By: Don Fry, Mobile County Master Gardener and Volunteer Coordinator, Mobile Japanese Garden www.mobilecountymastergardeners.org
After cold days and colder nights, we long for the promise of spring and warm sunshine. What represents this better than the fresh perfume of orange blossoms and the growth of oranges in your own back yard?
Your neighbor may have shared satsumas or other citrus with you. Or you may have a neighbor who unsuccessfully planted a citrus tree. Like most plantings, a little tender loving care is required to reap a harvest. Our satsuma orange trees supplied us with sweet fruit again this year. I have been growing these citrus trees in my backyard since 2007. I am sharing my experience and the wisdom of our friends at the Mobile County Extension Office (aces.edu)..
Sometimes the available space in our yards determine where we can plant. It’s okay, you will still get oranges if it is less than ideal. If you have a choice, pick a sunny location. Preferably where it can be irrigated regularly. I have mine on a drip irrigation tube I purchased at the garden center. It’s on a timer to drip during the natural dew time. It’s easier on the plant and I have less waste due to evaporation.
Preparation depends on how much you want to baby your plants. I transplant my citrus from their nursery pots into larger “self-watering” patio pots that have a hole in the side and space below the roots for water. I put a drip tube in the side hole, tapped from the main 1/2-inch drip irrigation tube.
Should you plant in the ground this spring or next? The low temperatures of our winters are unpredictable. So, I prepare to move my young trees into a protected area like my garage when temperatures dip below 25 degrees. When the trunk has a diameter of 7/8 of an inch, I feel more comfortable planting it in the ground. They are still in a wind-protected area in the corner of our fence. Add a balanced fertilizer with micronutrients according to package directions and pinch fruiting buds for the first two seasons to strengthen the root system before allowing it to bear fruit. When planting a tree in the ground, a soil test is always a good idea in order to match the fertilizer with what your soil needs.
Tree selection is very important. Mine are Owari satsumas. The name and the first trees came to the United States from Satsuma, Japan, in 1878. Popular propagation began in 1908 with almost a million satsuma trees grown in the Gulf states. All the new Owari satsuma trees are clones of each other. They are propagated by grafting small branches onto sturdier citrus rootstock like “sour orange” or ”flying dragon.”
I bought my trees at the Mobile Botanical Gardens plant sale. Satsuma trees will be available at the MBG Spring Plant Sale coming in March. (See details in Garden Events below.) You can also purchase from other nurseries that provide certified disease-free citrus plants, which is extremely important. Be careful when buying any citrus other than satsuma; they are available, but many will not survive our coldest winters. I wait until December before picking the sweetest fruit, and when blessed with more than we can eat, we share the extra harvest as part of the statewide ACES “Grow More Give More” program.
See also: www.aces.edu/blog/tag/anr-2854 Citrus Tree Care for the Home Gardener. An excerpt:
Five federally regulated citrus pests have been established in the United States and threaten the citrus industry: huanglongbing (HLB or citrus greening), Asian citrus psyllid (ACP), citrus canker (CC), citrus black spot (CBS), and sweet orange scab (SOS). All these pests except CBS have been identified in Alabama. Currently, Alabama is under a statewide quarantine for ACP, while Baldwin and Mobile Counties are under an HLB and SOS quarantine. Most recently, Alabama is initiating a quarantine for CC. If you suspect you have a regulated citrus disease, contact your local Alabama Cooperative Extension office. ACES Mobile: (251)574-8445 and ACES Baldwin: (251)937-7176.