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Gardeners' Dirt: Citrus reap rewards over the holidays

By Nancy Kramer - Victoria County Master GardenerEdited by Charla Borchers Leon
Dec. 13, 2012 at 6:13 a.m.

An orange tree can add color to your landscape and provide citrus fruit as early as September if the 'Marrs' variety is planted.  Located on the southeast corner of this home, it is protected from the northwest wind and is provided ambient heat for winter protection.

An orange tree can add color to your landscape and provide citrus fruit as early as September if the 'Marrs' variety is planted. Located on the southeast corner of this home, it is protected from the northwest wind and is provided ambient heat for winter protection.

Fresh oranges, calamondins, kumquats, Satsuma mandarins, limes, lemons and even Rio red grapefruit - the State Fruit of Texas - could be the reward. Who doesn't like to reap the reward of eating citrus or adding its taste to drinks around the holiday season?

Rewards can take time

The Master Gardener Handbook talks about how growing citrus in the coastal and southern part of Texas can be rewarding. It surely can be - although it may take a lot of work to get young citrus trees established in the environment while protecting them from a hard freeze (tolerant only as low as 25 degrees with protection) the first few years.

If you lose them and have to start over, don't get discouraged. Remember, their rewards that include fresh taste now or even after freezing the juice to save for the summertime; vitamin C in your diet; beautiful, green foliage year-round and the sweet aroma of citrus blossoms.

Some produce fruit only in fall, winter

Kumquats, limes, calamondins and lemons are some special citrus that can produce at various times during the year while oranges, grape fruit, and Satsuma mandarins produce only during fall to winter. Since the improved Meyer lemons are a cross between a sweet orange and a lemon, they also produce here in just fall to winter, but can start ripening earlier.

Citrus that can grow in our area

To know which citrus do best, go to one of our great local nurseries and see what they have on hand orgo to "Common Varieties for Citrus for Texas" at http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/fruit-nut/fact-sheets/citrus/table-1-common-texas-citrus-varieties/

The list printed with this article is based on varieties recommended by Extension along with those available at nurseries and garden centers. It is limited to those that can produce fruit without cross pollination.

Citrus growing environment

The following conditions are suggested for growing citrus.

Soil - Citrus requires deep soil, with a pH of 6-8, that has good surface and internal drainage. A raised planting bed could be helpful.

Location - The south to southeast side of your home is ideal location and heat lost from the home can help. Citrus should be planted at least 6 feet from any building, driveway, walkway or sidewalk. Plant twice that far from each other in most cases.

Planting under larger trees can help protect citrus from the cold, but they grow best with at least six hours of sun, as they become too leggy and need strength with branches tending to pull down toward the ground when full of fruit.

Best to plant now

Container citrus can be planted any time of the year, but it is best to plant now, late fall or winter, to get them established before the heat of spring and summer starts.

Fertilizer - Good healthy soil should provide 13 essential elements, but nitrogen is one element that must be added once a month from February until October.

Protection from cold - You will have to provide protection from the cold for at least the first few years and then sometimes give more protection depending on circumstances. Covering with a light blanket or using a hanging light (even Christmas lights) can help protect smaller trees from the cold. Soaking the ground well before a freeze also helps. A light mist right before freezing can give the citrus a protective layer.Detailed step-by-step information on planting citrus as well as fertilizing and watering can be found at aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/fruit-nut/fact-sheets/citrus/.

Special care reaps rewards

Even though you should cull off some fruit for a few years, eventually you will have great producing trees and can enjoy fresh Mexican limes almost year round, nice sweet kumquats by the handful frequently during the year, abundant Meyer lemons around Thanksgiving and Christmas, along with bunches and bunches of Satsuma mandarins and our own Texas Rio red grapefruit.

In addition to visually enjoying the greenery and the flowers, bees and butterflies that come to visit your homegrown citrus, you can enjoy the rich fragrance. You may even want to cut some small citrus greenery to decorate for the holidays.

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 vcmga@vicad.com, or comment on this column at VictoriaAdvocate.com.



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