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How (and why) to grow citrus

January 04, 2021

Charles Upham Village resident, Chris celebrates citrus in style. CHA08863_adj2_flat

Charles Upham Village resident, Chris celebrates citrus in style. 

 

Cook with the rind, bake with the flesh, clean with the juice, decorate with the leaf, infuse it, dry it, devour it! There are plenty of uses for citrus plants and their sweet, tangy fruit. A refreshing grapefruit juice mid-summer might be just what the doctor ordered while a sweet lemon tart will brighten any afternoon tea – or orange, lime, mandarin, take your pick! This is a handy short guide to growing citrus. It covers selection, prep, care, and the many – many – uses of citrus fruits and foliage around your home and garden.

 
1. Choosing which citrus plant 

 

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Balconies and indoors 

First, consider where your citrus plant is going to live. Will it be in the garden, in a planter, or a pot? Planters limit the varieties you can choose from, so be sure to select from those that don’t need a lot of root space. Next, will it be indoors or outdoors? A dwarf variety is the best option when planting indoors or on balconies. Once planted under cover, sun exposure will be especially important and regular attention water-wise will be required. As with all indoor plants, a home environment makes for a higher maintenance approach to citrus growing. It’s also a highly rewarding and decorative way to enjoy citrus, so don’t be dissuaded!

 

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In the garden


The ultimate sun lovers, citrus plants thrive in full sun positions. They’re known to fruit in partly shaded gardens, but the quality of fruit is likely to be lower than in a full sun location. Planting in the garden has its own challenges and rewards. Citrus plants can grow very large in the right conditions and bear plenty of fruit. They’re susceptible to certain pests and because of their dense foliage, these pests can be hard to spot until they’ve taken hold. They also require the right level of water – overwatering or underwatering are both challenges, as with most edible plants. The wind is also a consideration when positioning your plant. Citrus crops are resilient but strong winds can tear leaves off, so consider a degree of shelter.

Under the right conditions, citrus plants make attractive edible hedges, garden features, and beautiful additions to an at-home orchard. Now that you know exactly where you intend to plant your citrus, choose a variety that suits that location and we’re on to step two!

 

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2. Preparing healthy, fertile soil 

Soil, air, sun, water. These four combine their powers to grow lush, bountiful citrus plants. If your citrus is struggling, it’s likely because one of these is lacking. (Or you may have a disease or pest problem.) The nutrients and minerals found in your plant's soil contribute heavily to its survival. It’s essential to prepare this soil well so that your plant has all the nutrients it requires. A citrus plant cries for help through its leaves. For example, if the leaves turn yellow, your plant is likely low on magnesium and requires a loving dose of citrus fertiliser.

Use organic matter like compost and sheep pellets blended with a citrus fertiliser to build your base soil. This will provide your plant with all the nutrients it needs for growing. As these nutrients are used by the plant, be sure to replenish them by regularly topping up the soil with organic matter. But feeding your plant can happen before you even put it in the soil. Soak your plant in a bucket of seaweed plant tonic before planting. This helps prevent transplant shock and will give your plant a healthy kick start.

 

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3. Keeping your plant in one piece 

Staking is an important part of citrus plant survival. Be sure to stake the plant when you first put it in soil. This avoids any root damage. Staking is a fantastic technique for encouraging plants to grow straight. It also supports the trunk and stems in the face of speedy pets and strong winds.

Find a tall stake that will be able to support the plant as it grows larger and taller. Position the stake at least 30cm into the soil and close to the plant's main stem while leaving room for the plant’s main stem to grow to full thickness. If your plant doesn’t have a clear main stem, select the most central and straight looking stem and tie this gently but securely to the stake. Secure the stake to the main stem at intervals to the top. You will need to regularly check on the stake ties to ensure they don’t strangle the plant as it grows bigger. As it grows higher, you’ll also need to continue tying new sections of the stem to the stake. New height growth is a key one to watch out for because young tips are easily broken in strong winds.

 

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4. Harvesting the fruit  

Citrus plants take time to produce quality fruit. For the first two years, any fruit growth must be removed before it gets larger than the size of a pea. This is to help the plant grow strong and healthy before bearing the weight of heavy citrus fruit. Young stems can be weighed down by the fruit and can snap or be damaged under the strain.

Pruning fruit is an emotionally challenging task. Especially when it lasts for two seasons – after all, you probably chose to plant citrus for the fruit! But you are sure to reap the rewards once your plant is established and can produce higher quality fruit for season after season. Consider these first two years your citrus training course. Before the plant is used for fruiting you will have two seasons to learn all about its needs, likes, and dislikes. Which pests to watch out for, what to do about them, and what the plant’s distress signs look like. Then, when the fruit is ready to grow through to harvest, you’ll be ready to support it every step of the way!

 

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5. Using your citrus plant   

Citrus plants have many uses. They can brighten our homes, tastebuds, bellies, gardens, balconies, and lives. Here are a few handy ways to use your citrus plant once it has been established and is regularly fruiting.

Eating and drinking – orange is delicious with duck, lemon pairs well with chicken, and all citrus rinds create delicious, infused water and iced tea flavours.

Cleaning – a simple mixture of vinegar and water can be used to clean all your home surfaces. With natural antibacterial properties, lemon juice fits perfectly in this mix.

Home décor – styling your home is easy with citrus. A freshly cut bough here and a freshly cut bough there will fill your home with refreshing greenery.

Table styling – special occasions are where citrus shines. Halved oranges in a glass vase filled with water make for an incredible (and edible!) table centrepiece.

Garden design – An edible planter or hedge is easily achieved with citrus plants. Once grown, they regularly grow new foliage. Ideal for hedging and topiary garden designs.

That’s it! Your handy guide to growing and using citrus. The key is to choose a variety that you’ll enjoy using once the fruit has grown. And ensure that the variety you chose suits the location and conditions you’re planning to grow it in. Tending citrus plants is a lovely way to spend warm summer days outdoors. But the best part? The reward your plant gives you for your effort – fresh, juicy, tangy fruit.

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