Citrus trees

Of all the types of fruit trees that you can grow, citrus fruit is probably one of the most rewarding.

There is always room for a lemon tree in any sized garden, but why stop there. From the easy peel Satsuma Mandarin for the kids, Grapefruit for marmalade and Oranges for juice there are many reasons to keep on planting.

But best of all, the relief that you don’t need to drive to the shop for that one lemon, to finish the perfect meal you have just created!  

Buying a citrus tree

For a great crop, take your time to choose the right tree it is important to choose a good framework for future development. You are looking for a tree with only one central trunk, avoid picking trees that have two trunks branching out close to the bottom, forming a v shape. You want just one trunk (often called the central leader) as this will give you a clear space from the ground to the first branch. It makes mowing easier, reduces the risk of damage to the trunk and gives you a better looking tree that is easier to maintain.

If there is fruit on the tree when you buy it, take it off, then in the second season pinch out 80% of the flowers to reduce the crop. A lot of energy is expended by the tree to produce fruit and it will better cope with this when it has a few more years’ growth.

New citrus trees will need protection from frost in the cooler climates, established trees will survive a few frosts but not when they are young. Citrus trees dislike exposure to a prevailing wind or even a persistent draught. A spot by a shed, fence or hedge provides excellent protection, as long as it also gets plenty of sun.

Renovating a citrus tree

Citrus trees are tough they can live up to 50 years and will probably keep producing right to the very end! If you have an old neglected tree, think renovate before you take a saw to it. At the very least it will buy you time while younger trees become established.

It will need the same care and attention that all citrus need but due to neglect it will need a heavy prune to improve its fruit production.

General pruning can be done at almost any time of the year with citrus trees but for an older tree wait until all danger of frost is over to protect new growth.

Older trees are often a tangled mass of branches making it difficult to know where to start, so keep in mind an old gardener saying “a bird should be able to fly easily through the branches”.

First remove damaged or badly infected branches then any branches that cross over each other. Then stand back and take a look, these two simple steps will often clear out a lot of the tangled growth giving you a better view of what else needs doing. Here’s a few more tips for pruning older trees:

  • Always cut back to clean healthy growth and apply pruning paste to larger cuts to prevent, borer entering the wound.
  • Prune back to the main truck any branches growing less than a metre from the ground.
  • Sometimes on lemon trees the branches grow overly long ,even touching the ground, cut these back by half to the nearest healthy bud.
  • Now clean up the older fruiting arms, these are easily spotted as they are often sparse and spindly, cut back by half to encourage new growth

What to do with all your fruit

Once your trees start to fruit, you’ll be looking for ways to make the most of your abundant crops. Here’s a few ideas:

  • Do your body a favour and replace your morning hot drink for lemon water. It’s said to aid digestion, decrease the acidity in the gut and boost your immune system. Squeeze half a lemon in a cup of lukewarm water drink this before you eat or exercise. 
  • Lemons are excellent for naturally cleaning wooden bread boards. Once you have used the fruit, cut down the side of the rind halves so they lay flat. Scrub your boards with hot soapy water, then rub the flatten rinds over all the surfaces. Don’t worry about the pith you can wipe that off later, place in the sun to dry. The astringent in the lemon will leave the wood clean, white, with a lovely fresh smell.
  • The fruit doesn’t need to be harvested all at once in fact the good way to “store” fruit and increase its sweetness, is to leave what you don’t need on the tree, the quality of the fruit pulp, sugar content and juice will continue to improve.

Handy Hints

  •   Most citrus trees that are available in stores are grafted this practice improves the fruit quality by grafting the best root stock with the best tree for fruit production. Occasionally shoots will grow from below the graft they are thorny, unnecessary and unproductive. Remove when they are small avoiding making larger cuts later.
  • Ants on your citrus trees aren’t the problem it’s the scale insects that they are farming that are. Scale attaches itself to leaves, stems and branches and suck out the sap, weakening the plant. The insect produces a sweet sticky substance called honey dew. This is what the ants want - attack the scale and the ants will disappear.