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From flowering to harvesting – here’s how to harvest oranges and lemons yourself

Citrus fruits are among the most popular fruit and ornamental plants worldwide. It’s no wonder, due to the fact that they not only look good but also produce delicious and healthy fruits. And the good thing is this: you can harvest your own citrus plants in your own garden. In this article, I would like tell you how to it with citrus fruit from Lubera.

Harvesting citrus fruits – the basics

Citrus fruits, which belong to the rue family (Rutaceae), are among the most important fruit plants in the world. Not only the high juice content of the oranges and lemons, but also the large diversity of citrus fruits is what keeps the demand for the sweet and sour fruits high. Also the versatility when using citrus fruits in the kitchen leads to their high popularity. From the lemon as a seasoning, for example, for fish dishes to refined recipes using kumquats, limes & co. – the culinary creativity of the citrus fruits does not set borders.

However, the offer is limited. Seasonally it focuses on the winter months when there are mandarin oranges and clementines as well as fresh oranges. The main varieties of oranges and lemons are available throughout the year. It is difficult to find the "exotics" among the citrus fruits such as kumquats, sour oranges or bitter oranges. These fruits are only found in delicatessen shops in big cities. One more reason to become a “Citronnier” or “Orangier” – the beautiful names for lemon or orange growers in France! 

The right plants for the citrus harvest

So that your own harvest will work, you will need the appropriate citrus plants. To set up your own citrus collection, I recommend starting with the main varieties of lemons and oranges. These are – if one follows the recommendations at lubera.co.uk – sufficiently easy to maintain and they reliably produce fruit. If the location and your green thumb fit well with the citrus plants, one can expand the collection as one’s own orangery little by little.

An important prerequisite for a successful harvest is grafted, quality plants. Many citrus enthusiasts regularly try to grow their own citrus fruits. It is often also possible to grow a stately plant from a seed. But regularly, after years of passionate cultivation of this citrus plant, one comes to see that it does not bloom. The reason for this is quite simple: citrus fruits, which are offered in the supermarket, come from plantation trees. And these are mostly hybrids, i.e. crosses, whose fertility is limited.

The solution to this problem is grafted citrus fruits from Lubera. During grafting, a scion from a fruit-bearing mother tree is grafted onto a robust rootstock. This subspecies is usually either a trifoliate orange (Poncirus trifoliata) or a bitter orange (Citrus aurantium). As a grafted plant the citrus can also form small flowers and bear fruit.

Weidenblattrige-Bitterorange-Halbstamm-720

The location is important

Citrus plants are not hardy and therefore must be protected from frost during the winter months. So it depends on the winter and the summer location whether the citrus grows, blossoms and fruits. An unsuccessful overwintering regularly affects the growth in the spring and summer. Then the disappointment is great when the harvest is poor or fails completely.

To make sure that the overwintering is successful, you should ensure that the citrus plant is placed in a cool and bright winter location. Warm living spaces are not suitable for overwintering. There the citrus plant would get too little light at high temperatures. The dry air could also be a burden. In a cool area with temperatures between 5° and 10°C the plant is in hibernation and it can cope with the low light supply during the winter in Europe. The overwintering area needs windows or plant lighting; it won’t work without light.

The overwintering should be as short as possible. As a rule, the time from mid-October to mid-April is sufficient. It is even shorter in mild regions. Outside in the fresh air and in direct sunlight a citrus plant can get its fill of the solar energy it needs for developing flowers and new shoots.

This is best done at a location that provides plenty of direct sunlight. Make sure that the plant is actually illuminated by the sun. Partial shade is not a solution for the citrus plant. In the case of small plants, make sure that they are not shaded by larger plants or objects. I place my smaller plants on tables or similar objects to keep them in the sun as long as possible. Here is another tip: if you have a choice between morning and evening sunshine for the location of your citrus plant(s), the morning sun is preferable. When the citrus tree has sunshine in the morning, it is less long in the cool shade. The shade in the afternoon and evening is usually connected with warmer air.

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The right care for rich-bearing crops

In addition to a suitable location, citrus-friendly care is the next prerequisite for rich-bearing crops. This is easy because citrus plants are easy, that is if the overwintering has been successful. Watering is carried out only when the soil has also dried in the deeper layers. This can be found out using a hygrometer or testing the soil with your finger. During the growing season, the citrus plant in the container must be regularly fertilised. It is best to use Instant Citrus fertiliser from Lubera, which contains the ideal nutrient combination and, above all, an exact composition of trace elements. Fertilise weekly from May to August, but only if the plant also needs to be watered. Every two to three years the citrus plant should be repotted. It is important to use a pot with drainage holes as well as a permeable soil, which can also be purchased at Lubera.

Flowers and pollination in citrus plants

At the latest in April or May, the first buds appear in the leaf axles. It is then that you can also start to look forward to the citrus fruits. The buds grow and the magnificent flowers appear in May and June. The flowering behaviour of the citrus varieties is quite different. While the Four Seasons lemon has made a name for itself with its year-round flowering activity, the oranges "only" produce two flowering phases per year, one in the spring and one in late summer. Kumquats or limes are even more reserved. In exchange, however, the flowering result is all the more exquisite.

Ovale-Kumquat-720

Fortunately, citrus plants are self-pollinating, so no one has to "play bee". From every flower there is also a fruit set, which starts its "career" as a small, green bead. During the summer, these small beads become significant, young fruits. It may be that the plant discards some of its fruit buds. This has to do with the fact that younger, grafted plants develop more fruit buds than they can feed.

How citrus fruits ripen 

During the citrus fruits’ growing season, they will need lots of sun and occasionally water. In autumn, the growth of the smaller to medium citrus fruits is completed. Larger varieties, such as grapefruitpomelo and citron, need longer and grow until next spring.

A "magical moment" is the colouring of the fruits. The typical yellow or orange colour appears when the nights become cooler. In fact, the yellow or orange pigment is an "antifreeze" that protects the fruits from frost damage. However, the colouration does not need frost; it is sufficient if the temperatures are around 5°C.

Harvest time in the citrus garden

If the fruits bear their typical colour and do not grow further, they are ripe. Most citrus fruits stay more or less long on the tree. So if you want to harvest the fruits, you will need a pair of scissors with which you can carefully cut the fruit off the tree.

It is important when using the fruit that no chemical plant protection has been used. This is also the reason why the fruits that were hanging on the tree at the time of purchase should not be consumed. Your first, own and untreated harvest can then be used without problems. If you have a stately lemon tree in our garden, it can provide you with lemons all year round. The sweetness of the oranges depends on the amount of sunny days there were in the previous year. Mandarin oranges are somewhat less demanding, as are limes, with which one can create delicious cocktails. My favourite citrus fruits are kumquats: these are eaten with the peel and thus I get to experience the entire taste sensation of the citrus plant. What a pleasure!

Dr. Dominik Große Holtforth

 
 
 
 

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