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.

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