Winter is the primary season for citrus fruits. Some ripen significantly earlier. Some ripen significantly later. Many citrus trees continue to produce a few fruits randomly throughout the year. Nonetheless, citrus fruits are collectively most abundant during winter. It seems odd that trees that are vulnerable to frost are so productive during the coolest of weather.
Citrus trees are fortunately only marginally susceptible to frost in only the cooler climates here. They mostly recover from minor damage where they get a bit too much chill. Those in coastal climates may never experience damaging frost. Some types of citrus are more resilient to frost than others. Vulnerable citrus trees may need frost protection when new.
Home garden citrus trees are different from orchard trees. Most orchard trees, particularly older trees, are ‘standard’ trees. They grow on standard rootstock that allows them to get larger, and therefore produce more fruit than ‘dwarf’ trees. Most home garden citrus trees are ‘dwarf’ trees. They grown on dwarfing rootstock that keeps them dense and compact.
Furthermore, the many cultivars of citrus that are available for home gardening are more diverse than those that commonly grow in orchards. ‘Lisbon’ lemon is very profuse within season, so is preferable for orchards. ‘Eureka’ lemon, although a bit less productive, may be a preferable option for home gardens because it produces a few random fruit all year.
Now that citrus are in season, some last longer than others. Grapefruit can hang on their trees for months. They actually develop richer flavor with mellowing tartness as they age. Conversely, Mandarin orange and tangerine are the most perishable citrus. Because the rind is loose, their pulp within begins to oxidize after ripening. Lime eventually gets pithy.
Although this is the time of year to enjoy fresh citrus fruits, it is not the season to do much else with citrus trees. Pruning and application of fertilizer will be more timely after winter. Premature pruning or use of fertilizer is likely to stimulate premature growth. Such growth either languishes through cool weather, or succumbs to mild frost.
‘Lisbon’ lemon actually came first. It is still grown in orchards for lemon juice and other lemon products. The glossy evergreen foliage is a nice bright green. The late winter bloom is nicely fragrant. Mature trees can be kept about twelve feet tall, or allowed to get much taller. Besides the nasty thorns, the only other problem is that all the fruit ripens within a limited season.
‘Eureka’ lemon, Citrus limon ‘Eureka’, is a mutation of ‘Lisbon’ that is more casual about its schedule. It produces a good quantity of fruit in season through the end of winter, and also produces lesser quantities throughout the year. Because it is so productive, the lesser quantities should be more than sufficient whenever lemons are needed.
The ‘Variegated Pink’ lemon is a mutation of ‘Eureka’, so is a mutation of a mutation. The foliage is nicely variegated with white. The green fruit is striped with yellow until it ripens to yellow. The pulp and juice are pink of course. Like many variegated plants, the ‘Variegated Pink’ lemon stays much smaller than ‘Eureka’ lemon, and is more sensitive to frost.
Almost all of the fruit trees that I encounter are or were neglected to some degree.
Many were planted a long time ago by someone who was able to maintain them at the time, and perhaps for many years, but then relocated, passed away, or just got too elderly as the trees grew and required more work.
Many were planted by those who simply enjoy gardening around their homes, and wanted to grow some fresh fruit, but were not aware of how intensive the maintenance of most of the fruit trees is, or how to execute such maintenance properly.
Many were planted by so-called ‘gardeners’ or so-called ‘landscapers’ who had no intention of actually ‘maintaining’ them, or believed that they could ‘maintain’ them with motorized hedge shears and a blower . . . just like they ‘maintain’ everything else.
There is a young but nicely productive ‘Eureka’ lemon tree at work. I would not say that it is neglected. Someone has been maintaining it well since it was installed. However, I remind others at work to take some of the lemons because the tree gets overloaded with otherwise unappreciated and unused fruit.
The tree is strategically located right outside of one of the big cafeteria kitchens, so that those who work in the kitchen could use the fruit. The kitchen probably uses more lemons that the still young tree could produce, but does not seem to use any from the tree.
While dumping greenwaste from the kitchen onto the big compost piles, I noticed this labeled but unused lemon. I can not help but wonder why lemons from my tree aren’t good enough, and why this particular lemon wasn’t good enough either. How many of us nowadays would even recognize a lemon tree, or appreciate the fruit that it produces?
Most of us know what oranges are. The color is, of course, orange. They are very juicy and sweet. Cultivars that are most popular for eating fresh, particularly ‘navel’ oranges, are easy to peel and separate into segments. Those that are best for juicing, such as ‘Valencia’, are a bit smaller with thinner rind, so are a bit sloppier to peel and separate. Such ‘sweet’ oranges are Citrus sinensis.
Richly tangy blood oranges are of the same species, but have blushed or deep red pulp and juice. ‘Sanguinelli’, although rare here, is nonetheless the most popular of the blood oranges, and is a traditional citrus component of sangria. The juicy fruit is compact, with tightly fitting thin skin, comparable to that of ‘Valencia’. Rarer ‘Moro’ produces plumper fruit that is easy to peel and eat fresh.
Sour and bitter oranges, which are very rare here, are mostly Citrus auranticum. Sour oranges, such as ‘Seville’, are used for marmalades and confections. Bitter oranges are used for flavorings and fragrances, such as ‘Bergamot’ for Earl Grey tea. Both bitter and sour oranges were less rare a century ago, when some were appreciated for alluringly fragrant bloom and handsome foliage.
There really is such a thing as too much grapefruit. I know; I have witnessed it more than once.
The most recent occasion was two years ago. We were pruning a few fruit trees for a client in San Jose. One of the trees was an old fashioned ‘Marsh’ grapefruit, which happens to be my all time favorite grapefruit.
As we were pruning, the client was dragging brush away to curbside recycling. Most of our clients prefer to do the ‘cleanup’ to save money. The client asked me if I would like some of the fruit. Of course, surplus fruit is one of the many benefits of our work; and of course, I told the client that I would be pleased to take some of the excellent grapefruit. I then went back to work on a nearby persimmon tree.
While busy with the persimmon tree, I was unaware of what the client was doing with the grapefruit. I knew that there was quite a bit of it. She and her sister bagged it and took it out front. From there, they loaded as much of it as they could into the little Blazer (Roy, the ‘Bravada’. It is a long story. I will explain later.). By the time I finished, the Blazer was FILLED with bagged grapefruit! I really should have gotten a picture.
There was no way I could eat or share all that grapefruit before most of it went bad. However, it would have been rude to leave the fruit there after they had so nicely loaded it into the car. Naturally, I ate a lot of grapefruit. It was excellent! The good news is that I really was able to share all that I could not eat or juice. None of it was wasted.