Landscaping and decorating with citrus

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Topic: Citrus
Theme: Mini citrus trees for the patio
Industry Expert: David Seewald
Garden Centre/Grower: Heuers - www.heuers.co.za 

Are you ready to be inspired and educated? Our Life is a Garden readers are in for a zesty treat this month! David from Heuers Nursery has juiced out the full scoop on everything you need to know about growing a citrus tree on your patio. Check out his dwarf recommendations, maintenance hacks, grow guide, and personal journey with these special fruits.

1. What made you first fall in love with citrus growing? Why are citrus trees so special?

I always had an interest in citrus from since I joined the family business. In early 2017 I had a chance to visit some citrus growers in the Cape region and that’s when I decided to actively pursue my dream of growing citrus. In 2019 I had the good fortune to visit the top grower of dwarf citrus in the world. This opened my eyes to what could be done with citrus trees grown on a dwarfing rootstock.

What makes citrus trees so special is the wide range of citrus fruits. They each have their own flavour characteristics and uses, be it in the garden or the commercial sector. Citrus trees are also special because they have a global appeal and are grown almost everywhere.

2. What are some of the reasons why gardeners should be growing citrus at home? Are there any benefits/advantages?
Besides the satisfaction of growing and harvesting citrus from your own trees, there are other benefits related to growing your own citrus namely:

- Citrus fruit has many health benefits and is filled with vitamins, minerals, and essential fibre.

- You have control over which method of pest control to use on your trees. Many people have concerns around chemicals being used on the fruit they buy.

- There are several good quality eco-friendly pesticides on the market and they are readily available at your local garden centre.

- Growing your own fruit is super cost-effective. Even from a young age, your tree can produce some fruit. Once it is established you will be rewarded with a bountiful crop for you and your family to enjoy.

- You can also grow different cultivars that fruit at different times of the year to extend and spread out your harvest window.

- Gardening overall is good for your physical and mental well being and is a great stress reliever.

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3. Besides utilising citrus trees for their produce, how could gardeners incorporate trees as part of their patio décor?

Citrus make beautiful ornamental trees in the garden and on the patio. They can be espaliered along a wall or fence to hide or screen and area. They can also be pruned into a lollipop shape in a pot or the open ground. The two best known ornamental citrus varieties are the Calamondin and the Kumquat. What makes these varieties attractive are the masses of white citrus-scented flowers, which develop into small orange round fruit that can be found almost throughout the year on the tree. Their small and compact growth habit makes them ideal for the patio or small garden.

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4. Is there a difference between a mini (or dwarf) citrus tree and a citrus bonsai?

Yes, there is. Bonsai is the art of growing a miniature tree by restricting the growth of a normal-sized tree through pruning and training techniques. In dwarf citrus, a rootstock is selected which has dwarfing characteristics. These characteristics get passed onto the cultivar, which you graft onto it. The benefit of growing dwarf citrus is that you have a smaller tree that bears the same size fruit as a standard citrus tree. This allows people with limited space to grow citrus.

5. How would gardeners go about growing a mini citrus tree? Could you please guide us through the process and advise on which citrus are best suited?

Growing a mini or dwarf citrus tree requires the scion (bud) of the tree you want to produce to be grafted onto a dwarfing rootstock. Once the graft union has taken, the dwarf citrus tree can be treated like any normal citrus. The only difference will be the growth habit of the tree. Dwarf citrus trees will grow to roughly half the size of a standard citrus tree, depending on the cultivar. The same rules apply for growing dwarf citrus as for normal citrus.
These being:

- Do not overwater your trees. Monitor your watering with the weather. Water less when it is cool or wet and water more when it is dry and hot.

- Do regular checks on your citrus trees for pests.

- Cut away any growth below the graft union (joint).

- Prune your tree to keep it in the desired shape. On older trees, you can thin out the old branches in the centre of the tree. This will help bring in light and air movement to the inner part of the tree.

- Feed with a balanced fertiliser every month from August to November.

- If growing in a container, be sure to check that the container has adequate drainage holes at its base. Also, use a good quality, well-drained potting soil. Before potting your citrus, add a layer of coarse gravel or rock to the bottom of the container to prevent the holes from clogging up.

Most citrus varieties are compatible with the dwarfing rootstock. However, the Eureka lemon is not compatible, but fortunately you can choose from the other varieties of lemons such as:

- Lisbon
- Rough skin
- Meyer

For the moment, there are no dwarf citrus trees being produced on any large scale for the retail market in South Africa.However, we at Heuers Nursery will be releasing our range of dwarf citrus to the market in the next year.

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6. What are some of the most common pests and how can gardeners protect and treat their trees?
The most common pests we see on citrus are the following:

- Red spider mite
- Leaf miner
- Scale
- Psylla
- Mealybug

Fortunately, there are several chemical and biological products on the market that can protect and treat your trees. Visit your local garden centre for guidance on which products to use.

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7. Are there any general citrus hacks that you could share with a beginner citrus grower?

If you have the patience, pick the flowers off the tree for the first year or two. This will allow the plant to put its energy into becoming a bigger and stronger tree with bigger crops in the years that follow. Always remember to plant your citrus tree at the same level as it was planted in the nursery container. Drainage is also very important. Make sure that all trees (in the ground or containers) have well-draining soil. If planting in the open ground, avoid soils that have a high clay content in them. Citrus trees can suffer from root diseases, and this is normally brought on by a combination of overwatering and poor drainage.

Enjoy your fruitful journey and patio decorating with these bold edibles. Remember that citrus trees prefer subtropical climates and grow well in areas where there is no heavy frost or extreme cold. Dash down to your local garden centre for advice on which trees will flourish in your area.

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citrus, bonsai, life is a garden, citrus bonsai, green, flowers, plants, greenery, July, oranges, lemons, grapefruit, naartijies, mini citrus, winter, delicious, healthy, juice, cooking
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