John Mills takes Palisa around his commercial citrus tree orchard to talk all things citrus.
John started as an apprentice to a citrus grower over 40 years ago. John grows nearly 60 varieties of fruit, including figs, mulberries, olives and loads of citrus. A huge number of trees for the retail garden market.
Even growing trees on such a big scale starts small, and in some cases with a seed! Most fruiting plants are grafted, where the fruiting top of the tree is grafted onto a hardy rootstock, some of which is raised from seed in-ground. They use 5-6 rootstocks for different reasons including compatibility with the fruit or soil type.
Should people ask what roots their tree is on? “Some orchardists might be fussy about what their tree is grafted onto, if it has a reputation locally. But the most versatile for the home garden is trifoliata, that is what most home garden trees do well on”.
Once they germinate and establish, the root stock is dug up, potted and grown on, until they reach a size that they can be budded. They are lifting rootstock at the moment, which will be budded in May.
At this time of year they are focused on T-buds, where the bark of the rootstock is opened like a t-shirt and the fruiting bud slipped in – making sure the cambium of both is making contact. The union is covered, and the tree mollycoddled until the graft takes off – establishing into the tree you find at the nursery.
A healthy & productive citrus tree is a garden goal for anyone, whether you have one tree or ten! John still gets a thrill when he sees a good backyard tree.
He reckons success starts at planting. “People often ask if you can grow them in pots, and yes most will grow in pots, but for a productive tree they will be much better off in the ground”.
A warm, sheltered, frost-free spot is important of course, and a decent hole. “I dig much wider and deeper than the root system and it has to be square! If you dig a round hole you might end up with the roots running around the edge, a square hole directs them to the corners where they can escape”.
Soil needs to be well drained but rich, compost will help. To produce loads of fruit, they also need loads of food. Adding potassium will also sweeten the fruit.
PLANTING A YOUNG CITRUS TREE:
– Dig the hole twice as big as the pot.
– Place the plant in and as you backfill, make sure the soil is clear of the trunk and the graft.
– Keep an eye on it initially, any growth from below needs to be removed. In most cases it will be distinctly different in form to the desired fruiting top – i.e trifoliata. Cut with sharp secateurs.
Water is key to a good citrus tree, they are relatively shallow rooted and making fruit is thirsty work! For fruit, you need to be consistent.
TRIFOLIATE ORANGE ROOTSTOCK – Citrus trifoliata
TRIFOLIATE ORANGE ‘FLYING DRAGON’ ROOTSTOCK – Citrus trifoliata cv.
LIME ‘TAHITIAN’ – Citrus cv.
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