Curtis Calloway, retired District Court Judge and avid home fruit grower, stands besides a Meyer lemon tree heavy with fruit.

Prune tall-growing branches on citrus trees, like this Satsuma, to reduce tree height and allow for easy harvest without a ladder.

This holiday season retired district court Judge Curtis Calloway wasn’t thinking about sugar plums, fruitcake or mince meat pies. He was thinking about lemon bars, lemon meringue tarts, lemon poppy seed cake and lemon chicken with steamed vegetables. At last count he had close to 800 lemons on his Meyer lemon tree and was wondering how best to enjoy them. Luckily he has many friends who have shared in his bounty.

Homegrown citrus is definitely on the rise. Even though winter temperatures dip lower than what these evergreen tropicals prefer, citrus grow quickly and produce a nice harvest beginning in their third to fourth year.

Citrus trees of all types had a great season and were loaded with fruit for the holidays. Homeowners and commercial growers started the season in October with early bearing satsumas, like Louisiana Early and Early St. Ann, followed by favorites Owari and Brown’s Select in November. As the weather continued to cool, navel oranges, kumquats and grapefruit ripened on trees for a December and early January harvest.

Wintertime is when many citrus are offered for sale and planted in home landscapes. Actually, quite a few citrus trees were given as Christmas presents and now is a great time to plant them.

Trees prefer a full sun location for maximum production. Shade will limit production. Planting near the home can offer some protection from winter cold. It’s best not to mulch tree and to maintain bare soil under the tree. This allows heat from the soil to help protect the graft from freeze injury. And when protecting trees, cover the entire tree with the cover extending to the ground.

Fertilizing trees depends on tree age. Young, non-bearing trees and mature trees require different approaches. Young trees need to develop leaf and stem growth while mature trees growth is minimized to enhance fruit yield. The LSU AgCenter recommends fertilizing in new trees mid-March or six weeks after transplanting and all other trees from late January to early February. A second fertilization for bearing age trees, those four years and older, is applied late May or June.

Trees will sometimes produce very vigorous vertical shoots known as water sprouts. These shoots are slow to bear fruit and interfere with the more productive limbs, so their removal is desirable. For all pruning, make cuts where the branch attaches to another branch or trunk. Prune just before spring growth resumes. Avoid pruning stubs as these may provide disease entry into the tree. Prune branches no larger than your thumb. Larger cuts, over one-half inch in diameter, will simply be replaced with what was removed and you’ll decrease fruit production. Remove all growth originating below the graft.

Avoid pruning low branches. You want to keep as much foliage on the tree including lower branches that hit the ground. They provide wintertime protection and better maintain radiant heat from the soil.

Pick all fruit by early to mid-January. This will allow the tree to go fully dormant before February temperatures possibly drop into the twenties. Ripe fruit can take down to 24 degrees but its best to harvest before temperatures drop that low. If cold temperatures are predicted and you can’t pick all the fruit, first pick the fruit on the top of the tree and then on outside of the tree. Pick fruit within the canopy last since it is more protected.

There is quite a concern about citrus developing a dark skin, rather than bright orange, especially on satsumas. The condition causes the rind to become tough but does not affect fruit quality at all. It is caused by the citrus rust mite and following a recommended spray schedule will prevent insect damage for next year’s fruit.

Louisiana Home Citrus Production is an excellent publication packed with information and great color pictures. It is available at your parish LSU AgCenter office or can be viewed and printed online.
1/2/2012 11:42:45 PM
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