I recommend at least a 16-inch pot and an inch increase in size at least every other year. Once you have selected your plant and have it planted, its time to consider fertilization. My greatest success has occurred when I’ve fertilized two to three times annually with a complete fertilizer that also contains micronutrients

A common error is overwatering. Don’t leave saucers underneath pots of your citrus plants. If you are growing them in containers, always test the soil with your fingers to determine if your plant needs water. If you have your citrus planted in the ground, you shouldn’t need to add more than 1 inch of water a week to the soil during the growing season, preferably using a soaker hose or drip irrigation.

           

Pest Control

Keep an eye out for a handful of pests when growing citrus. Insects such as whitefly, leaf miner and several scale insects enjoy snacking on the foliage. Mites such as the citrus red mite, Texas citrus mite or rust mite may occasionally be problematic. The diseases I have encountered are scab, greasy spot and occasionally, brown rot on the fruit. The best way to handle these pests is to address them as you see them. However, the following is a schedule I have found helpful to manage all of the above pests: A copper spray for disease control in the spring, a summer oil spray for greasy spot control in the summer (primarily on lemons) and a fall spray of neem oil to suppress leaf miner and spider mite problems. I prefer an organic approach to handle these pests. Organic insecticides/miticides such as neem oil, ultrafine oil or dormant oil are superb. For fungicides, I have enjoyed great success with neem oil, copper spray and even fish emulsion.

This year, save some room in the garden or on the patio for at least one citrus plant. Whether it is a sweet or sour flavor you prefer you can grow it!

 

(From State-by-State Gardening Nov/Dec 2005.)

 

Photo Credits:
[1] Photo copyright © istockphoto.com/kelah2001

[2] Photo copyright © bigstockphoto.com/profile/John Carvalho/
[3] Photo copyright © istockphoto.com/audioworm
[4] Photo courtesy of Stephanie Hudak.

 

Posted: 09/21/11   RSS | Print

 

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