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Sensational Citrus

Written by  Nikki van Coller
| in Tuin
| June 3, 2015

Citrus trees are surprisingly easy to grow, if you follow a few basic rules. Why not get planting and enjoy fresh, juicy citrus fruits from your very own garden?

Many gardeners shy away from planting citrus trees, either because they don’t have a big garden or because they mistakenly believe that citrus trees are difficult to grow. The truth is, you don’t need a very large space, and citrus trees can easily be grown with great success by absolutely anybody.

There are a number of great reasons to keep these hardy and attractive plants. Not only are citrus fruits refreshing and delicious, they also have numerous health benefits. The evergreen foliage, blossoms and wonderfully bright fruits also add vibrant colour and a magical scent to your garden. And - as our tutorial at the end of this article shows - citrus trees can also be used to create an interesting focal point in your garden.

Good Food

Citrus is a genus of flowering plants in the rue family Rutaceae, and includes oranges, limes, naartjies, lemons, grapefruits and kumquats. These sometimes-sweet, sometimes-sour fruits have been used for decades to fight illness and boost the body’s immune system. They are high in antioxidants and vitamin C, as well as a good source of folate and thiamine. Citrus fruits also contain compounds called flavonoids, which are thought to have anti-cancer properties and protect against heart disease.

Lemons are perhaps the most versatile of all the citrus fruits, used in a wide variety of sweet and savoury dishes, hot and cold drinks and home remedies. Some favourite South African recipes that rely on lemon include lemon meringue pie, lemon curd, lemon cheesecake, lemon butter on prawns and of course - lemon and herb chicken on the braai. If life gives you lemons… there are an infinite number of delicious things you can do!

Oranges are also extremely versatile - and of course responsible for the world’s favourite breakfast drink. An orange tree will give you beautiful, fragrant orange blossoms and juicy fruit that you can use in a variety of ways.
If cocktails and Thai food are more up your alley, consider planting a lime tree. These zesty little fruits are essential in Thai cooking, many Mexican dishes, cocktails like margaritas, caipirinhas and mojitos, and a variety of desserts.

Planting a Citrus Tree

While growing a citrus tree is certainly not difficult, there are a few basics to get right.  

Soil

Good soil is vital. Citrus roots need more oxygen than some other trees, so heavy clay soil is not suitable; the soil needs to be well-drained and never waterlogged. The best soil for citrus is moderately heavy loam, with a generous amount of compost added. If you are planting your tree into a pot, use potting soil with bone meal.

Sunlight

Citrus trees need a lot of sunlight, so be sure to plant them where they will be in the sun at least six hours of the day. You can plant them at any time of year, but do be aware that citrus trees are not very frost-tolerant.

Food

Citrus trees are also very greedy and can be fed with a good fertiliser up to once a month. Not surprisingly, they are also thirsty and should be very well watered once a week during the dry season.

Pruning

Pruning is not absolutely vital to the success of your tree, but is recommended once a year or so, and definitely when deadwood is present. You should prune early in winter – trim back any branches that are in danger of touching the soil, or where the growth is crowding the centre of the tree. Also trim away some smaller branches at the top of the tree to let sunlight through.

Lemon tree focal point tutorial

This month, we asked our gardening guru Willie Schmidt to help us come up with a creative way to use a citrus tree to create a focal point in a small garden. We decided to use a lemon tree, and weave the branches onto old burglar bars.

For this, you will need:

  • A citrus tree
  • A big pot
  • A sturdy, long-lasting lattice or any welded structure suitable for weaving branches through
  • Potting soil
  • Bone meal

Directions:

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You can use almost any tree to create a green structure in your garden. Orange, apple, pear and plum trees are all easy to weave and work well. Eureka lemon trees are popular because they bear fruit all year round.

If you want to keep your tree organic, don’t spray with pesticides, rather use companion planting. Planting wild garlic under the citrus tree will keep a variety of pests away.

Remember when choosing your tree to consider which fruit you are most likely to use and enjoy. Speak to your nursery about the different varietals and choose the one most suited to your garden and your taste buds.

Good luck and happy planting!

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