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Living with dwarf citrus: watering, feeding, keeping them small.

Living with dwarf citrus: watering, feeding, keeping them small

Dwarf citrus plants in pots (see page 94) require a certain amount of attention to grow and produce well. To formulate guidelines for outdoor care, some 40 Sunset readers and nursery experts who grow dwarf citrus in containers shared their experiences with us.

Our readers reported growing 25 different varieties: "Eureka' and "Meyer' lemons led the list, followed by "Bearss' lime. One gardener called her 40-year-old "Ringpur' lime a "highly rewarding friend'; another described a 26-year struggle with a dwarf "Valencia' orange that finally bears "beautiful crops.'

While different kinds of dwarf citrus vary in hardiness and heat requirements, care is similar. Ideally, they should have a sunny, wind-free southern exposure. Rub out any suckers that appear below the graft union; after fruiting, prune for tree shape and desired height.

Basic container care. Some kinds of citrus plants, especially navel oranges and lemons, have large root systems that demand a commodious container. For transplanting a 5-gallon-size plant, an 18-inch-diameter or larger container should be ample for several years. Half whiskey barrels are ideal; redwood tubs or large clay, ceramic, and plastic pots are suitable --as long as they allow good drainage. (You may need to drill drain holes.)

Other varieties, such as calamondin and "Chinotto' sour orange, grow happily for years in 8- to 10-inch containers.

From time to time, you may need to add some planting mix to replenish lost soil and keep roots covered.

About every two to four years, repot plants in fresh soil mix or transplant them to a larger container if needed (one sign is roots poking through drain holes).

When replanting, use a standard container mix. Make sure the graft union is as far above the soil level as it was in the original container.

To repot in the same container, you'll need to prune the plant's roots. Use

a clean, sharp knife or pruning saw to cut the outer 1 to 2 inches off sides and bottom of the root mass. Spread an inch or two of fresh soil mix in the bottom of the container and replace the plant, then fill around the root mass with more mix. Water well, and add more mix if needed.

Watering. With porous, fast-draining potting mixes, it's hard to overwater. Lack of water quickly stresses citrus plants, causing leaf, blossom, or fruit drop--even plant death.

In normal winter weather, containergrown citrus need watering about once a week. In summer hot spells or windy weather, plants may need water every day. (Note: different watering rules apply to citrus planted in the ground.)

Experienced gardeners rig drip-irrigation systems, running spaghetti tubing from hoses to containers, where spitter-type emitters spray water over the root zone. (Regular drip emitters can, over time, cut channels down through container soils, bypassing much of the root system.)

However you irrigate, do it consistently and deeply so a small amount of water trickles out the drain holes.

Feeding. Frequent watering leaches nutrients at a faster rate. Some successful growers feed container citrus year-round; others feed their plants from late winter to October.

Use a high-nitrogen fertilizer with an NPK ratio of about 3-1-1. You'll find fertilizers sold in several froms: liquids and water-soluble crystals for monthly or more frequent feeding, and controlled-release fertilizers for less frequent application. Follow label instructions.

Citrus also need periodic feeding with micronutrients--especially iron, zinc, and manganese--to keep them green and healthy looking. Plants lacking iron develop chlorosis: yellowing leaves with dark green veins. Zinc deficiency shows up as yellow mottling between leaf veins. Symptoms of manganese deficiency are similar to those of zinc. Traces of these elements, often combined, are sold in chelated forms for soil and foliar application.

Controlling pests. Creatures that sometimes bother citrus include aphids, mealybugs, mites, scale, and snails.

If snails are a problem, control the ones you see by hand-picking; lay chemical bait for the sneakier ones.

Hosing foliage frequently helps discourage insect pests; jets of water can blast off minor infestations. If insects get out of hand, spray with an insecticidal soap or a dilute solution of a mild liquid dishwashing soap (about 2 tablespoons per gallon of water). As a last resort, treat with a specific chemical pesticide.

Cold-weather protection. When a cold snap threatens, container portability really counts. If a heavy frost is predicted, move citrus plants under an eave. If a freeze warning or temperature below 26| is forecast, the safest way to protect citrus plants is to move them temporarily into a warm garage or indoors.
COPYRIGHT 1984 Sunset Publishing Corp.
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Copyright 1984 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Date:Dec 1, 1984
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