Once upon a time fruit trees could be found in every New Zealand garden. With today’s smaller gardens it is more difficult to find space, but with careful selection they can fit.
Citrus don’t take up a lot of space. Without doubt, citrus trees are the most popular fruit grown in home gardens.
And no wonder considering the usefulness of the fruit, the attractiveness of the tree and the ease of growing them.
At a Glance
- Plant in a warm, sunny position
- Need a free-draining soil
- Require lots of food
- Give deep watering in Summer
Citrus have always been popular. They are vitamin rich, great tasting, can be picked progressively over quite a long time and are relatively easy to grow.
Early Mandarins begin to ripen from early June with oranges grapefruit and lemons holding on until November. This winter/early spring fruiting makes citrus so valuable when other fruit is more expensive.
They are also very attractive trees with their glossy green leaves, fragrant blossom in spring and coloured fruit in winter.
Where to Plant
Citrus will grow in warm or mild climate zones. Providing frosts are not severe they will tolerate cool conditions. They will thrive in hot inland conditions providing they have water.
They require a sunny position, protected from cold winds. Citrus prefer a sandy or loam soil. They will tolerate clay soils providing they are planted on a raised area with lots of compost mixed into the soil.
In cold climates citrus can be grown in pots in glasshouses and conservatories. Also, use frost cloth for added winter protection.
When to plant
Citrus trees are available most of the year and can be planted anytime, provided they are watered regularly in summer.
Citrus are big feeders! A moderately sized mature tree requires at least 500g of Tui General Garden or Citrus and Fruit Tree Fertiliser each year. Two thirds of this should be applied in late winter and one third in January. Pelletised Sheep Manure is a good alternative.
Do not cultivate under citrus trees though as their feeding roots are relatively close to the surface. For citrus grown in pots, use Burnett’s Citrus Food.
Citrus must be watered regularly through spring and summer. Irregular watering can cause fruit drop and fruit splitting, not to mention reduced yield and dry fruit.
A layer of mulch spread over the surface under citrus trees will conserve moisture and improve performance. Take care, however, to keep mulch away from the base of the tree trunk.
Pests and Diseases
Citrus trees are relatively free of insect pests but occasionally can be attacked by scale insects, aphids and mites. Yates Mavrik controls all these pests.
Sooty moulds are fungi which cover plant leaves, stems and twigs in a black sticky substance. In almost all cases, the sooty mould is secondary to an infestation of insects that secrete honeydew. These insects include aphids, scale, mealybugs and white flies. Treating the insects will remove the source of the honeydew and dry up the sooty mould, which will eventually fall or wash off the foliage. The mould itself does not feed on the plant, however as it covers the leaf surface, it is blocking light and reducing photosynthesis, essential for plant growth. Yates Confidor or Conqueror Oil are good solutions for controlling scale.
Verrucossis, a fungal disease which sometimes attacks lemons causing rough fruit, is controlled by spraying with Yates Champ Copper.
Citrus tend to be self shaping and so need little pruning. Some mandarin varieties become a little thick and benefit from some thinning out. Lemon trees can sometimes require pruning back to make them more compact and easily manageable. Make sure that any shoots below the graft are removed. These are easily identified as they have different foliage. Citrus fruit on new season’s growth.
Making your selection
Meyer variety is most popular because of its reliable high yield over an eight month picking period. The fruit is of medium size and sweeter than other varieties. Lisbon and Eureka are more acid. Yen Ben is an improved selection of Lisbon for those wanting a ‘real’ lemon for cooking.
Golden Special is the traditional grapefruit with pale orange skin and a strong grapefruit taste. Excellent for those who like a strong marmalade. Ripens from July to October. Wheeny is a larger sweeter variety ripening from October to December and is inclined to biennial cropping.
This very sweet lemon, tasting like delicious lemonade, and deserves its increasing popularity. Ripens during spring.
Limes have become very popular in recent years. Most popular is the Tahitian Lime or selections such as Bears Lime. Kaffir Limes are mainly grown for the leaves, an essential ingredient in Asian cuisine. Limes need protection from frost until established. They will not tolerate heavy frosts.
NZ navel oranges are rated very highly compared to imported oranges for flavour and are reliable in warmer climates of NZ. They ripen from October to December in most areas.
Silverhill (a Satsuma selection) is the earliest, ripening from July onwards and is a very easy peal. Miho is a new early ripening easy peel which begins cropping as a young tree and has more flavour. Clementine has good flavour, is a high yielding reliable cropper, ripening from August to October, but is not an easy peel.