CITRUS TREES WORTH GROW­ING IN MIS­SIS­SIPPI

The Sun Herald (Sunday) - - Your Life - BY GARY R. BACHMAN

The fall and win­ter sea­sons mean it’s time for col­or­ful pansy, vi­ola and di­anthus. But the chang­ing sea­sons also mean that home gar­den­ers who grow citrus will soon har­vest de­li­cious fruit — sat­suma, kumquat, Meyer lemon, oh my!

I’ve been en­joy­ing fresh-off-the-tree sat­sumas for about a month. A friend sug­gested that you don’t have to wait un­til the sat­suma fully de­vel­ops that rich, or­ange color. The sug­ars are close to their max­i­mum con­tent just as the fruit starts show­ing some yel­lows.

I had to try this ap­proach, even though I con­sid­ered it odd ad­vice. I found that the sec­tions looked ripe and had a re­ally sweet, or­angey taste. Who knew? I’ve al­ways waited un­til they were com­pletely or­ange be­fore sam­pling the de­li­cious and easy-to-eat treats, but not any­more.

Be­fore mov­ing to Mis­sis­sippi, I used to see Meyer lemons only on culi­nary shows where they were touted as one of the best citrus choices. When I learned that I could have my own Meyer lemon crop, it was game on. I have learned to re­ally ap­pre­ci­ate Meyer lemons.

Un­like their thick­skinned, sour cousins in the gro­cery store, Meyer lemons are thin skinned and re­ally sweet. They are a re­sult of a cross be­tween a lemon and an or­ange, but the de­tails have long been lost to his­tory. Not even 23andme can fig­ure out the an­ces­try of Meyer lemon, but who cares? They are de­li­cious!

I have four Meyer lemon trees, and for the past sev­eral years, the en­tire crop has been des­tined for a batch of home­made limon­cello, which is a fam­ily hol­i­day tra­di­tion.

Mak­ing home­made limon­cello for Christ­mas is re­ally easy. You need only four in­gre­di­ents: 750 ml of vodka or Ever­clear, six Meyer lemons, two cups of su­gar, and two cups water if you use vodka or three cups of water if you use Ever­clear. This recipe is eas­ily scaled up for my in­creas­ing har­vests. Fol­low these steps to make limon­cello:

1. Zest the Meyer lemons and then juice them. Do not juice first, as this makes zest­ing im­pos­si­ble.

2. Add the Meyer lemon zest to the vodka or Ever­clear. The al­co­hol will ex­tract the lemon oils and fla­vors. Cover and set aside for a week.

3. Make sim­ple syrup with the su­gar and water.

4. Strain the zest out of the al­co­hol mix­ture, and add in the sim­ple syrup.

5. Let the limon­cello rest for at least a month in a bot­tle or jar. En­joy!

Know that when you grow citrus trees, they must be pro­tected from the cold. I planted all my citrus in 25-gal­lon con­tain­ers so I could move them to the garage for pro­tec­tion. This past Jan­uary, all of my citrus trees lived in my garage for 14 of the first 21 days of the month.

Citrus trees need cold pro­tec­tion be­cause they are grafted, and the graft union is sus­cep­ti­ble to freeze dam­age. With­out cold pro­tec­tion, the graft can die and the root­stock will be­come dom­i­nant. A clue that this is hap­pen­ing is the ap­pear­ance of thorns on the branches.

If you grow citrus, you will have an in­ter­est­ing vis­i­tor that has an in­ter­est­ing name. You’ll no­tice what looks like bird drop­pings on some leaves, but it turns out they are ac­tu­ally the cater­pil­lars of the beau­ti­ful Gi­ant Swal­low­tail but­ter­fly. Citrus is one of their pre­ferred host plants. As these cater­pil­lars are usu­ally in plain view, the bird drop­ping mimicry is a de­fense mech­a­nism against preda­tors.

Larger cater­pil­lars are of­ten called or­ange dogs and usu­ally are found rest­ing on stems. I’ve en­joyed watch­ing these guys munch on the leaves of my sat­suma and Meyer lemon as they grow. Don’t worry about them, as they don’t each much.

Gary Bachman, Ph.D., is an ex­ten­sion and re­search pro­fes­sor of hor­ti­cul­ture at the Mis­sis­sippi State Uni­ver­sity Coastal Re­search and Ex­ten­sion Cen­ter in Biloxi. Con­tact him at south­ern­gar­den­ing @msstate.edu.

DR. GARY R. BACHMAN MSU Ex­ten­sion Ser­vice

Citrus trees in Mis­sis­sippi pro­duce their crop in fall and win­ter. These Meyer lemons and sat­sumas were ready to be en­joyed at Christ­mas time.

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