Citrus at Christmas – A Traditional Treat!
When I was a girl growing up in rural Saskatchewan, one of the best treats at Christmas were the Mandarin oranges we would get in our stockings. They were only available at Christmas: a rarity and expensive.
Oranges at Christmas represent the bags of gold that St. Nicholas would leave in poor children’s stockings on Christmas Eve. In the past, fruit of any kind was hard to find and oranges even more so.
The world has certainly changed! Oranges and other varieties of citrus trees are now readily available at Floral Acres for growing indoors in our climate year-round. They are usually offered for sale in a smaller form, which are regular fruit trees grafted onto a smaller citrus tree rootstock to inhibit their growth. Most citrus trees offered in garden centers in Canada reach a maximum height of 6-12’ tall. Fortunately, the fruit size and flavor remain the same as citrus grown on a regular sized tree.
Orange, lemon, and lime trees really require just a few basics. First, they need lots of sun. By ‘lots of sun’ I mean 8-12 hours per day. In our climate, daylight is often supplemented with grow lights from October to February. You will know if the light is too low for your tree if the green leaves start to drop. They prefer indoor temperatures from 18-25 degrees C. Make sure you position your plant somewhere that is free of hot or cold drafts.
Make sure your pot has excellent drainage. Citrus do not like to stand in water for any great length of time. The best time to repot your citrus tree is in spring and summer. If you purchase your plant in the winter, just add an inch of new soil on the top of the existing pot soil. Do not build up the new soil near the trunk of the tree. When you water, any nutrients in the new soil will filter down to the roots below.
Citrus love a tropical soil that is amended with lots of peat moss to create a slightly acidic environment. You can also add a couple of handfuls of cacti and succulent soil or perlite to the mix to help with aeration.
Always water your citrus with warm water. Cold water causes leaf drop and yellowing of the leaf veins. They do not like to dry out completely but don’t like too much water either. Wait to water until the top two to three inches of soil is dry. Water until it comes out the bottom of the pot and be sure to throw out the extra water in the catch basin. Once or twice a month in winter give your tree a warm shower. The extra humidity is always appreciated! This helps discourage any spider mites and keeps dust off the leaves. Signs of low humidity are brittle leaf edges and leaf drop.
Fertilize every two weeks in spring and summer beginning in April. Use an all-purpose acid loving plant fertilizer, high in nitrogen, mixed at half the recommended rate on the package. Water your plant first with just water and then follow with the fertilizer/water mixture. I do not recommend using fertilizer sticks or spikes as they often burn the roots.
Lemon, lime and orange trees can be propagated by stem cuttings in spring and summer.
Seeds are always fun to start but be aware that the resulting plant will not be one that grows exactly like the parent. Plant the seeds about ¼ inch deep, cover with soil and keep the soil moist until you see germination. Plants grown from seed seldom get large enough to flower and fruit.
Citrus trees will usually begin to flower and set fruit at about two to three years of age. The flowers are usually white and are wonderfully fragrant. Lemon, lime and orange trees are self-fertile so you will only need one tree to produce fruit. You can help the pollination process along by investing in a very soft painting or makeup brush and go from flower to flower gently dabbing the bristles in the middle of each flower.
Lemons ripen between four and twelve months after they finish flowering. The number of times a lemon will produce fruit varies with the variety. Some will produce fruit year- round. Oranges trees take seven to eight months to ripen and usually produce one crop per year. Limes ripen in three to four months and produce twice per year.
Valencia Orange – A sweet tasting orange and one of the best oranges for juicing.
Tangerine ‘Murcott Honey’ – a mandarin-sweet orange hybrid.
Myer Lemon – Reaches five to seven feet in height at maturity. Begins to bear fruit at two years of age.
Eureka Lemon – Not as sweet as Myer. Oblong, juicy fruit with flesh that has a pinkish hue.
Key Lime – A very aromatic lime, thin skinned, and a bit on the yellow side. Less tart than a Persian Lime.
Makrut Lime (aka Thai Lime; aka Kaffir Lime) – The leaves have an intense citrus fragrance and are edible. Its essential oil is used to make perfume. The skin is bumpy, and the flesh is very bitter.
Persian Lime – The limes we find at the grocery store.
Red Ruby Grapefruit – A grapefruit with deep red flesh, juice and a sweet flavor. The color is due to high levels of lycopene and beta-carotene. An excellent source of Vitamin C, Vitamin A and fibre.
Minneola Tangelo – A cross between a tangerine and a grapefruit. It has a sweet, tart fragrant honey flavor. Primarily seedless. Often used in Christmas fruit baskets.
**It is very common for citrus trees to lose some of their leaves when they transition from our greenhouse to your home. Once the plant acclimatizes to your home, the leaves will grow back. Regrowth may not occur until spring.
**Please note that citrus varieties available at Floral Acres vary from day to day.
*** Please note that lemons and limes are toxic to dogs. All parts of a lemon and lime are toxic to cats. (This includes leaves, bark, and fruit.)