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CITRUS IN THE FOOTHILLS
By Trey Pitsenberger, co-owner Golden Gecko

If you love the flavor of fresh citrus, or simply appreciate the striking beauty of rich green foliage and bright-colored fruit, you’ll have no problem squeezing a citrus tree into your landscape! I find the fragrance of citrus to be one of the most appealing aspects of the plant. It is a treat to walk by a citrus tree in full bloom and smell its intoxicating aroma. One of the wonderful things about citrus trees is that they can be easily grown in containers as well as in the ground.

Many people new to the foothills are surprised to learn that citrus do grow here. In the lower foothills, around Lincoln, Newcastle, Penryn, and Loomis are a thriving Mandarin growing region. Most widely planted is the ‘Owari Satsuma’ Mandarin. This seedless citrus is grown to perfection in these locations and the area is quite famous for its fruit. Navel oranges, lemons, and limes are also grown here as well.

Successful citrus growing requires varying amounts of heat. Meyer Lemons, Kumquats, Mandarins, and Oranges are the most cold tolerant and are generally the best types for the foothills. Mexican limes and Grapefruits are less hardy and would have to be protected from the winter cold every year. You local nurseryperson can help you decide what type of citrus would be best in your location.

Citrus trees, like many other fruit trees, are available in dwarf and standard size. Equally exciting, many varieties of citrus are incredibly prolific once established. When you see how many buds appear on a 5-gallon nursery specimen, you can’t help but be impressed! If you live outside the citrus growing regions discussed or wish to try the more tender varieties, dwarf trees planted in containers are a great idea. Dwarf citrus are easily kept to around six feet or so. This makes covering them in the winter with a thermal blanket easier. You might even move the whole container to a protected spot where the frost would not be a concern. Just moving them to under a covered porch or patio is sometimes all the protection they need.

In locating your tree, look for a sunny, wind-free area with southern exposure. Keep in mind how large the tree will grow, and allow ample space for a mature tree. If adequate heat is a concern, you might be able to find a sheltered area that receives good sun exposure, like a patio and/or a location where heat can be reflected off walls. If you decide to grow your tree in a container, you’ll have the ultimate in flexibility. When planting in a container use a high quality potting soil and not garden dirt. Be sure to choose a container that has a drainage hole in the bottom and try to pick out a pot will show of the beauty of the citrus.

Tree care is a snap. Make sure you have good drainage whether you plant in the ground or in a container. Mulching is a great idea, but make sure the mulch is at least 6 inches away from the tree trunk. Citrus trees are heavy feeders. Fertilize lightly spring thru summer. Feed your trees with a citrus food following label recommendations. Sometimes the leaves of citrus will be quite yellow with the veins of the leaf staying green. This is a sign of iron deficiency. This can be remedied with an application of chelated iron fertilizer along with the citrus food. Trees can be pruned at any time of the year except winter. Pinch back the tips of new growth for a rounder, fuller tree.

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