In the Garden:
Southwestern Deserts
April, 2003
Regional Report

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Cocktail trees produce more than one variety of fruit, such as this lemon and orange.

Plant Citrus Trees

The air is filled with the heady scent of citrus blossoms at this time of year. The fragrance serves as a reminder that this month also is a good time to plant citrus trees. All types of citrus thrive in the low desert, including orange, grapefruit, pummelo, tangelo, mandarin, lemon, lime, kumquat, and limequat. Citrus is extremely frost sensitive so it isn't a good choice if you live at a higher elevation, although you might try a dwarf citrus in a container and move it indoors.

What to Plant
I'm a fan of Arizona sweets, which seem juicier and sweeter to my taste buds than navels, but navels usually have fewer seeds. Arizona sweets include Diller, Marrs, and Trovita. Navel varieties include Parent Washington, Lane Late, and Cara Cara. Valencia oranges are great for juice, and their fruit matures later in the season. If space allows, extend your harvest season with a navel or sweet tree, which has fruit maturing November through February; and a Valencia, Campbell, or Delta tree, with fruit harvested from February through May.

Other citrus possibilities include Daisy or Kinnow mandarins; Minneola or Orlando tangelos; and Marsh, Flame, or Texas Star Ruby grapefruit. Lemons and limes have long harvest periods. Eureka and Lisbon lemons may bear fruit from August through February. Ponderosa lemons are so large they look more like grapefruit. Mexican lime may bear fruit year-round. For something different, plant a Fukushu, Meiwa, or Nagami kumquat or a Tavares limequat. These bite-sized fruits are eaten whole, rind and all. If space is limited, choose a dwarf variety or a "cocktail" tree, which has 2 or 3 different varieties grafted to one rootstock.

How to Plant
Digging a good-sized planting hole seems like a lot of work, especially if it requires a pick axe, but it pays off with a more vigorous tree. Dig a hole only as deep as the container but 3 to 5 times as wide, which allows roots to spread readily. Do not add organic matter or other amendments to the backfill. It very quickly decomposes and compacts, which causes the plant to sink into the planting hole.

Don't prune any branches. Leave them on the tree to increase its vigor and to shade the trunk, which is vulnerable to sunburn. Loosely wrap the trunk with cloth or newspaper (not plastic) to protect it from the sun. Remove the wrapping in fall. You can also paint the trunk with white latex that is formulated for this purpose. Do not fertilize your citrus tree until it has been in the ground for a year. Water newly planted citrus every 5 to 7 days from now until October. Reduce the frequency to once every 14 days in cooler winter months. Then be patient. Citrus trees don't bear much fruit for 2 or more years after transplanting!

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