Gardening Articles: Landscaping :: Yard & Garden Planning

Wild New Citrus

by Lance Walheim

The convergence of culinary and garden enthusiasms has paid many dividends this past decade. Not long ago, if you wanted arugula in your salad, you had to grow it yourself. Now most markets offer it, and some even offer a prepackaged mesclun mix. It's a similar story with citrus. Once it was just grapefruits, lemons, limes, Mandarins and oranges. There is so much more to choose from now.

These days, adventurous gardeners can find an amazing array of unusual citrus: tangelos (Mandarin-pummelo or Mandarin-grapefruit hybrids), tangors (Mandarin-orange hybrids), limequats (lime-kumquat hybrids), red-fleshed sweet oranges ("blood" oranges) and even the bizarre-looking but ultra-aromatic Kieffir lime.

But for me, the best citrus are the ones that taste best. The following 10 are my favorites. Most are available to markets: Ask your local produce manager about ordering them. Home gardeners who live in citrus-growing regions can plant trees in their own gardens. If you don't live where citrus grows outdoors, you can raise plants in containers in greenhouses or solariums.

Oranges

When I was a kid, oranges were either navels for fresh eating or Valencias for juice. While this is still mostly true, now there's a variety choice. Among oranges, variety has mostly to do with color: Oranges aren't only orange these days. All sweet oranges are hardy to about 27° F.

'Cara Cara' pink navel. 'Cara Cara' is a natural variant ("limb sport") of a Washington navel that appeared in Venezuela. It made its way to Florida by 1977 (where it's marketed as 'Red Navel') and to California 10 years later. I've tasted the fruits and I rate the flavor "excellent." But most exciting is the color. The interior flesh is pink, similar to a 'Star Ruby' grapefruit. Because of the type of mutation it is, some variation in fruits and tree growth is expected. It will be a couple years at least until fruits or trees are widely available.

Fruits are medium-size, deep orange on the outside with a small navel on the blossom end. Flesh is reddish pink and seedless. Fruits ripen November to March in inland California and November to February in Florida.

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