One of the highlights of a Mediterranean holiday is seeing the groves of citrus trees laden with fruit and redolent with the fabulous citrus flower fragrance. It’s natural to want to recreate some of that when you get back home and it’s not difficult if you have a sunny window, greenhouse or conservatory.
Kumquats are little oranges, they can be eaten whole, preserved in syrup or just enjoyed for their decorative value. Of all the citrus they make the best looking plants with glossy foliage and a tidy habit. Lemons are remarkable in that they too will bear fruit in the UK and they have a natural resistance to chilly weather (they don’t much like frost though).
The best time to buy a citrus plant is in the Spring so that it has a season to acclimatise to your garden before the Winter. Citrus plants like fresh air, so as soon as the frosts have finished get your citrus plant outdoors in a sheltered place away from cold winds. Where should you citrus spend the cold dark days?…..a conservatory is the best option, they’ll often flower in the Winter and the fragrance makes a conservatory very special. Indoors, near patio doors would be good, they have to have good light and frost protection. A heated greenhouse would also work well but try and get some ventilation going as citrus don’t like stagnant air.
During the Winter period citrus plants do not need much water, keep them on the dry side. In the growing season – roughly defined as during British Summer Time wait until your plant is getting dry before giving a good drink, don’t keep them soggy wet, they don’t like that, try and emulate mediterranean condtions. Rainwater is by far the best for citrus, it has no lime in it and will tend to keep the compost from getting too alkaline. If you have to use our local tap water add a liquid feed for Ericaceous plants, that will counteract the lime.
Now and again (every year or two) citrus will need to be potted on, this re-invigorates them and keeps the root system healthy – it also keeps the pot in balance with the branches and helps prevent blowing over in the wind. You can get a special compost for citrus, that works very well but you can also make your own by mixing John Innes No2 or 3 with some horticultural sand about 1/3 by volume of sand should be about right. Make sure the bottome of the pot has crocks to get good drainage.
To keep plants healthy it’s worth refeshing the top of the compost at the beginning of the growing season and if the plant looks like it needs a boost whilst growing. Simply remove and lose compost, perhaps scratch a little with a trowel but don’t damage the roots, then top up with good fresh compost, John Innes No3 will work well.
Feed your citrus during the growing season with any good liquid or granular feed, follow the instructions carefully. Foliar feed can be very effective and quick acting but don’t use it until the new leaves are about half grown as they are delicate.
Pruning needs are minimal, if you have to prune for shape or size it’s best done when the plant is in spring growth. Deadwood can be removed at any time as it may encourage rot.
Young plants may flower freely and set too many fruits, for the sake of the plant limit the amount of fruits to one per cluster of flowers, better to get a few real quality fruits than a lot that don’t develop fully and sap the plants strength.
Watch out for red spider mite and scale insect. The RHS has very complete information about the pests and keeps up-to-date with chemicals that are available. Red Spider Mite: http://apps.rhs.org.uk/advicesearch/profile.aspx?pid=190
Scale Insect: http://apps.rhs.org.uk/advicesearch/profile.aspx?PID=224
Citrus are fun to grow and not difficult once you get an understanding of their needs.