By GEOFF MIERS
Conditions are now perfect for planting citrus trees which along with mulberries and figs are the most productive and successfully grown fruit trees here in Central Australia.
It has the ideal climate for growing citrus. We produce equal to the best citrus fruit anywhere in Australia and if planted over the next few weeks they will enjoy ideal growing conditions and be well settled prior to the really hot weather arriving.
Essential to growing good citrus is preparing your planting site well, irrigating to meet the trees immediate needs and in choosing your trees carefully in the first instance. Choose only citrus that do grow well here and only purchase healthy stock.
Think carefully when choosing your varieties as there are so many options. Purchase a range of stock that will guarantee you a supply of fruit over many months of the year.
Many home gardens have two to four citrus with all coming into full fruit at the same time of the year. This need not be the case and only results in much fruit being wasted.
Firstly decide which tree types you want. You can chose from mandarins, grapefruit, oranges, lemons, tangelos, kumquat, limes and the lemonade tree.
With oranges, mandarins and lemons there are early, mid season and late season varieties.
With the other citrus there are also other choices to be made. With the lime tree for example do you want the Australian variety or one for cooking or for cool drinks, or do you want a native lime tree of which there are several varieties.
I have a Washington Navel orange tree and a Valencia orange. These two trees supply me with a continuous supply of fruit from May / June until the beginning of January.
One year old and two year old trees can be purchased. One year old trees are certainly cheaper however I prefer the two year old trees, they seem to have fewer problems initially.
Two year old citrus trees costing around $65 are a considerable investment particularly when you consider the added irrigation set-up costs, soil conditioners, fertilisers and soil wetting agents.
For these reasons it’s important you do four things well when considering citrus. Firstly chose your varieties carefully and only purchase healthy stock.
Secondly prepare the soil well prior to planting. Site preparation is absolutely critical. By simply digging a hole and planting, particularly where soil conditions aren’t ideal, you are doing a great disservice to the healthy tree you have just purchased.
Consider when preparing your planting site to prepare a planting hole at least one metre wide and up to at least 0.75 metre deep. Consider mixing an organic slow release fertiliser with a soil conditioner / compost and fresh top soil with the existing soil for best results.
If your soil is rather heavy with a high clay content or your soil is saline you need to spent that extra time preparing the soil in advance prior to planting. Gypsum should be blended with the existing soil and to new soil brought in you need to add organic content and organic fertilisers.
Initially I like to line the sides and bottom of the hole with a blend of the existing soil, fresh top soil with a pH of 6.5 and then in the middle of the planting hole blend only fresh top soil along with compost and potting mix and a small quantity of organic fertiliser.
Prior to planting I like to place three NPK with trace elements fertiliser tablets around five cms below the bottom of the root ball.
Be careful how much organic fertiliser you use. Citrus hate being planted into lots of fresh cow, horse or camel manure, add only a small quantity of manure when preparing your planting site.
The same applies when using blood & bone, Dynamic Lifter or GrowBetter, use them all in small quantities.
Thirdly you need to be most particular re plant water needs when planting. Once having prepared your planting hole fill it with water to ensure the planting hole is moist. Ensure the soil to be placed back in the hole is also moist and place your citrus pot into a bucket of tub and soak the pot for 10 minutes.
Planting into dry soil can really stress your tree as the fine hair roots can dry out and die within minutes of coming into contact with dry soil.
Fourthly ensure you water the trees well as they settle. Daily watering maybe required in the first instance.
I like to build a ring of soil around each tree about a metre in diameter, thus creating a dish in which to water. This allows me to give the tree a good deep drink applying between 20 to 30 litres of water daily.
After three weeks this is reduced back to one watering every two days for another two weeks and then one watering of 30 litres every three days until the tree sends out a new root system into the existing soil and is producing new grow.
Water can then be applied every four days, although this does depend on your soil type.
Citrus quickly send out roots with some that will delve deep and with others that will fan out horizontal to the soil surface. For this reason it is important that you ensure each tree is well watered and don’t rely on a single dripper.
Most poor growing young citrus can be attributed to inadequate watering and inadequate soil preparation.
Lastly citrus with new growth are a magnet for a variety of garden pests, the most devastating being the giant grasshoppers.
The past years have been by far the worst I have experienced for grasshoppers causing massive damage to both young and mature citrus trees. Thankfully this winter, despite the season being generally mild, I have hardly seen a grasshopper so you might be safe to plant a tree without having to install a protective cover.
To guarantee unimpeded growth you may still wish to consider building an insect proof cage or shelter over each tree using mosquito mesh or white 50% shade cloth to keep pests at bay. The investment is definitely worth it.
Your investment in growing citrus should reward you for the next 50 years with each healthy tree capable of producing up to between 500 to 1000 fruit per tree annually.
Photos: Author Tanya Heaslip with her book, me and lemons. Helen Kemp buying a lemon tree (not a lemon!) for Mount Riddock Station.