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HARVESTING YOUR OWN CITRUS

BY BRUCE ZIMMERMAN

Wouldn’t it be nice to pick fresh oranges, lemons, limes, and mandarins or just to enjoy the fragrance of their blossoms on these dreary winter days?  You can.  Many garden centers are now starting to carry these citrus plants.  But you will have to go looking for them.  
I prefer the standard or tree form plants as opposed to the bush or multiple branched plants, why?  They look good in containers on my patio during the summer.  They also stand tall enough to reach up to my sunny southern window in the wintertime. 

When Hardy Orange Tree ( Poncirus trifoliata) in my garden. It is typical of citrus because it has fruit and flowers at the same time you are selecting a citrus plant for your home, first look at the base of the trunk.  You are looking for a bulge where a known citrus variety has been put on a rootstock.  You will find that this is usually a dwarfing  rootstock called Poncirus trifoliata.

Next look for a healthy green leafy plant that is not dropping leaves profusely.  While a defoliated plant can be saved with lots of sunlight and careful watering, the plant probably will not produce flowers and fruit for a long time and may lose many branches. For those of you who like the challenge these are the bargain plants to buy.

In your home you will need a southern window, which can provide a minimum of four hours of direct sunlight.  Less light will allow your plants to go dormant; in which case, maintenance watering and fertilizing is done until activity starts again in early spring.

A citrus soil is rich, well drained and slightly acidic.  Add sphagnum peat moss to a sandy tropical potting soil to achieve a good citrus soil.  Transplant in late spring only when very root bound and your citrus tree has shown reduced vigor in the previous season.  In ten or more years when your pot size is getting out of hand, transplanting is done a little differently.  You will thin out the roots, repot with the recommended soil and water with a transplant fertilizer.  You will then reduce the top of the plant by at least one quarter.

The only pruning you will ever do is to branch thin and tip prune your established tree.  This should allow you to keep your potted citrus to a height of four to six feet.

The food you should use is a water-solubleThe Largest Lemon fertilizer high in phosphorous and potash.  Use at the recommended strength and time.  In winter this will be cut back but not stopped.  Remember citrus is an evergreen requiring year round care.

 Whether your citrus is inside or out, watering is done when the top inch of soil is dried out.  Add only enough water to wet the soil but not soak it or allow it to stand in water.  Forgetful watering encourages poor growth, leaf drop and small immature fruit.

Leave your citrus fruit on the tree for as long as possible.  This is because citrus fruit only sweetens up while on the plant.  Since ripe citrus fruit is retained on the plant for long periods of time, and you need only pick as required.  The exceptions are limes and occasionally navel oranges, which drop quickly when ripe.  Some mandarins may become dry and pulpy if left on the tree too long. 

I have always believed that BUDDHA'S HAND CITRUS IS IT UGLIER THAN UGLY FRUITgarden tours are a great resource of knowledge and the occasional surprise. On a recent garden tour I discovered this Buddha's Hand Citrus. The Buddha's Hand looks like an octopus. It's many fingers are just rind with no pulp. It is a symbol of extreme happiness in Buddhism and other Asian religions. Buddha's Hand is so fragrant that it has been use as a perfumant and moth repellent.

In the outdoors the wind and bees may pollinate your flowers.  Whether the plants are indoors or out, I prefer to pollinate them myself.  I find this ensures larger crops.  To do this, take a small, soft child’s water colour brush go from flower to flower.  It is not usual to have both flowers and fruit on the plants at the same time.  The fruit may also be at different stages of maturity.

            A special note for beginners:  The easiest citrus to grow in pots are limes, lemons, mandarins, kumquats and calamondins.  While oranges and grapefruits grow well, they often produce poor crops.  I will be double checking this in the coming years with my Valencia orange and mandarin.  My orange will be ready to pollinate for the first time in the next four to five days and the mandarin’s first crop will be picked this spring.

Happing harvesting.  Oh, yes, have you tried growing bananas?  You should! The Hardy Banana (Musa basjoo) above is hardy to-3F and down To -24F with heavy mulching using plastic bags of leaves. The Fruit is not edible.  It can reach 9 to 18 feet each season.

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