What a winter it has been in Houston. We had a real snow day in December, and two days of wintery mix earlier this month. This time of year is always a gamble: temps could be in the 70s, or it can be bitterly cold. This weather pattern will likely continue through February, too. Will spring ever return?
Of course, it will warm up. And spring will be short-lived and summer will overstay its welcome. If you’re readying your green thumbs for new projects, you may want to add citrus varieties to your list of plants.
Even if you’ve got a tiny apartment patio, you can keep a potted a citrus tree that will produce fruit for several months of the year, as long as you have key conditions: bright sunlight, decent soil and water. You can also plant your citrus trees directly into the ground, however most citrus find themselves sensitive to the cold, and a potted tree can be brought indoors for protection during tropical storms and freezes.
Earlier this month, my mother and I waited patiently in line at Urban Harvest’s annual fruit tree sale in order to get our new 2018 fruit trees. We remarked that the lines were reminiscent of those you might see outside of concert stadiums. Only hardcore fans of gardening would stand outside in thirty-nine-degree weather waiting to get their hands on new fruit trees. Once we were allowed inside of the sale, ambitious home growers loaded up their wheelbarrows and carts with short and stubby Meyer lemon trees and tall, spiny peach tree saplings.
Our haul was small compared to those of some shoppers; I took home a single variegated lemon tree from Brazos Citrus Nursery, which has pretty striped leaves and fruit with pink flesh, and my mother nabbed a Moro blood orange and a last-minute avocado tree. She’s already growing a few other citrus trees in her backyard as well as vegetables, figs and herbs, and a fruitful avocado tree means that in a few years she may be able to “grow her own” guacamole and margaritas.
Get the 411 about two upcoming fruit tree sales at Urban Harvest
on February 17 and March 24
If you’re not a gardener, you might be asking yourself what the big deal is about fruit tree sales and waiting in line to get your favorite less-than-common scrappy-looking citrus tree. The answer varies depending on the gardener but personally, I find gardening to be therapeutic and gratifying. I enjoy taking a few minutes out of my day to check on my plants, to make sure they’re happy and watered and to inspect their leaves for bugs or fungus. Fresh cut flowers make for a cheerful home, and I enjoy growing my own tiny cutting garden just to satisfy my need for fresh indoor foliage. Even if only a single tomato comes from my tomato plant, there is a sense of personal accomplishment in growing it. And because citrus grows well in few climates – Texas is one of them – it is a shame if you don’t pony up and try out at least one citrus variety yourself. It’s really very easy! Depending on the citrus plant you choose to take on, the investment can be small while the crop can yield several pounds of fruit. Now is the time to start nurturing your new citrus trees, so that you can harvest fruit in the fall of this year.
If you’re considering growing your own citrus, there are a few factors to keep in mind:
Sunlight: Citrus needs lots of sunlight. You want to have a very sunny location for your tree to thrive. You can reportedly grow citrus (such as Meyer lemons) indoors if you have enough sunlight. I’ve never had luck with this myself. It may be that the air conditioning used in Houston is too cold and dry for citrus, which prefer hot, humid-ish conditions.
Potting: A potted citrus tree will require more frequent waterings since a potted plant typically dries out more quickly. However, a potted citrus tree can be easily wheeled indoors or stored in the garage during tropical storms or freezes. Both planted and potted citrus trees kept outside in severe cold have a chance of being rescued and protected, as long as the varietals are hardy. Kumquats, for example, will survive 20° temperatures. Check out The Citrus Guy’s blog for more information on preserving citrus trees in the winter months. Additional tips for potted citrus can be found here.
Soil: Lemons do pretty well in crummy soil conditions. Other citrus fruit may not be as flexible. Ideally the soil you grow your citrus in is light sandy or sandy loam style, which provides good drainage. Wood chunks in the soil will also assist in improving drainage. When transferring your citrus plant from the plastic nursery pot to the ground or a large pot, ensure that the graft union is at least two inches above the soil line. The graft union looks like a scar or lump on the tree trunk and is totally normal. Nearly all fruit trees bought from nurseries are grafted.
Food and drink: Don’t overwater citrus trees, but don’t underwater them either. You don’t want your citrus plants to go completely dry. Soil should be mostly dry but not dusty. A thirsty citrus will struggle to develop fruit. Citrus trees do best with complete fertilizers a few times a year. Bees are the best pollinators!