Year of the DOG!


Tet, Vietnamese New Year’s Day, is today! This is the first day of the Year of the Dog! Tet is celebrated for at least three days, and besides all the popularly known traditions that go along with it, a few horticulturally oriented traditions are also observed.

When I grew citrus back in the early 1990s, I can remember than we sold every kumquat and calamondin tree that had fruit on it prior to Tet. When those ran out, we sold every fruited mandarin orange and tangerine tree, and then every fruited orange and lemon tree. Eventually, just about every fruited tree we could supply was gone. Citrus trees with colorful ripe fruit are traditional decoration for Tet, and might even be a gift for someone lacking such a tree. Kumquat trees are the favorite, but others will do if necessary.

Fruit baskets containing primarily citrus fruits are also very popular and traditional. Bananas, pineapple and any colorful fruit are fair game as well. Shaddock fruit is popular if available. Shaddock is the dwarfing understock for other dwarf citrus trees, but is not commonly grown for fruit production.

Blooming stems of apricot, peach and plum, as well as Saint John’s wort flowers, are the favorite traditional cut flowers for Tet. Each type of flower corresponds to the region of Vietnam from which the family displaying it originated. In the Santa Clara Valley years ago, there were plenty of fruit blossoms to go around. The stems were sometimes cut early and forced to bloom on time for Tet. Nowadays, such blooming stems can be purchased from florists, along with the other traditional flowers; chrysanthemums, narcissus, marigolds, pansies and cockscombs. Families who own a bonsai or more display them prominently for Tet.

Happy Tet and Year of the Dog!80131


80131Tet, on February 16, will be the Vietnamese New Year’s Day for the Year of the Dog! Any year associated with the dog must be pretty excellent. Anyway, potted and fruited kumquat trees are very traditional decorations for Tet. Although less popular than orange and lemon trees, they are the most compact of the citrus trees, so are therefore the most adaptable to compact home gardens.

They grow slowly and may never reach first floor eaves. The evergreen leaves are a bit thicker, smaller and darker green than those of Mandarin orange. Stems are mostly thornless. The compact growth is quite symmetrical, so might only occasionally need to be trimmed for a stray stem here and there. Clusters of small white flowers bloom about the time the last of the fruit gets harvested.

Kumquat has the distinction of being the ‘other’ citrus. Although the genus is alternatively known as Citrus, experts know it as Fortunella. Those with round fruit are Fortunella japonica. Those with oval fruit are Fortunella marginata. The abundant fruits are not much bigger than big grapes, and are eaten whole, with the seeds spit out. The tart pulp with the sweet skin is a tangy combination.