Fragrant flowers, beautiful, shiny, evergreen foliage, colorful edible and delicious fruits, a well behaved root system and the ability to adjust to different types or methods of cultivation make the dwarf citrus one of the most valuable plants for modern home gardening.
It is a nurseryman’s delight for it has everything the customer seeks in an ornamental.
Dwarf citrus has as many uses in the garden as there are places for plants.
You can use it as a hedge to mark the property line or to screen off a given area and use it as a specimen plant in the lawn.
You can use it in containers for porch or patio ornaments, espaliered against a wall to break the glare or just to ornament it, use it to add a little height to a perennial background, and use it as a foundation planting close to the house.
Its garden placement is limited only by its need for plenty of sun and the gardener’s imagination.
Dwarf citrus fruits are available in seven types and 30 varieties. Nearly every worthwhile variety of citrus in the world is now available to gardeners on a dwarfing rootstock that assures the grower that the plant will not get too big for his garden or pot (if you live in a more northern area).
No ladder will ever be needed to pick the fruit at the top of the tree and the fruit will be the same size and have the same quality as that grown on a standard sized tree receiving the same care.
Even the yield is comparable with the dwarf types producing a larger crop, for its size, than the standard sized tree.
Like all plants, the dwarf citrus has a few simple needs that must be taken care of if it is to provide the beauty and fruit of which it is capable.
The first of these needs is good drainage. This is most important for while the roots must have a constant supply of moisture, they cannot tolerate a water-logged soil or water that stands too long.
They need warmth and sunshine to produce colorful, juicy and flavorful fruit. We grow them where they get just morning sun until around noon and also where they get only afternoon sun. In both locations the plants do a good job of setting and ripening their fruits.
They prefer some protection from wind but our plants can’t have this luxury and they do well.
Any type of soil can be reworked to fill the needs of dwarf citrus. Plants grown in containers do best with the least work when they are planted in U. C. Mix.
This planter mix was especially worked out by soil scientists at the University of California for container grown plants. It has been so successful that growers all over the western world are using it for all types of plants.
The dwarf citrus you buy in the nurseries are usually growing in this mix.
It is available at many nurseries in bags of around two cubic feet size. When moving citrus from cans to pots or tubs, the mix is used as it comes from the bag.
When setting plants out in the garden the mix should be mixed with the soil removed from the hole in the ratio of one part mix to one part soil.
The mix contains fertilizer so nothing more is needed to make a good growing medium.
As all plant roots are reluctant to enter a new growing medium, and as commercially grown dwarf citrus are mostly in this mix it is wise to use some of it in the transplanting regardless of the type of soil.
Drainage could be the number one need of citrus plants. Overwatering causes citrus foliage to drop off. Under watering can also cause this trouble but usually the drooping foliage calls attention to the lack of water in time to ward off serious leaf drop
There is seldom any overwatering problem in containers if the U. C. Mix is used. In garden soil excess water must have a means escape. If the soil has naturally good drainage there is little to worry about but if the soil is adobe or clay it should be carefully checked before planting.
his applies to this type of soil even if it is on a rather steep slope.
To check dig a hole of the needed size and fill it with water, keeping the water running until the soil all around the hole is saturated.
Check the time it takes for the water to drain through the saturated soil, if it drains away within a couple of hours there is no drainage problem.
When water stands in an excavation longer than two hours something should be done before a plant is placed. One of the simplest corrections is to dig the hole a foot deeper than is needed.
Slope the bottom of the hole at a steep angle and dig a trench from the low side leading away from the planting area. Fill the bottom of the hole and the trench with six to ten inches of drain rock or gravel.
Be sure the trench is long enough to carry off heavy winter rainwater. Fill in above the rock with the planting mix and set the plant in place.
In new garden it is wise, and a big labor and expense saver, to check the drainage in every planting area as well as around the house. By using well placed drain tile in troublesome areas the rock trenches can be tied into the tile drains thus ending all drainage problems.
The cultural care of dwarf citrus is very simple and it starts with planting. Set the tree high in the hole, high enough for the soil over the finished job to slope from the tree trunk to the surrounding soil level.
The top of the root ball should be two or three inches higher than the surrounding soil level. Make a basin of really liberal size around the tree for irrigation and if you didn’t use the U. C. Mix, scatter a half a cupful of balanced fertilizer around the basin.
Add a mulch with any of your favorite materials and fill the basin slowly with water. Keep the water dribbling away in the full basin for half an hour or so, wait two or three days and do ii again, then leave the plant alone until it needs watering.
Dwarf citrus needs no pruning or shaping. Young plants may look a little one sided but give them a few years and they will become neatly rounded specimens.
If you want to keep the plants quite low you can pinch out the tips of the new growth from time to time. If an erratic branch annoys it can be cut back within two or three leaf nodes from the trunk and this will cause the branch to send out two new branches that will be more conforming.
Pruning, as most fruit trees are pruned, is never needed and it will definitely reduce fruiting. Pinching or clipping an errant branch can be done at anytime of the year.
Dwarf citrus do need fertilizing. You can be as fancy or simple as you like with this garden practice.
A good balanced fertilizer with an acid reaction, such as you would use on camellias, roses and etc., will keep the plants growing if the directions on the package are followed.
Or, if you like to play around a bit you can leaf spray with zinc and manganese in the spring before growth starts and they may supplement this with a spray containing nitrogen. Any iron deficiency can be cared for with iron chelate.
Like all plants, dwarf citrus bothered by some of the common pests, ants, snails, aphis, thrip and spider mite. Ants should be kept out of the garden completely.
A spray or dust containing ten percent chlordane used in the spring and again in the fall will keep the garden free of these pests. Snails and slugs require bait. Aphids, thrips, and spider mites are controlled with two or three well-timed applications of malathion.
Sometimes citrus get scale. Try to be watchful for this pest and pick it off before it can become an infestation as an oil spray, the only really effective cure for these pests, is hard on the trees.
Always follow the directions on the package and pests will not be a problem.
The kind of dwarf citrus you plant depends upon the kind you like and the time you want it to ripen. The Washington navel orange, California’s famous winter ripening orange needs 10 full months to ripen its fruit.
The Robertson navel is a patented cultivar of the Washington so it, too needs time to ripen. Summernavel, another patented variety ripens in the summertime.
The popular Valencia orange ripens in the second summer after the fruit is formed as it needs a full fifteen months to do this job.
There is also a patented, seedless Valencia that sweetens its fruit a little better in the cool areas than the regular Valencia. The seedless Valencia makes an especially fine espalier.
Lemons, Mandarin oranges, grapefruit, limes, tangelos, and kumquats are all available on dwarfing rootstock. They all make beautiful, fragrant and useful garden ornaments and the kind you grow depends upon the kinds you like best.s