Thursday, January 5, 2012

Citrus trees around town

Now that the deciduous trees are bare, it’s easy to see how many people have citrus trees in their yards. While not quite as perfect as Southern California where it virtually never freezes, our climate is still fairly citrus-friendly. In the last couple of years, our winter low was around 26°F degrees, and even that for just a few hours. Most commonly grown citrus varieties can withstand a few degrees below freezing without damage. In fact, many people say oranges need a light freeze to bring out the sweetness. (One exception is the key lime; it doesn’t like frost at all. Ours lost all its leaves at just above 32°F. But it’s alive otherwise, so it should recover nicely when spring rolls around.)

For a few weeks, I’ve been taking photos of citrus trees around town. I was hoping to find some more unusual varieties, such as pummelo or citron, but I didn’t have any luck. However, I found orange and lemon trees galore, and even a grapefruit.

I saw one mandarin but wasn’t able to photograph it. Mandarins and clementines are relatively rare around here; I don’t know why that is since they should grow as well as oranges. Maybe people are used to buying bags of mandarins in the store instead of picking them off their own tree? Unfortunately, a lot of residentially grown citrus fruit is never picked; it simply falls off in its own time and then rots on the ground.

To begin our tour of local citrus, let’s take a look at a few lemon trees. The first specimen belongs to friends. The first time I saw it I thought it was a Meyer because of the small fruit, but it’s actually a “supermarket” lemon, i.e. Lisbon or Eureka. This tree is absolutely loaded this year.

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I came across the following lemon trees during walks in various parts of town. As you can see, some people grow them for fruit production, like you would in an orchard, while others incorporate them into the overall landscaping.

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I was very excited when I came across the next house. A lemon tree and beautiful succulents. Could it get any better? (Yes, actually, if they included a Mexican weeping bamboo!)

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I assume that all of the “lemon” trees above are actually lemons. I can’t be 100% certain, because Bearss limes turn lemon yellow when left on the tree. I mentioned that fact in a recent post about our own Bearss lime tree (see next photo).

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The next two photos show a grapefruit tree; in the second photo you’ll see it side by side with an orange tree. The fruit isn’t as large as what you typically see in the supermarket but I bet it has a more concentrated taste. Personally, I don’t like oversized fruits or vegetables because they frequently lack flavor.

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In my entirely non-scientific tally, oranges are the most frequently grown citrus variety in Davis. It seems that 2 out 3 citrus trees you see are oranges, typically navel oranges. Our house came with a Washington navel, and even with the irregular attention it has received from yours truly, it has rewarded us with what I think are the best oranges out there.

The house in the next couple of photos has more than ten orange trees in the front yard—a much better use of space, in my opinion, than the ubiquitous lawn!

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Some orange trees are fairly large—as tall or taller than the house they’re planted next to.

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Others are mere shrubs, wider than tall. It’s sure easier to pick the fruit off a tree like that!

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Some interesting citrus facts:

Virtually all citrus trees sold in nurseries are grafted onto disease-resistant rootstock. That’s why you probably won’t have any luck planting a seed you find in a citrus fruit. (Trees used for rootstock, however, are often grown from seed.)

A mature tree can produce hundreds of thousands of blossoms to attract as many pollinators as possible. However, 99% of all flowers fall off without producing fruit. Talk about overkill!

With care, citrus trees can produce for 50 years or longer.

Citrus trees prefer deep, infrequent watering. It’s best to let the soil dry out, then flood it. However, our lime tree gets watered together with the landscaping (drip irrigation) and still produces well.

While most citrus varieties originally come from Southeast Asia, some are native to Australia, like the Australian finger lime (Citrus australasica). I saw it at Lowe’s recently, and I was tempted to buy one just for novelty’s sake—and because I love all things Australian.

The kumquat is the hardiest citrus variety, able to tolerate temperatures as low as 10°F. It grows in the tea regions of China which routinely see very cold winter temperatures.

4 comments:

  1. So, the people with the fallen fruit rotting in the yards... do you think they consider these trees a nuisance? Amazing. Are there no groups in the area that would harvest the unwanted fruit for distribution to those in need?

    I wish we had fruit trees of some sort that were planted all over the neighborhood.

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  2. Great plants citrus', it effortlessly evokes warmer climates. Shame about those fallen fruits just rotting away. On milder winters it's possible to leaves citrus plants outside in the south of England, not so in the last few winters.

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  3. Growing up with an orchard I've always taken forgranted the various apples, plums and figs. Oranges on the other hand seem entirely magical, you mean you can just grow these outside your house. Oh to live in California where the frosts stay at bay. I would eat so many oranges! Jealous, and impressed.

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  4. @Alan, there are groups that will harvest citrus or any other kind of fruit. Even ornamental/bitter oranges (like the 'Seville' that are planted behind the State Capitol in Sacramento) don't have to go to waste; they can be used to make marmalade.

    But as with many things in life, people have to take the initiative and advertise that they have fruit to give away.

    @Nate, yes, there are citrus trees loaded with fruit all over town right now. Most people probably wouldn't mind if you snatched an orange or lemon here and there :-).

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