Plant citrus for your own harvest
December 14, 2014
By Beth Ellis/Victoria County Master Gardener
Edited by Charla Borchers Leon/Victoria County Master Gardener
PHOTO BY HENRY HARTMAN/CREATIVE IMAGES
Citrus fruits are often given and received for the holidays. If you have been in the nurseries recently, you have probably seen fruited trees ready to go home with you.
This article will cover planting considerations, so you and your family can enjoy bountiful harvests from your very own citrus trees for years to come.
The most important thing to realize about citrus trees is their cold sensitivity. While the Victoria area is usually blessed with mild winters, occasional freezes and icy weather can put a crimp in an unwary citrus grower's plans. To avoid potential problems, consider the following:
When planting in the landscape, place trees in full sunlight in an area sheltered from north winds - a sunny spot on the south side of your house is ideal. While established trees will likely overwinter just fine in such a location, bear in mind that every once in a while Mother Nature decides to up the ante when it comes to harsh weather.
When temperatures are projected to fall below freezing for several hours, wrap trunks with protective blanketing and cover foliage with nonplastic sheeting.
If growing citrus in containers, use plant dollies. These allow plants to be wheeled around to take best advantage of sun and shelter. During cold weather roll containers inside houses, garages or sheltered patios. Remember that even garages and patios can become quite cold, so consider using fluorescent bulbs to keep plants warm.
Citrus trees come in two forms - standard and dwarf. Standards can grow close to thirty feet in height. Taking adult size into consideration, they should be planted 15 to 25 feet apart.
Dwarfs grow from 6 to around 12 feet in height, making it much easier for homeowners to reach fruit in harvesting. Plant dwarfs 8 to 10 feet apart.
To plant, clear an area 4 feet across and dig a hole in the center one-and-a-half times the width of the root ball. Place trees with the original surface 1 inch higher than surrounding soil. Fill half the hole, add water, and add remaining soil. Gently tamp and water again.
Amendments are not necessary unless your soil drains poorly. In that case a raised and amended bed is recommended.
Build a berm around the perimeter of the cleared area to help with water retention. Do not add mulch any closer than 12 inches from the trunk to avoid disease.
When planting dwarf citrus in containers, use a half whiskey barrel or other large vessel having adequate drainage holes. Add gravel to the bottom, and fill the pot halfway with a very well-draining planting mix. Carefully loosen roots if pot-bound, and place the tree in the pot. Finish filling the pot taking care to plant the tree slightly above the original surface, and water in.
Water landscape trees thoroughly two or three times during the first week after planting. Reduce watering to a couple of times the second week, and then taper off until trees are established. Water sparingly after establishment because citrus trees do not like over-watering.
Potted plants should be watered only after the top inch of soil becomes dry. Monitor carefully in summer - even though they don't like wet feet, plants can dry out quickly in hot weather.
Newly planted citrus trees do not require fertilizer, having already received it at the nursery. Several weeks after planting, give trees a dose of a balanced slow release fertilizer (once in spring and again in summer). After trees start to bear fruit, change to a fertilizer specifically blended for citrus.
Care, patience lead to produce
Remember to start your citrus journey with a vigorous plant having a good-sized root ball. Citrus can be planted any time of year, but spring is best. Plant in a sheltered, sunny location and provide cold protection when necessary. Use a slow release fertilizer a couple of times in spring and summer, and don't over-water.
In two to six years (depending upon age when planted) your trees will start rewarding your thoughtfulness with fragrant springtime blooms and autumn bounties of delicious fruit. Why not consider a citrus tree this holiday season?
The Gardeners' Dirt is written by members of the Victoria County Master Gardener Association, an educational outreach of Texas AgriLife Extension - Victoria County. Mail your questions in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901; or firstname.lastname@example.org, or comment on this column at VictoriaAdvocate.com.
From noon to 1 p.m. Jan. 12 at the Dr. Pattie Dodson Public Health Center
Educational Horticulture Project Grant is available to eligible Victoria and surrounding county teachers. For more information, to to vcmga.org/
Application deadline is Jan. 15.
Welch, William C. and Greg Grant
"2011 Heirloom Gardening in the South," Texas A&M University Press. College Stations.
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