Plant oranges and lemons in backyard
Isn’t it a happy coincidence that the time for spring colds and coughs is matched by the ripening of oranges and lemons in our gardens?
These, along with grapefruit, used to be a staple in every New Zealand backyard and really ought to be again.
In dense suburban living where garden space is tight, these citrus fruits can be grown on dwarf rootstock in large pots.
And in spacious country gardens they can be allowed space enough to grow as large as these decades-old orange trees photographed near Palmerston North.
Most gardens have space for at least one citrus tree.
The ancient trees pictured are long past worrying about a bit of frost and have outgrown a need for shelter from southerly blasts, but young trees will suffer from both these trials and need protection accordingly.
A wind-cloth attached to stakes surrounding a young tree will save its tender leaves as well as the whole tree being lifted from the ground – they are rather shallow- rooted. Another windcloth thrown over the whole tree on cold nights when a frost is likely, will also help.
Oranges like a slightly acidic soil, so be generous with compost and pine needles. Staking at planting will help prevent rootrock. This is when the tree gets shaken about on windy days and its root ball moves about, slowing and sometimes stopping the growth of new roots into the soil.
The wind may also be a problem if the tree is in a pot, except that the result is the whole thing topples over – not so damaging, but not the best.
The main problem with trees in pots is drying out. While terracotta pots in particular, through their porous nature, dry more quickly than plastic equivalents, they do have a nice heaviness that makes them sturdy – and for a tree that will become top-heavy with fruit a sound base is sensible.
Although heavy, with the use of a trolley a citrus tree in a pot can be moved to a sheltered sunny spot to avoid the cool season frosty mornings.
If you have a north-facing brick wall in your section, then here is the ideal position to place your citrus potted plants – not only will they receive sun and cold southerly wind protection, they will also get passive heat emanating from the wall overnight – lovely for these heat-loving plants. Terracotta pots will also absorb the day’s heat and release it at night.
Whatever container is used for a citrus tree, make sure to place plenty of broken pot pieces or rocks in the bottom of the pot to ensure the drainage is good, because they won’t do well without it. And feed them well. Citrus are hungry feeders and without enough nourishment, their leaves will be small and pale and any fruit, disappointing. It pays to add a slow-release citrus fertiliser at planting time and feed a couple of times a year thereafter.
Watering well is a particularly important task for potted trees – and citrus trees that are producing fruit need it all the more – so use a good quality potting mix and mulch the tree well, especially in summer.
If you bring home a small lemon or other citrus tree that is covered in tantalising fruit, do the plant a favour and snip them off at planting so it can concentrate on getting its roots established.
Old and hardy: These orange trees could be around 50 years old and despite pruning by the cows, still produce a bumper crop each year.