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Talk about good timing ... citrus that grow their own ornaments.

Talk about good timing . . . citrus that grow their own ornaments

Dangling like ornaments amid glossy, dark green leaves, vivid orange and yellow fruits add a cheery note to garden citrus plants. By December, when most shrubs and trees have long since faded, these decorative performers come into their full glory--just in time for the holidays. The most familiar member of this group of citrus and citrus relatives is the kumquat (Fortunella)--valued for centuries in China and Japan as holiday decorations and for its fruit. Less well known but just as attractive are the kumquat hybrids (calamondin, limequat, and orangequat), Rangpur, and sour oranges.

In mild-winter areas of the West, all produce a profusion of fragrant flowers and attractive fruit that colors from early to late winter, depending on the weather. Long after other citrus have dropped their fruit, ornamental citrus hang onto theirs, sometimes for up to a year.

Though the trees are primarily decorative, the fruits are edible and have a variety of uses. Kumquats, calamondin, sour oranges, and orangequat make tasty marmalade, chutney, and candied fruit. Because of their sweet rind, kumquats and orangequats can also be eaten fresh--just pop the whole fruit into your mouth.

Juices from Rangpur and limequat are tasty substitutes for lime juice. For top flavor, it's best to harvest no later than three to six months after the fruit ripens.

Many nurseries carry these trees--with fruit showing various stages of color this month. They make fine gifts or alternative Christmas trees (as shown here and on page 65), and decorative patio plants.

Wherever citrus does well outdoors, you can plant any of the choices pictured above in a warm, sunny corner of the garden, in pots or in the ground (don't set out plants in cold, soggy soil or if frosts are predicted). In colder climates, try them in pots as indoor-outdoor plants (move to a protected spot as necessary).

Before you transfer a plant indoors, check for pests such as aphids, scale, and spider mites. Once inside, place it in bright light.

Thin tight clusters of young green fruits to produce larger individual fruits. For more on plant care, see page 180.

Choose one that's right for your garden

The ornamentals rank as some of the hardiest citrus. Kumquat plants, toughest of the entire family, withstand frosts down to 18| to 20| for short durations.

The rest of the group can take temperatures down into the mid- to low 20s for a brief time. On all types, the fruit is damaged at 25| to 28|.

In California's citrus belt, choices of ornamental kinds are unlimited. Select "Chinotto' sour orange for its unusual myrtlelike foliage, "Tavares' limequat for its attractive fruit and compact growth, or "Bouquet' sour orange (also sold as "Bouquet de Fleurs') for its wonderfully fragrant blossoms.

The "Nagami' kumquat produces more fruit and is sweeter in warm climates. If you live in a cool, coastal area like the San Francisco Peninsula, you'll get sweeter, juicier fruit from "Meiwa' kumquat.

In Arizona, availability is generally limited to kumquats; because of a citrus quarantine, few mail-order sources ship there.

In the Northwest and all cold-winter areas, you'll be limited to ones that do well indoors and outdoors. Calamondin fruits the best indoors, although the sour oranges and Rangpur may also do well. Kumquats, limequats, and orangequats require nighttime chilling (below 50|) to develop full color and flavor.

Most ornamental citrus are grafted onto dwarf rootstocks and grow from 3 to 6 feet tall. Because of their confined root-ball, trees grown in containers stay smaller, usually around 3 feet. Some nurseries also sell standard-size kumquats and calamondins that eventually reach 12 to 15 feet--as the picture above shows.

Photo: Sparkling lights and red- and green-leafed nandina add a festive touch to "Chinotto' sour orange. Clusters of this season's green fruit mingle with orange fruit that's still hanging on from last year

Photo: "Bouquet' sour orange

Highly fragrant flowers; dense, cascading foliage; juicy, sour fruit

Photo: "Tavares' limequat

"Mexican' lime-kumquat hybrid. Compact tree blooms several times a year. Juicy fruit with lime-like flavor

Photo: "Nippon' orangequat

Mandarin-kumquat hybrid. Compact tree; juicy fruit has thick, sweet rind

Photo: "Nagami' kumquat

Dense, bushy tree; slightly juicy fruit with mildly sweet rind

Photo: Rangpur

Sour mandarin-like fruit. Bushy, spreading tree; juicy fruit with sour citrus flavor

Photo: "Chinotto' sour orange

Dense, myrtle-leaf foliage on compact tree; juicy, sour fruit

Photo: Calamondin

Mandarin-kumquat hybrid. Dense, upright, everblooming tree with tart, flavorful fruit

Photo: Variegated calamondin

Variegated foliage; fruit is striped when green, orange when mature

Photo: Picked fresh off the tree, golden "Nagami' kumquats impart a citrusy flavor to glasses of water
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Copyright 1987 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Date:Dec 1, 1987
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