grow your own

by ALINE CLEMENT
Citrus Season

Do you have any citrus in your yard? If you’re a citrus lover like me you already have, or would like to have, some trees, especially at this time of year when the fruit is at its peak. Even if you don’t have a particularly green thumb, they’re pretty easy to grow. There are lots of varieties that will thrive here, and they make an attractive addition to your landscape. The scent of the blossoms is heavenly, making a walk through your garden a very pleasant experience when the trees are blooming.
Once you decide to add a citrus tree to your yard, you will also need to acquire some patience. It takes about four to five years for citrus to start bearing fruit. If you see some fruit forming in the early years, you’re supposed to pluck it off to allow the young tree to put all its efforts into growing a robust root system and strong branches to support the fruit while it’s ripening.
I started my experiment with citrus almost twenty years ago with two small trees–a key lime and a Meyer lemon. I planted them on the southwest corner of my house, which turned out to be the ideal location for both.
The key lime is great, because it bears fruit almost year-round. The juice freezes well, making it easy to bake a quick key lime pie any time of year. The main drawback to growing this tart little fruit is they are not particularly cold-hardy. My key lime tree thrived for many years before dying after two particularly cold and dry winters. I learned from this loss that it is as important to irrigate during dry winters as it is to protect against freeze damage. Last year I decided to plant a limequat, which I am told will make a pie as tart and tasty as the key lime.
The Meyer lemon is a wonderful substitute for the lemons you buy at the market. Again, the juice freezes well, making it a money-saver if you take the time to “squeeze and freeze.” We’re still enjoying the lemon juice we froze more than two years ago when we had a bumper crop. Apparently, some citrus has a longer shelf life than other frozen foods.
In recent years, I added a Satsuma, a cross between an orange and a tangelo; a Hamlin, which is a sweet orange that is loaded with fruit this year; and a Calamondin, which is like a miniature orange and makes very impressive preserves. My only disappointment is a ruby red grapefruit tree that hasn’t lived up to my expectations. Perhaps a little more patience will have positive results…
For more information about home citrus growing, refer to edis.ifas.ufl.edu/hs132. It will tell you about many varieties of citrus you can grow here as well as how often to fertilize and what to do if you have any disease or insect problems.
There’s nothing more satisfying than picking and eating delicious fruit that you’ve grown yourself!

About Aline Clement

Aline Clement is a master gardener with the Duval County Extension Service and the University of Florida/IFAS.