Miss Ruby Red produces fruit for the holidays
December 21, 2014
By Pat Koenig/Victoria County Master Gardener
Edited by Charla Borchers Leon/Victoria County Master Gardener
PHOTOS BY PAT KOENIG/VICTORIA COUNTY MASTER GARDENER
Last week's article provided guidance on planting citrus trees. I am writing from experience how I replanted a grapefruit tree where others had frozen that has thrived for more than 20 years and produced fruit year after year.
Memories in the orchard
I am blessed to live in the country. Years ago, Grandfather had a grapefruit orchard with trees so large you could climb them. Grandchildren loved to use the grapefruit for target practice, and Grandfather would become very angry when he bit into a BB (pellet) at breakfast. A severe cold spell hit South Texas in 1950, and all the grapefruit trees froze.
Miss Ruby Red
Decades later, I found a ruby red grapefruit tree in the nursery. Miss Ruby Red was 2 1/2 feet tall in a 2-gallon pot. I took it home and planted it on the southeast side of the house. The tree didn't like temperature below 30 degrees, so I would cover her for cold protection.
Ruby Red has increased in girth every year. In the spring, it is enveloped in beautiful, fragrant white flowers the bees and butterflies love. After 21 years, I don't cover it any more during freezing conditions. It is 10 feet wide by 16 feet tall - and last Christmas, it surprised us with 400 pounds of grapefruit. A grand lady it is, indeed.
The first recording of grapefruit was in 1814 in Jamaica. Count Odett Phillipe, a Spanish don, was noted to have planted it in Florida in 1823. According to Dr. Julian W. Sauls, extension horticulturist at Texas A&M University, Charles Volz is credited with the first grapefruit planting in the lower Rio Grande Valley on sour orange root stock in 1908.
There are many varieties of grapefruit today with the most popular being Ruby Red, Henderson/Ray and the Rio Red. These grapefruit are red fleshed, have varying degrees of blush to the peel and also are seedless.
Propagation, planting and production
The majority of grapefruit trees propagated in the lower Rio Grande Valley are grown in field nurseries. Most grapefruit are T-budded on sour orange root stock. Some folks try to start grapefruit from seed, but these trees are short lived, not as productive and very susceptible to root rot and foot rot.
Grapefruit trees like well-drained loamy soils. As a subtropical tree that requires cold protection, it should be planted on the southeast side of a building with 12 feet around the tree to allow for growth. Grapefruit love a sunny spot and to be watered every two weeks. Mulching is not recommended for citrus because it increases the possibility of foot rot.
Grapefruit usually bear fruit in the third year after being planted. Any fruit that appears the first two years should be removed so that the root system and plant growth is not hindered. Your third year you may harvest as much as 25 pounds.
Grapefruit does not ripen like other fruit; it matures to good, sweet eating quality. Degreening, the term used to describe the red blushing of the peel color, takes a couple of months. The longer the grapefruit stays on the tree, the larger and sweeter it becomes. Grapefruit can be left on the tree from October through May.
Grapefruit achieves its best quality under conditions of hot days and warm nights, which results in higher sugars and lower acids. Mature grapefruit trees that are well-hardened by previous cool to cold weather can probably tolerate temperatures in the mid-20s. Supplemental heat can be provided with incandescent bulbs, Christmas lights and heat lamps under the covers.
In agriculture, grape seed is used to kill bacteria and fungi plus fight molds. Similarly, grapefruit seed extract is used to kill parasites in animal feed, preserve food and disinfect water.
Grapefruit juice is refreshing plus an excellent source of vitamin C, potassium and fiber. It can be applied to the skin to tighten and cleanse oily skin. Grapefruit juice can also be used as a gargle and breath freshener.
Caution should be taken as grapefruit may decrease how quickly the liver breaks down some medications. Check with your health care provider as grapefruit is known to interact with chemicals in numerous medicines.
Don't forget the many delightful recipes using grapefruit - from pies, cakes and cookies to salads and marmalade.
The red seedless grapefruit industry annually produces 80 percent of the fruit tonnage from Texas fruit and nut trees. Many fruit boxes are shipped all over the country as gifts from South Texas this time of year and provide a real boon to the Texas economy. No wonder the Texas Legislature in 1993 designated red, seedless grapefruit as the State Fruit of Texas.
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.
• Ruby Red
• Rio Red
They are red fleshed with varying degrees of blush to the peel and seedless.
Do you know where grapefruit gets its name?
Its fruit grows in clusters, much like grapes do.
• Prefers loamy soils and full sun.
• Should be planted on southeast side of structure for cold protection.
• Should be 12 feet from house or other buildings and driveways and walkways to allow adequate room for tree to grow to a mature size.
• All weeds and lawngrass should be completely eliminated from tree canopy to avoid competition for water and nutrients.