While many of the fruit trees we grow across the state, from peaches to apples, have a relatively short lifespan of 20 to 30 years, citrus fruits can live up to and sometimes more than 50 years. This makes it a great fruit tree to incorporate into your landscape, especially near the coast with milder winters.
In my previous article a few weeks ago, I discussed some of the basic concepts of growing citrus in the garden. I discussed the issues related to citrus greening and quarantine for Charleston County. I also discussed concerns about cold tolerance, pollination, and citrus adolescence which prevent one from growing citrus from seeds. But I haven’t covered all of the information about growing citrus fruits, so I thought of revisiting this group of fruit trees.
Some citrus trees can produce fairly large thorns that can be dangerous and must be handled with care. Christopher Burtt / Provided
I mentioned in the previous article that citrus trees have perfect blooms for the most part and are self-pollinating. This means that you can have a wide variety of citrus fruits in one garden. And of course there are many different types of citrus to choose from, and I wanted to discuss some of the most commonly grown here.
There are two most popular types for home gardeners: lemons and limes.
Lemons, Citrus limon, come in different varieties, but the most common one here is Meyer lemon, a hybrid variety best suited for the home garden. The fruits are a little smaller than the more common Eureka lemon, but a little sweeter.
Limes, Citrus aurantifolia, also come in several varieties, but the two most common are the Tahitian or Persian lime and the Key lime. The Persian lime is more difficult to produce than the key lime. The biggest problem with lemons and limes is that they are the most susceptible to frost damage. This means getting the right frost protection is critical or choosing one of the more cold tolerant types.
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There are several types of cold tolerant citrus. The Satsuma or Satsuma mandarin is generally considered to be one of the most cold-tolerant citrus trees and is resistant to the cold up to 15 degrees Fahrenheit. when ripe. The Satsuma is quite vigorous, but tends to be more of a dwarf citrus tree. This makes it an excellent choice for smaller landscapes.
The grapefruit tree, Citrus paradisi, is another cold tolerant tree. As a relatively new hybrid, the grapefruit produces large but tasty fruits that are available in both red and white. However, according to most sources, the most cold-tolerant citrus tree is the small but productive kumquat. Although this tiny tree is often overlooked, it only grows to about 15 feet tall and is cold tolerant up to about 10 degrees Fahrenheit. This makes it one of the best choices for the home gardener here in the Lowcountry.
But when we talk about fruit trees like grapefruit, there is one thing I need to mention about citrus that should be considered when deciding where to plant it. Some citrus trees produce thorns. And when I say thorns, I don’t mean the small but prickly thorns of a rose. Some citrus trees can produce fairly large thorns that can be dangerous and must be handled with care. As I mentioned earlier, most citrus fruits are grafted onto suitable rootstocks. If these trees are killed by the frost, the rhizome can grow back. Unfortunately, most of the species used as rootstocks tend to have the largest thorns.
Citrus leaf miners can burrow under the leaf surface and begin to eat, creating streaks that can disfigure the leaf. Christopher Burtt / Provided
Overall, citrus is a pretty hassle-free crop, but there are a few issues to watch out for. There’s one insect I want to mention as it’s one of the most common problems growing citrus: the citrus leaf miner, a tiny insect that burrows under the leaf surface and starts to eat. This leaves streaks that can disfigure the sheet and become unsightly. Leafminers are, for lack of a better word, a bit of a problem. The damage done by these insects rarely affects the overall growth and production of the tree. That being said, young citrus fruits can be more susceptible to leaf miners.
If you want to learn more about fruits or just growing edible plants in general, feel free to check out the Edible Garden Series, a free monthly series of presentations on the various aspects of growing plants for food. There will be a discussion on autumn vegetables on August 30th, followed by a lecture on harvesting and preservation on September 10th. I’ll get into fruit in October. For more information, contact me at email@example.com or visit the Charleston Cooperative Extension website, www.clemson.edu/extension/charleston/index.html, for links to register.
Christopher Burtt is the Urban Horticulture Extension Agent and Master Gardener Coordinator for Berkeley, Charleston and Dorchester counties. He can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.