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Brighten Winter with Sunny Citrus

Who wouldn’t like an endless supply of sunshine, especially this time of year? Well, what if we told you that we knew where you could find a splash of sunshine all year round…that’s easy - citrus! Tuck citrus plants around your house in containers this winter and enjoy their evergreen beauty, sweet fragrance and mouthwatering fruit. Once warm weather sets in, move your citrus plants outside and enjoy them all summer long. Most citrus is hardy to 38°F, but we recommend keeping them indoors until late spring. Here's some of our favorite citrus plants to add a little sunshine to your home this winter:

Meyer Lemon - A cross between a lemon and a mandarin orange, Meyer has a smooth golden, edible skin, and a high volume of juice but none of the bitterness of a regular lemon. This fruit adds a burst of lemon flavor without the sour bite. With a smooth, golden skin and lush, glossy leaves, this plant pulls double duty by yielding fruit and looking great. It produces small, fragrant flowers year round.

Satsuma Orange - Sweet, juicy mandarin oranges that are easy to peel and are virtually seed-free. Satsuma trees are small, reaching a height of 4 to 6 feet and are cold tolerant to about 26 degrees F. Satsuma trees will grow in the landscape or in containers. Fragrant white blossoms appear in March and April, with the fruit turning bright orange as it ripens in late October into the new year.

Calamondin Orange - Tasty cross between a tangerine and a kumquat. These dwarf orange trees produce fragrant flowers and a small 1-inch fruit. The fruit has a tart, acid flavor similar to a lemon or lime.

McDonald Tip: All citrus trees love sun, the more the better. Keep them near a sunny window during cold weather and let them vacation on your patio during summer months. Learn more about GROWING CITRUS IN CONTAINERS >

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Growing Citrus in Containers

Try your hand at growing citrus in containers. We're sure you'll find it fun and rewarding... and of course, you'll definitely enjoy the fruits of your labor when those tasty fruits are ready to be eaten! The fragrance of the citrus flowers can fill a room and the bright colors of the fruit and the glossy foliage make handsome additions to your home. We've put together a few tips on maintaining citrus containers:

Citrus grown in pots are temperature sensitive and will not live through the hard freezes typical of Hampton Roads. Plastic and foam pots are best since plants should be taken outside during the warmer months. Potted citrus are grafted and are perfectly happy to live out their lives in pots. Most citrus trees are hardy to 38°F. Lemons, oranges and kumquats can tolerate temperatures down to 32°F for brief periods (hours) without damage.

Tips for Maintaining Citrus Containers:

  • Rotate the pots weekly so light strikes all the leaves.
  • Cut back on watering. Plants in weak light, out of the wind, use less water.
  • Return citrus outdoors as soon as temperatures warm to 40°F.
  • Keep in mind that some winter leaf drop is normal.

LIGHT
All-day direct sun is the most important factor in successful citrus culture. Your citrus trees should be outside, in full sun, except when the temperature drops below 40°F. When cold-temperature warnings occur, bring your potted trees into the house and place in a south-facing window.

WATERING
Citrus in full sun and out in the wind will use considerable water. After your first thorough watering, check the weight of your new citrus tree. Lift it a few inches, feel how heavy it is. If it is too large to lift easily, push against the pot to get a sense of the resistance it gives your push. Check the weight of your pots several times the first week. If it feels dry, water again on all sides of the pot until water drains out of the bottom.

FERTILIZING
All plants in pots must be fertilized to grow to their full potential. Since fruit trees are constantly leafing, blooming, and ripening fruit, they need regular fertilization. We recommend using: McDonald’s Greenleaf, 12-4-8, slow-release, every six weeks, plus; Espoma Citrus Tone, 2-3 times per year

LIFE CYCLE:
Most citrus trees bloom heavily once a year, usually in late winter or early spring. Exceptions are Meyer Improved Lemon and Calamondin Orange, which bloom sporadically throughout the year with good care, in addition to giving you a heavy bloom in winter. You can expect a crop of ripe fruit to ripen as follows:

  • Lemons and Lime: 9 months to turn yellow, let hang another 3 weeks for tree-rippened goodness
  • Calamondin Orange: 4-6 months
  • Kumquat: 5-7 months
  • Orange/Tangerine/Tangelo: 9-10 months

Fruit is ready to harvest when it gives to pressure from your thumb. Fruit is ready to harvest when it is no longer hard and gives to pressure from your thumb. Now you can enjoy the fruits of your labor!

PRUNING:
Prune right after you have collected your main crop of fruit, and before the next blossoming period (usually mid-winter). Shorten branches to no more than half of the current length, cutting just above a healthy leaf. If branches are rubbing another healthy branch, remove branches by cutting back to a main stem.

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Easy + Delicious

One of the easiest fruits to grow: THE FIG TREE

Figs are one of the easiest fruit trees you can grow and NOW is the time to enjoy this scrumptious fruit. They grow happily in both the ground and in containers, making them perfect for all types of gardeners. Figs grow on low, open trees with no thorns and soft leaves, and they are very easy to pick. You'll know a fig is ready to be picked when it feels soft and it separates easily from the tree when you lift it upwards from its drooping position. Unripe figs are harder, more firmly attached, and do not droop. These delicious fruits are at their peak right now in Hampton Roads and will be remain until frost in mid-October.

Enjoying the flavor of a freshly picked fig in the shade of the tree's canopy is a true Southern tradition. Thomas Jefferson claimed in his retirement to want only to sit beneath a fig tree with his books and watch the days pass by. Luckily, he did a lot more than this. Jefferson not only spread the popularity of the fig from Europe, but also expanded the area where the tree is grown. So, grab a shady seat and enjoy this southern treat!

Our Favorite Figs:
There are hundreds of fig varieties to choose from. Here's a list of our faves...

Brown Turkey - boasts brownish, copper-colored skin, often with hints of purple, and mostly pink/red flesh with some white. They work well in salads or in desserts where a sweetener will be used.

Celeste - approximately the size of an egg, Celeste fruits are purplish-brown when ripe, with a sweet, moist, deep-purple flesh inside. Absolutely delicious!

Mission - named for the Mission Fathers who planted these figs along the California coast. This fig is deep-purple which darkens to a rich, black color when dried. Often called black mission figs, they are extremely sweet and are perfect for serving plain , with yogurt, or with a tangy fresh cheese (such as mascarpone, fromage blanc, or farmers cheese) for dessert.

Strawberry Verde - large, black skinned fig with a scrumptious deep, strawberry-red flesh. It is excellent eaten fresh off the tree or dried. This variety is a dwarf tree well-suited for smaller gardens or containers.

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