A Great Citrus Garden for Northern Climates

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I’m sure all of you have had oranges, lemons, limes, or even some cumquats.  Where do you think these fruits come from.  How about your grapefruit for breakfast?

Well, perhaps they grow in warmer climates, such as Florida, California, or even in some of the Mediterranean climates, such as Spain, Italy, and even parts of Georgia and Turkey.  Well, you are right and you probably have no idea that you can have these amazing citrus fruits growing right in your own home.

What fruits are citrus fruits?   Well, citrus fruits technically are fruits which have high concentrations of citric acid.  These fruits are also high in vitamin C and many other nutrients good for fighting colds and the flu.  The most common citrus fruits grow on trees and they include oranges, mandarins, tangerines, grapefruits, limes, lemons, and cumquats.  These fruits typically have a bitter outer skin which is tough and has a hard shiny outside with some mid texture.  The inside of the skin is a course white lining which protects the inside of the fruit.  Typically, you eat what’s inside the fruit.  When you peal a citrus fruit, you will notice that the inside fruit mass easily comes apart in wedges.  If you cut a citrus fruit in half by the width, you will notice a radial pattern in which you can easily pick out the wedges with a spoon, ie how you eat a grapefruit.

Oranges, by far are some of the sweetest of the citrus fruits.  Among orange varieties include the mandarins and tangerines, however, there is a sour tangerine.  Grapefruits, typically are bitter, yet many eat them with sugar.   Lemons and limes tend to be a bit on the sour side and are often used for flavoring as well as baking when added with sugar.  The peals, on the other hand, are usually not eaten, however, many bakers like to use the zest from the peals of oranges, lemons, or limes.  Zest are the small shavings from the outer surface of the peal.

Cumquats, on the other hand are different from other citrus fruits.  Like the more commonly known citrus fruits, such as oranges, lemons, limes, etc, the cumquat also grows on trees, yet it’s a lot smaller, much like the size of a berry.  Cumquats are commonly found in Greece and often eaten by the Greek islanders.  The interesting thing about cumquats is that, unlike other citrus fruits, the peal is sweet, and the fruit mass is sour.  This and because of its small size, the cumquat is usually eaten whole, skin and all.

Growing citrus trees in a container garden setting can be a bit of a challenge, but it’s doable.  True, the big citrus groves in the US are in much warmer climates, like those of Florida or California and the trees can get rather large, if you know how to do it right, you can have some nice citrus fruits from smaller trees right in your home greenhouse or sun room.

The easiest way to grow your own citrus trees is by seed, however, it can take a good five years for you to see any fruit, so if you have the patients, it’s worth it.  You an also take clippings from a mature tree, but you risk a fifity-fifty chance of the clippings dying.

The biggest complaint I have had is that the citrus trees would not blossom.  I remember through childhood, my mother and I often grew orange and lemon trees.  They grew and grew well, but no blossoms and no fruit.   It was not until later, well into my 40s, when I went into a customer’s home for my sales job, where I found out the secret about how to get potted citrus tree to bare fruit.  Little did my mother and I know that had we only mixed some coffee grounds into the soil, we could have had blossoms and fruit.  It was that simple.  My customer explained that he would have his citrus trees in a greenhouse outside apart from his house and have it heated to a constant 65 to 70 degrees Fahrenheit during the wintertime.   Typically, citrus fruits will blossom in the late spring to early or mid summer and bare fruits in late autumn or early winter.

When you see the trees start to blossom, it is important that you either have screenless windows open or roll the potted trees out in the yard when the weather begins to warm up and there is no longer anymore threat of a hard freeze.  Citrus trees will die in a hard freeze.  This is highly important because bees and butterflies pollinate the blossoms, which makes them produce the desired fruit.

The blossom from a lime tree

Growing citrus trees from the seed is rather simple.  All you need to do is go to a certified organic market which sells citrus fruits and ask them whether their citrus fruits have seeds in them.   Many people who eat oranges or grapefruits like them seedless, thus you want to make sure the fruits you buy have seeds.

You will want to separate the seeds from the fruit and place them in some kind of growth medium until they germinate.  Growth medium can be either moist paper towels, or some moist mason sand.  Once the seeds have germinated, you will want to pot them in some good nutrient rich potting soil with coffee grounds added to them.

Citrus trees can get rather large, so you might need a rather large room to have them grow and you may even need to trim them.  This especially applies to orange trees.  Others, mostly lemon and lime trees, as well as cumquats are smaller trees and can be more manageable for those of you who have smaller homes.

Large potted orange trees outside in summer

As you can see the home in the background is rather large and more than likely has large airy rooms and large windows which allow lots of sun in the winter time.  It might even be a good idea of having some growth lamps in the winter time to ensure the orange trees get enough sunlight during the winter.  You need to remember that citrus trees are subtropical to tropical, so they naturally grow in areas where there is no drastic change in the length of days during the different seasons as there are in the temperate or northern and extreme southern climates.

Lemon tree inside for the winter


Lemon tree outside in summer

As you can see, you can have a container garden with citrus trees.  The best thing is that most citrus fruit tend to ripen in late fall or early winter, so the time you need to bring the trees back inside, you can have delightful oranges for your holiday meals.

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