Express News GARDENING, Etc.
Sunday, July 27, 2003
By Lynn Rawe
We have exciting news for gardeners in San Antonio! The Bexar County Extension office has received information from Texas A&M that beginning in August, several area retailers including Lowe’s, Home Depot, WalMart, and HEB will be featuring container grown patio citrus. This includes mandarins, grapefruit and satsumas as well as lemons, limes, and oranges. Below is a reprint of the article we received from Dr. Don C. Wilkerson, Professor and Extension Specialist, Department of Horticultural Sciences at Texas A&M University. Dr. Wilkerson’s article answers all those “how to” questions you might have. Successful citrus gardening is not a mystery of life! Read on, and make plans to purchase a citrus plant (or two) when they are available.
Lemons, Limes and Oranges in Your Own Backyard:
Patio citrus is one of the hottest new products on the market! The plants are extremely attractive and the prospect of harvesting lemons, limes and oranges from your own trees is enough to tantalize any home gardener. Most citrus won’t tolerate cold weather. But, because these trees are container grown, they can be moved to a protected area for over-wintering.
Most citrus trees are budded onto a rootstock. Only certified bud-wood has been screened for several serious diseases that affect these plants. A slight dogleg in the trunk is the easiest way to identify a budded tree. This process takes a little longer to produce a finished product, but the extra wait is worth these important added benefits.
There are numerous types of citrus available throughout the world. Many of the common, and not so common varieties are now being container grown for use on patios and in the landscape. Lemons, thornless Mexican lime, oranges, mandarin oranges, grapefruit, and satsumas are all available from local retail outlets.
Basic Cultural Information:
Container grown, Patio Citrus are ideal for use on decks and in outdoor gardening areas. These trees do well in containers and produce fruit like those planted in the ground. The best part of this approach is that the containers can be moved to a protected area to over winter.
If planting citrus in the ground consider the following cultural suggestions:
In cold-sensitive areas, plant citrus trees on the south and southeast sides of the house to provide some protection from northwesterly cold fronts. The house will lose considerable heat, providing some additional protection to trees planted nearby. Or leave plants in containers and simply move them to a garage, covered patio or other protected area during cold spells.
Planting under large, overhanging trees offers some cold protection, but growth and production of citrus under other trees is not entirely satisfactory. Citrus requires full sunlight for optimum growth and production. The natural form of citrus is for the ends of the lower branches to almost touch the ground when fruit is present, so allow for this natural growth at planting. Planting depth is critical to the survival of citrus trees. The rootstock is somewhat resistant to soil born diseases, but the top is more susceptible. If the bud union is below ground, the tree could die.
When planting in the landscape, dig the planting hole half again wider than the root ball. Mixing topsoil, compost, peat or other materials with the backfill soil is unnecessary in good citrus soils. Set the tree in the hole, backfill about halfway, then water sufficiently to wet the backfill and settle it around the roots. Finish filling the hole and tamp the soil lightly into place. Cover the root ball with 1/2 to 1 inch of soil to seal the growing medium from direct contact with the air and prevent rapid drying of the root ball.
Build a watering ring atop the ground around the tree, about 5 to 6 inches high and 6 to 8 inches thick. The ring should be slightly wider than the planting hole. If adequate soil isn’t left over from planting, borrow some from the garden. Fill the water basin with water. When the water soaks in, it may be necessary to add a little soil to the holes made as the soil settled around the root system.
Newly-planted citrus trees require thorough watering two to three times the first week and one to two times per week for the next few weeks, depending upon soil type, rainfall and time of year. Then, apply water when the soil begins to get dry an inch or so down. Simply fill the water ring each time. The watering ring should erode away over time (4 to 6 months), at which time the tree can be considered established and watered as needed.
Do not apply fertilizer until the tree begins new growth after planting. Fertilize monthly through October. Scatter fertilizer on the ground at least a foot from the tree trunk and promptly water it in thoroughly. Nitrogen is usually the only fertilizer element required in most Texas soils, but additional elements should not do any harm.
For much more information on citrus please see our web site at http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/extension/homefruit/citrus/citrus.html.