March 2, 2013
My joy with citrus has so far been short but passionate.
When I lived in an area where my first-ever Meyer lemon tree thrived, I thought I was the luckiest person. I smelled the blossoms as I sat reading on my deck and harvested those luscious sweet lemons to make the most delicious pound cakes, lemonade and sauces you could imagine.
When we moved to a climate less amenable to my beloved Meyer lemon tree, I was determined to make it thrive by placing it in the warmest, sunniest place on our lot. When it still didn't seem to be happy despite proper fertilization, water and love I moved it to our community garden plot which is far sunnier, but alas also more prone to frost.
Have you had a similar experience? Don't despair. Keep trying with other selections of citrus trees and take comfort in the knowledge that for many in Marin, the right kind of citrus trees will thrive with a minimum amount of effort.
There are a few factors to consider when deciding to plant citrus trees. Site and citrus tree variety selection are important first steps. Citrus trees don't have a chill requirement like most other fruit trees, but they do require summer heat and don't like frost.
As a general rule, the larger and sweeter the fruit the hotter it needs to be. For example, grapefruits and oranges aren't likely to be as successful here as compared to Southern California. Limes and some lemons fare far better here.
Microclimates are a big factor for the success of your citrus. You've heard the phrase "if you don't like the weather here, walk a few blocks"? Unfortunately, our plants cannot follow this advice.
Trees that do well in your neighbor's yard down the street may not do well for you. Do a bit of research and consider what is right for where you are and not just what is on a label or in a general garden book. A good source of information is the book "Golden Gate Gardening" ($29.95, Sasquatch Books, 448 pages) and the Home Orchard section of the UC Davis website at http://bit.ly/127gvy9.
Choose a site for the plant that is sunny for most of the day, with soil that drains well. Remember as part of your site selection, you can plant dwarf citrus in large pots that could be moved inside during the coldest times of the year.
Soil should be on the acidic side, pH of 5.5 to 8. You can add acidifying fertilizers and amendments to reduce the soil pH if needed. Once the tree is in place it will need regular but infrequent irrigation and a good mulching of organic compost a couple times a year.
Once you've determined your site, next decide what you want to and
can grow. If you have a small space or plan to plant in a pot, dwarf varieties are available. For larger trees you can prune the tops to keep the fruit a more reachable height for harvesting. For those of you who live in sunnier and warmer Marin locations you have more choices than those who live nearer the coast or in foggier locals.
If you're looking for a lemon tree, there is Eureka, the common grocery store lemon; Lisbon, which is a bit more frost hardy than Eureka; or Improved Meyer, which is both larger, frost hardier and sweeter than Eureka or Lisbon. Bearss is the most popular lime for this region. Meiwa is a good choice for kumquat. Kumquats are cold hardy to 18 degrees, but they do require hot summers for the best fruit. Owari Satsuma is the most successful variety of tangerine in foggy areas.
Once you make these decisions and have your tree, it's a matter of proper planting and minimal maintenance so you can enjoy the fragrance and bounty of your citrus tree. As a bonus, the bees in your area will thank you for providing such choice nectar for them to feast upon.
I think this year I'm going to try a dwarf kumquat in my community garden plot and see if I can rekindle my passion for citrus. What citrus tree are you going to plant?