80131thumbWhen life gives you lemons, it is likely this time of year. Although, the most popular garden varieties of lemon, like ‘Meyer’ and ‘Eureka’, continue to produce at least a few more fruits sporadically through the year. ‘Lisbon’ lemon that is still used in orchard production, and is the ancestor of the household ‘Eureka’ lemon, produces almost all of its fruit in winter, and blooms shortly afterward.

Ripe citrus in the middle of winter impresses those in climates where winter is too cold for much to happen in the garden. They could not grow a citrus tree if they wanted to. Even here, frost can damage some of the more sensitive citrus varieties, like ‘Mexican’ lime. Unlike the fruits of summer, citrus fruits ripen slowly and are not so perishable, so do not need to be harvested right away.

This means that if it is raining, cold or just to wintery to go outside, citrus fruits can be left on the tree until the weather improves. Most of us prefer to pick them in small batches anyway. Ideally, fruit should get picked as it is consumed. Lemons and limes typically get picked individually as needed, until there are so many that some need to be bagged and shared with friends and neighbors.

Mandarin oranges are the most perishable of the citrus. Because their skins are so loosely attached to the pulp, the pulp can oxidize, lose flavor and eventually get dry and pithy. Incidentally, a ‘tangerine’ is merely a Mandarin orange that was developed in North or South America. A surprisingly sour (unknown) Mandarin orange might really be a ‘Rangpur lime’, which is not a lime at all.

Unlike most fruit that continues to ripen after harvest, or pears that actually delay ripening until after harvest, citrus fruits stop developing flavor once picked. It is best to taste them for confirmation of ripe flavor prior to harvest. Some Mandarin oranges may have slightly greenish blotches on them even when completely ripe. The best ‘Valencia’ oranges can look rather yellowish. Grapefruits might mellow if left in their trees past ripeness, but can also inhibit bloom.

20 thoughts on “When Life Gives You Lemons

  1. Many years ago, we had a house with a lot of fruit trees and one was a Seville orange tree and the smell when it was flowering, was out of this world. My mom used to make marmalade with the oranges – they were not so nice to eat though.

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    1. WOW! I did not bother to mention Seville orange because they are so rare here, and those who have mature trees do not know what they are. Of all the citrus trees that I had to work with in the past few years, only one was a Seville orange. I worked with a few other mature trees in the more distant past. They were trees that grew from the understock of citrus trees that died. For example, standard (non-dwarf) lemon trees that were killed to the ground by the Big Chill of 1990 came back as Seville oranges because Seville orange was the understock for some standard trees. When I grew citrus trees, only Meyer lemon and Seville were ungrafted. They were grown on their own roots. Meyer was our most popular cultivar. Seville was our most unpopular cultivar, and was eventually discontinued.
      Incidentally, when we were in school, Mr. Green (my colleague Brent’s father) drove a 1980 Cadillac Seville that Brent sometimes made fun of because he knew how much I liked the car. He would tell me it was such a lemon, and then correct himself and say that it was an orange.

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  2. When I go to trade shows now, I always stop at the citrus grower booths just for a breath of that miraculous fragrance. Back here, it’s philadelphus for those of us without a greenhouse.

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    1. Someone else just mentions the fragrance of the the flowers. Those of us who grew up with them do not notice them much. It is pretty excellent, but not as strong as you might think. Those with the most fragrant flowers happen to produce the less popular fruit. For example, sour oranges and bitter oranges have more fragrant flowers than sweet oranges do, but are very uncommon in home gardens.

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  3. I love the smell of citrus in bloom! In So Cal, it’s common to see wind machines or sprinklers in the orchards to prevent frost, now that smudge pots are no longer legal! Wind machines keep the air circulating so it doesn’t settle on the vulnerable citrus, and sprinklers spray a fine mist that freezes around the fruit — because it then stays at a constant 32 degrees, the fruit is protected from colder temperatures. Such ingenuity!

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    1. When I grew citrus trees in the early 1990s, it was right after the Big Chill. We never used our wind machines while I was there. I turned them every so often, just to be sure that they worked.


  4. When do citrus trees bloom? I would love to visit a garden with lemon or orange trees when the scent can be appreciated. I remember being surprised when we visited Turkey that mandarin oranges were everywhere, and commonly used as street trees. Wouldn’t that make a mess?

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    1. Citrus trees bloom as winter ends. Some, notably ‘Eureka’ lemon, have a few sporadic bloom throughout summer. Although fragrant, they are not strongly fragrant. The fruit is unfortunately messy if allowed to just fall onto pavement, but in some cultures, it gets picked before it gets wasted. The funny thing is that in parts of Arizona, ‘Seville’ sour orange is used as a street tree because people only pick a few of the fruit leaving most of the fruit to just look pretty. It gets quite messy. I think I would rather have people appreciate the fruit than allow it to make a wasteful mess.

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    1. That is odd. Many tangerines were specifically bred to be less seedy, or seedless. (Seedless tangerines still have a few seeds.) I prefer the flavor of the Mandarin oranges. I know people who prefer tangerines. There are so many cultivars to choose from. Owari Satsua mandarin is supposed to be the best Mandarin orange, but it grows slowly, and is not very productive. I think it is good, but it is not my favorite.


    1. If it gets aphid and scale, you might want to try putting something like grease on the trunk to keep the ants out (and keeping the foliage from touching anything). Ants cultivate them to produce honeydew for the ants to eat.

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      1. Scale and mealy bugs are my main problem at this time of the year. I spray with a commercial deterrent but I like the idea of grease on the trunk, not heard of that before. Thanks for the tip

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