Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Tropical South
February, 2004
Regional Report

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From the tiny Miewa kumquats to the huge pommelo, there are citrus for every taste.

Sumptuous Citrus is a Star

No wonder citrus trees were once planted behind high walls and reserved for royalty. When I first saw the fruit-laden trees with their glossy foliage, I thought them among the most beautiful I'd ever seen. After growing them for 16 years, I like them even more.

They are ideal for home growers: small, neat, fragrant with flowers for a month in the spring, and fruitful most of the year. Better yet, they take little care and are very reliable.

Easy Care
Citrus trees do best in full sun, but they'll survive and produce -- less but still well -- in partial to light shade. They start bearing quickly, usually the first year from a 3-gallon grafted tree, within two or three years for smaller ones. Plant them at the same depth as they were in the pots or nursery, and with the bud graft uncovered. But cover that union on frosty nights until they are fairly mature and more cold tolerant.

Once established, citrus prefer a good, deep watering every one to two weeks, and drying out between. Citrus should be well fed. Give young trees three to four applications between late February and September of one pound of 6-6-6 or a citrus blend for each foot of tree spread. Once mature, feed the same amount in three applications per year. When you start getting more fruit than you can use or give away, reduce feeding accordingly.

Favorite Kinds
Citrus fruits come in many forms. Every time you taste a new variety you really like, write down the name. Most kumquats are rather sour, but the Meiwa is sweet. I have a tree between my door and the mailbox and have been teased for going to the mailbox so often, eating all the way. These are delicious out of hand, skin and all. They bloom on and off all year, but mine bears mostly November through April. Like most citrus, kumquats are also good in jams, jellies, salads, and baking, and delicious candied whole.

Many people, even Florida natives, are not familiar with the largest citrus fruit, the pommelo (also spelled pummelo) that is the granddaddy of the grapefruit. It gets almost as large as a bowling ball, and has thicker skin and drier, sweeter flesh. We pick these from November until May.

My friend, the late author Lewis Maxwell, said the mandarin 'Ponkan' was his favorite citrus and I agree. It ripens in November, is almost ugly in looks but wonderful in flavor. The thin skin almost falls from the sweet fruit. We find it pays to start picking these when still quite green, before Thanksgiving. If you wait too long, they can dry out before the end of January.

Alone, the Valencias are good for juice, but we didn't think they were great until we combined them with our blood oranges for a pink to purple juice. We make gallons from March until May and freeze it to use as needed. Our citrus trees bring us great pleasure as well as good health. One great way to find your own favorites is at a tasting table at the Rare Fruit Council meetings.

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