If there is one group of fruiting plants that best suits our growing conditions, it has to be citrus. I could extol the health benefits they bring to your diet, but it’s well known they are a rich source of vitamin C and dietary fibre. Here’s a quick guide to growing the best tasting, productive citrus and some of our favourite varieties.
The key to growing citrus is a soil that has been pH balanced and nutritionally boosted, which is easily done through applying Soil Solver and a high quality organic compost. Even if you live coastal, most varieties will grow well if the soil has been boosted with quality humus such as mature compost. Regular watering is most critical for citrus, so a good water supply is important. My experience is that if you are looking to have the most productive trees, it’s a smart move to utilise the benefits of bore water. A fruit forest comprising mainly of citrus in a standard domestic garden is a reality if you make sure these elements are included.
Year-round fruit delivery
Many citrus will provide fruit in the autumn, winter and spring. If I was to recommend one thing to someone looking for a consistent citrus supply, it would be to plan your varieties carefully; there are so many fabulous varieties that produce crops for four to eight weeks at a time.
- ‘Imperial’ mandarin – Okay I admit it’s just a personal flavourite here, but most mandarins are brilliant. ‘Imperial’ delivers delicious fruit in late July through August. Another favourite mandarin is the Japanese seedless variety that delivers huge, gorgeous fruit early in April, May and June.
- ‘Eureka’ lemon – This is by far the best lemon of all in my opinion. My tree will crop two to three times a year, producing around 150 fruit per crop weighing up to 300gm each. This is all from a tree that grows 4m tall with a similar spread.
- ‘Washington’ navel orange – This has been a perennial favourite because it delivers huge juicy fruit through the winter months from May to September. They are easy to grow and highly productive. ‘Valencia’ oranges come in later and deliver fruit from September through to December and make the most amazing juices.
- Blood oranges – There’s a few different types but the ‘Maltese’ Blood Orange and another called ‘Cara Cara’ are mouthwateringly delicious and incredibly productive. It’s another July to September cropper but the fruit is amazing to eat, albeit a little different with their reddish-coloured flesh.
- ‘Tahitian’ lime – Every garden should have a ‘Tahitian’ lime for its succulent fruit produced in February through to July. The other must-have lime is one you use the leaves from instead of the fruit. The kaffir lime has foliage rich in essential oils that disperse when heated and impart an amazing flavour, especially in Asian-style dishes.
- Grapefruit – This fruit is some people’s dream but my nightmare, as I am not a sour fruit kind of person. The truth is they confuse me because they are much more sour grown where I live in WA, but when I taste a ‘Star Ruby’ grapefruit grown in Kunnunara in far northern WA they are quite sweet. This has to do with heat and sunlight exposure. If you don’t mind them a little bitter, grow the newer ‘Rio Red’ or ‘Star Ruby’ varieties.
For a bit more diversity, try some of the other citrus varieties out there such as calamondin, cumquat, lemoncello, Japanese yuzu, citron Buddhas hand, pomelos and clementines.
Don’t forget we have some incredible native citrus varieties as well, such as desert round limes and finger limes. These do well in sandy soil conditions but do still require some supplementary watering to produce decent crops.
Not everyone has the space for a fruit forest, but don’t worry, growing dwarf citrus varieties is incredibly popular and productive. There are primarily two forms, those grown on rootstock and those grown on their own root systems.
There is a wide range of varieties grown on a dwarfing rootstock called flying dragon. These plants will not get taller than 2m with a similar width.
The select range of citrus grown on their own root systems is sold under special brands such as Lemonicious and Sublime. These grow to 1m high and wide and are brilliant in tubs. They all produce normal sized fruit and you can usually expect around 50 to 60 fruit per plant per crop, which is more than enough for most of us.
Remember also that by simply growing a tree in a tub or pot, you will naturally dwarf its size as it can only produce enough roots to support a certain amount of growth.
Citrus leafminer is probably the most common, but fortunately the moth that lays the eggs is being targeted by natural predators at this time of year. Leafminer causes distortion of the leaves and this sets the plants back at times, although it never does much more than leave a tree looking scraggly. Scale, aphids and the occasional crusader bugs may cause problems, but it’s not difficult to control these pests. Regular applications of horticultural oil during infestations will help minimise their destruction. The only pest of any true consequence is the fruit fly that spoils fruit. Applications of fruit fly spray, fruit fly traps and lures are all a wise move to protect your crops.
About the Author – Trevor Cochrane
Trevor is a born-and-bred proud West Australian who grew up on a dairy farm in Mundijong, just outside of Perth, WA. He launched the media company Guru Productions in 2002 that has since produced over 750 episodes of television telecast on Channel 9 nationally and is now seen in over 100 countries across the globe in 14 different languages. In the years since creating The Garden Gurus he has created and produced over 50 hours of international travel shows, food and wine programs, including WA’s Our State on a Plate, the Destination WA travel series and food program Delish: Great Food Worth Sharing. All Guru Productions projects appear on Channel 9 and WIN Television, as well as nationally on the popular digital TV channel 9 Life. Trevor’s passion for gardening has seen him write four books and regular columns for the The Sunday Times and The West Australian Newspaper.