When I first moved to Los Angeles, I thought there must be a neighbor who didn’t like me.
Each morning, I would find large orange peels in my back yard.
“Someone is eating oranges and throwing the peels over the fence,” I thought. After several weeks of peel collecting, I discovered the source of this nefarious littering. Orange peels were indeed falling out of the sky, but not through the fault of any human agency. Running along telephone wires above my yard were squirrels. Some of them carried oranges and, stopping to suck out the sweet pulp, let the peels fall where they may.
Squirrels notwithstanding, people who live in Los Angeles reach the conclusion, sooner of later, that the most desirable fruit trees for them to grow are citrus – oranges, mandarins (tangerines), grapefruits, lemons, limes and kumquats.
This is not to say that apricots, plums, nectarines, figs and apples won’t produce. In fact, certain varieties of these trees may yield so much fruit all at once that you end up giving most of it away. But this is part of the problem with deciduous fruit trees; the fruit ripens during a period of a few weeks. With evergreen fruit trees – citrus, avocado and guava – harvesting takes place during several months.
You Can Have Citrus Year Around with these Trees: a Valencia and a Navel Orange, a Eureka Lemon, a Bearss Lime, and a Kumquat
If you had one Valencia and one navel orange tree in your back yard, you would have fresh oranges to eat practically every day of the year. There are varieties of lemon (Eureka and Lisbon) and lime (Bearss) that produce year round. Finally, certain kumquats and their hybrids fruit nonstop and are used for ornamental purposes – as on Ventura Boulevard in Encino alongside the new Barnes & Noble store – either individually or in hedges. Kumquats are the hardiest of all citrus.
Once a citrus tree is established, it should not require much maintenance. Many homeowners with 20- or 30-year-old Valencias proudly testify to their complete neglect of these trees. Yet there they stand – botanical marvels of greenest green foliage and orangest orange fruit. They have lived through a multitude of California droughts and earthquakes, implacable as the original Valencias that once grew upon the rugged Spanish plain. One of the first orange trees planted in California – in 1856 – still was producing fruit as late as 1980.
Pruning of citrus is only necessary for removal of dead or diseased wood or to keep the tree in bounds. Lemons require the most pruning, primarily of vertical growing water sprouts that show great vigor but little fruit production. Lemons and limes are more sensitive to cold than other citrus. Now that the coldest part of winter is gone, fertilizer should be applied. It will soak into the ground with the rain.
Citrus in containers may defoliate during the winter. When this happens, lightly prune and fertilize. As the weather warms, foliage will return. Containerized plants may require fertilization several times during the year; an occasional liquid feeding with fish emulsion or seaweed, combined with application of slow release Osmocote granules should keep your potted citrus happy.
A common complaint concerns homegrown grapefruit that lacks sweetness. If you try to grow the red-fleshed grapefruits – such as Ruby – that are produced commercially in Arizona and Texas, you will be disappointed. According to citrus expert David Silber, the grapefruit variety most suited to our area is Oro Blanco.
An excellent choice for a small ornamental tree with year-round interest is the kumquat or one of its relatives. The kumquat is to the orange what the crab apple is to the apple – a small, tart version of the larger fruit. The limequat – a cross between a kumquat and a lime – has the taste of a lime and the cold tolerance of a kumquat. It is laden with soft-skinned yellow fruit during the winter. The calamondin – a cross between a kumquat and a mandarin – is also cold hardy, and when mature, is adorned with hundreds of fruit at all times. Any of these kumquats can be used as a 4- to 6-foot evergreen hedge.
The first citrus trees were grown in China and in the Middle East. According to rabbinical opinion, the fruit Eve used to tempt Adam was not, in fact, an apple, but a citron – an especially aromatic lemon with a thick rind.
Tip of the week: Now is the time to prune back your roses. With hybrid teas, the canes should be 18 inches to 3 feet long after pruning. Light pruning will produce more roses in the spring and summer. Heavy pruning will produce fewer roses, but they will be larger than those on lightly pruned plants.
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