Citrus. What an amazing family of plants!
Having spent my childhood in the UK, I’m still delighted by the enormous variety of citrus trees grown across Australia. The home gardens that make up so much of the suburbs of our major cities are dotted with orange trees and lemon bushes and our commercial crops keep our markets and green grocers well-stocked for more of the year.
The citrus genus are flowering plants and part of the rue family, Rutaceae and they have been cultivated for thousands of years. Found originally in the Southern and Eastern parts of Asia and in Melanesia and Australia, they spread into the Middle East, Europe and the Americas as trade routes flourished between emerging countries.
If you’d like to know more about the history of citrus plants and how they have come to be so loved by Australian gardeners, please see our article:
Here in Australia we grow an incredible range of these fruits – varieties of oranges, grapefruits, mandarins, lemons and limes are all common, with lesser know crops such as pomelo and kumquat also abundant when they are in season.
How is it that with such mind-boggling combinations of weather conditions, seasonal considerations and huge differences in environment across our country, we are able to produce so many differing citrus trees so successfully? Well, much of it is due to the wisdom of local knowledge, matched with smart rootstock selection.
For further insights into these factors, see:
Personally, I think it’s fantastic that we are finally finding a place for native varieties in our gardens. It’s taken home cooks and 3-Hatted Chefs a while to realise that finger limes are a fabulous addition to all kinds of dishes (and if you’d like some recipe ideas, please see here), but that awareness is definitely spreading, along with an interest in other fruits that indigenous Australians have been using for generations.
For a bit of an overview of some of the citrus plants that are unique to Australia, see:
Of course, knowing what to plant where is only half of the battle. As any remotely serious gardener will tell you, the soil is crucial when it comes to raising healthy plants – and growing citrus trees is no exception. If your soil is too alkaline, your trees may have trouble taking up sufficient iron, whilst if it is too acidic, that breeds its own set of problems. All of these issues tie in with how best to feed your plants, as the quality of the soil can dictate what your trees need.
If you are looking for some advice on how to get the best out of your soil, and need some guidance on keeping your trees nourished, see these posts:
Once you have your soil under control, there are a number of other issues that you need to take into account if you hope to turn your collection of bushes into a full orchard. How to safely move a young orange bush from a small pot to a larger one? What can you do to control weeds without damaging your prized grapefruit tree? Is there any way that you can protect your lemon trees from frost?
The answers to these questions and more can be found in:
Much of the work related to having a successful orange or grapefruit crop comes down to how you care for your trees as they mature. Pruning any type of tree is an art and the Rutaceae is no different. When to prune and how to do it are vital to the development of young trees.
If you are seeking some guidance before you step in with the pruning saw, please see:
Sadly, having soil with the ideal pH and which drains just right is not necessarily the end of your problems. Citrus are no more immune to pests than any other species of plant and there is one critter in particular that can take hold and destroy a young lime tree before it gets a chance to establish itself in your garden.
To learn about the dreaded Citrus Leafminer, why you don’t want it anywhere near your fledging orchard and what you can do to halt it’s advance, read:
Did you know that the preferred way to harvest citrus crops is by hand? Or that we grow so many Navel and Valencia oranges because they ripen at different times of year and so we are rarely without one or the other in our fruit shops?
For more on this see:
There are so many ways to store your home-grown lemons, oranges and grapefruits. Traditional methods like drying them may have gone out of fashion, but making marmalade or juicing them continue to be popular.
If you’d like some more ideas on how to make the most of a glut, take a look at our piece:
For those of you interested in particular types of citrus, we are currently producing posts on cultivars of lemons, orange, mandarins, kumquats and numerous other members of the Rutaceae plant family:
Why not bookmark this Guide and come back to check for updates, as we plan to keeping adding content.