All about citrus growing

All about citrus growing

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Do you want to grow citrus fruits at home? These evergreen shrubs, yielding abundant fruit, are prized for their exotic beauty. By following our advice, you should be able to prepare your lime punch or your homemade orange juice directly from your terrace ... or even from your living room! Lemon, orange, kumquat, mandarin, calamondin, grapefruit ... These shrubs are a good flower in hot countries. Often used as decorative plants in our Nordic houses and gardens, it is also possible to cultivate them and eat their fruits. For neophyte gardeners, these are demanding and delicate plants that require more attention than a green plant, but by following our instructions from specialists, some can be easy to live with.

From lemon tree to bigaradier, sunny hues

The number one citrus fruit is the lemon tree: it represents 80% of citrus fruit sales in garden centers because it is the easiest of all to grow and the most resistant to cold. Kumquat, mandarin (also easy), orange and calamondin follow. Grapefruit is the most difficult to succeed. The Bigaradier is also a citrus fruit, you probably know it without knowing it: present at the Palace of Versailles, at the Elysée Palace or at Matignon in XXL containers, it resembles an orange tree and shines with its abundance and by the scent of its flowers. But it is unmanageable by its bitterness!

Citrus fruits in the ground: reserved for the south

If you want to have citrus fruits in the open ground, this is only possible on the French Riviera (cf. the famous lemon from Menton). These frost shrubs are very sensitive to climatic impacts and cannot adapt to any garden. In the north of France, they would not survive in winter. Prefer therefore, for most French regions, a pot planting with the possibility of bringing in your shrubs as soon as temperatures approach zero degrees. Opt for large tubs of 40 x 40 cm minimum, for the comfort of the roots in accordance with the mass of the leaves. They will then be developed and solid more quickly.

Cocooning during the first days at home

After the purchase in a garden center, look at the substrate of the chosen plant and if necessary, repot it in a container of minimum 30 x 30 cm, ideally 40 x 40 cm for the comfort of the plant. Choose a special citrus or 'mix of Mediterranean plants' potting soil, which is particularly draining. Add a layer of drainage (gravel, clay balls) to the bottom of the pot. Finally, always remember to regularly empty the saucer of excess water, because humidity is the other enemy of citrus fruits.

Precautions on a terrace

Citrus fruits are plants that require a lot of clarity, they like to have their heads in the clouds. If you place them on a terrace or balcony, check that they see the sky and that there is therefore no balcony above the plants. Two other precautions to take: if the walls of your terrace are white and if it is exposed to drafts; in the first case, spread the planters a few dozen centimeters from the wall (or repaint it in a color that reflects less light!), and install other surrounding plants to create a screen against the winds. In winter, in cold regions (reaching -15 ° C to - 20 ° C), put them in a cold greenhouse or even slightly heated - or in a cool room at 8/10 ° C and especially bright (garage, attic with Velux®) - is ideal for preventing them from fatal jelly. If this is not possible or if you live in a cooler region (-10 ° C), it is better to leave them outside and block the pot in an angle with the least draft and stress possible; wrap the pot in a blanket and bubble wrap to insulate the roots from the cold and prevent the frost containers from bursting, and cover the top of the plant with a double winter veil. But still think of airing it from time to time, opening the veil when the temperature rises above 5 ° C; this will create air circulation that will prevent it from rotting. In addition, keep also an opening to be able to water lightly once a month or every 2 months, and do not give them fertilizer between October and March, to allow them to live normally their seasonal rest during which the citrus fruits lose up to 90% of their leaves, which will then grow back naturally in the spring.

Indoors, is it reasonable?

Even if they are tropical plants, keeping citrus indoors is not advisable. They would suffer from a lack of light, a temperature too high for this hibernation period, and an atmosphere that is too dry because of the heating. If in spite of everything, you have already adopted them in your living room, consider bathing them several times a month and misting them regularly, once in the morning and once in the evening. Citrus fruits do not like hard water, so note this tip: pour 1 teaspoon of white vinegar in 10 liters of water, the hard water will be neutralized! In summer, take them out absolutely, but with a gentle transition. Indoors, plants do not experience vegetative rest. They will support it well but it will then be necessary to redouble attention: of course, do not place your citrus fruits near a radiator or a bay window with direct sun, and give them fertilizer regularly.

Decorative and delicious

Choose the varieties according to the use you want to make of them: do you feast on lemons or limes and tangerines? Try an ultra-local harvest! On the other hand, kumquat and calamondin are certainly very generous in fruit, but they are very bitter therefore not very edible. Instead, choose them solely for their aesthetic advantage. The calamondin supports indoor life well.

Maintenance and watering of citrus fruits

Generally, if the plant is installed in a pot large enough to allow it to grow as it pleases, it will suffice to perform a surfacing in the spring: scrape the ground on 2 to 3 cm on the surface and bring a fresh potting soil. Adult plants will need to be repotted every 5 years or so, but it all depends of course on the plant. Observing it will give you the clues to its needs: if the roots protrude or if its growth is less visible, if many leaves turn yellow and if it gives less fruit… it's time to repot it! Citrus fruits require a lot of water in the spring when they "restart", but never leave standing water under their feet. It is also time to feed them because they consume a lot of nutritious matter: water once a month minimum and the next day, bring a special citrus fertilizer very rich in potash.

The size of citrus

Citrus fruits naturally have a compact round shape: to preserve and enhance it, prune dead wood all year round, particularly in spring. Do not hesitate to play with pruning shears even in high season and to clear up by cutting branches in half or a third. This will allow your plant to branch out, and have more flowers and fruit. By pruning, you can also choose to have fewer fruits, and allow the plant to bring them to maturity, instead of having many but puny and without juice. In addition, if in winter, it develops long branches to successfully capture the light, do not hesitate to cut them in March / April, so that the plant does not run out.

Healthy plants

Citrus fruits are sensitive to wind, humidity and drought, but they are rather resistant to diseases. Perhaps watch for aphids, which quickly notice with the naked eye, and if necessary simply spray black soap (avoid chemicals on a plant whose fruit you eat). The caterpillar called "leafminer" can also be spotted because it eats the leaves and leaves fine white traces; in this case it suffices to remove the damaged leaves and discard them. There is no need to apply chemical treatment. Finally, old plants can be affected by sooty mold, a fungus that creates a black deposit on the leaves; again, just clean with a little alcohol or remove the leaves. Generally, citrus fruits are reputed to be plants which remain delicate to cultivate; however, you should take great satisfaction in keeping in mind to water them regularly (especially in spring) without excess moisture, to provide a very filtering substrate, and to give them a rich food from April to the end of October. Properly maintained, your citrus fruits should work wonders for several decades! Thanks : - Valérie Brault (Algoflash), - Marc Gueguen (Truffaut), - François Pauly (Jardiland). Our practical gardening videos