Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Southwestern Deserts
February, 2011
Regional Report

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Kumquat's dense foliage is covered with fruit much of the year.

Kumquat Hedge

Not many of us are blessed with "40 acres and a mule" anymore. Okay, a stubborn mule may not be a blessing, but I don't know any gardeners who wouldn't appreciate extra space. However, suburban developers seem to cram as big a house as possible on ever-smaller lots, not allowing much room to create productive gardens or inviting landscapes. If you are space-challenged, or just plain busy, it's helpful to choose plants that provide multiple benefits. Kumquats (or cousins limequat and orangequat) are good examples of multi-purpose plants.

Like other citrus, kumquat trees are evergreen. Their typical size, about 8 to 12 feet tall and wide depending on variety, is perfect to create a low-maintenance "hedge" that needs almost no pruning if sited and spaced appropriately. In fact, citrus trees perform better without excessive pruning. Simply remove dead or crossing branches or sprouts that arise from below the graft point.

Kumquats differ from other citrus in that the entire fruit is edible, rind and all. Pop a cherry tomato-sized kumquat in your mouth for a blast of sweet and tart sensations. Kumquats bear fruit for extended periods, some even year around, creating a colorful tableau of deep green leaves dotted with orange fruit.

Fragrance is an attribute often lacking in desert landscapes, and kumquat fills that void. Like all citrus, the scent of its blossoms will waft over a large area. Kumquats make excellent container plants, so consider siting one near a patio or door where you can inhale the sweet fragrance each time you pass.

With this winter's spate of freezing weather, it's helpful to know that kumquat trees are the most cold tolerant of citrus. Their foliage will survive to about 18 to 20 degrees F, although the fruit is less hardy. The tree's manageable size makes it easier to cover than full-size citrus when frost is predicted. Kumquat can be planted outdoors in USDA zones 8-11 or as container trees moved indoors in colder zones. Place the container on a wheeled stand for easy maneuverability.

If you can, taste-test the fruit before purchase, or read nursery descriptions. We all have our preferences, and there's considerable variance from sweet to tart! Some varieties substitute for limes. Although you may not eat the fruit whole, it's a good option in lieu of a lime tree, which is the least cold-hardy citrus.

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