You may well have received a citrus plant as a present at Christmas or the New Year. David Coton shares his knowledge on how best to look after these attractive plants that will bear fruit if provided with ideal environment.
To avoid disappointment make sure that your plant is a named cultivar from a reliable retailer. Remember that plants grown from pips will not flower, you need a grafted plant for successful fruiting.
In this country, citrus plants are generally grown in containers - preferably terracotta - but if the growing instructions have been mislaid or are not comprehensive, you may be wondering about the best way to care for these sometimes challenging plants.
Citrus will thrive best in conditions that replicate their native warm climate. Lemons and orange cultivars can fruit regularly, grapefruit is a little more difficult while clementines and satsumas are good for beginners.
A warm environment, on the humid side, is necessary and a conservatory full of light is ideal with the temperature preferably maintained at no less than 50F. Plants can be moved to a sheltered location outdoors during the summer, but they will need to come inside when autumn approaches. Although claims may be made, there are no citrus plants that are hardy in our climate.
The growing medium should be ericaceous and have good drainage, such asJ Arthur Bowers Citrus Compost that has a blend of peat, composted bark, loam and gritty sand. Water thoroughly every other day during the summer and weekly in the winter but don't over do it, citrus don't like to be waterlogged.
Plants will need a well balanced feed in the summer and one that is high in nitrogen during the winter, and there are specially formulated fertilizers available such as Baby Bio. Re-pot in spring only when necessary.
As with many other plants, citrus may respond badly to temperature or humidity changes, leaf drop is a typical problem and will reduce fruiting. So keep any fluctuations to a minimum and, especially in a centrally heated home, mist the plant regularly or place on a moist pebble base.
Also look out for soft scale, aphids, mealy bugs and red spider mites. As you will probably be eating the fruit, treat with organic sprays that are not persistent such as Bayer Natria. Other ailments include Little Leaf (ensure that the soil contains all the required trace elements), Lemon Scab (apply copper fungicide) and Cirtus Gall Wasp (cut out and burn affected areas).
Don't let this list of pests and diseases put you off, it isn't worse than most other plants and there is great satisfaction in growing citrus fruit. If you provide the correct conditions, you could be rewarded with your own grapefruit for breakfast, lemon for your tea and juicy satsumas on a summer's afternoon.