Ever Green

By Lois Taylor

Friday, December 5, 1997

Star-Bulletin file photo
Oranges and other citrus trees are useful
and relatively easy to grow in Hawaii.

Citrus adds zest
to gardens

ONCE upon a time, the son of a sultan was searching for a bride, "fair as the morning, gentle as falling snow, and pure as an angel." He was given three magic lemons (things like this happen to sultans' sons all the time) and was told that when he cut the first lemon a princess would appear. She would request water, which he must provide immediately, or she would disappear. So he cut the lemon, the princess appeared and the poor dorky prince was so stunned by her beauty (and that ladies come out of lemons) that he just stood there, so she disappeared.

So he tried again on the second lemon and the same thing happened. No fool he, the prince closed his eyes on the third and last lemon, and had the water bottle at hand. He cut the lemon, gave her the water, and she married him.

This probably doesn't work for everybody. But even if you don't get a Persian princess, lemons are nice things to have in the garden. Citrus grows well in Hawaii, and Dale Sato of the Cooperative Extension Division of the University of Hawaii knows all about growing them. Sato, a county extension agent, runs the university's Urban Garden at Pearl City.

"Citrus thrives in our backyards, and will grow from sea level to 2,000 feet elevation," he said. A few citrus trees, such as calamondin and kumquat, are raised for ornamental purposes, but most are raised for breakfast. The best quality citrus grows in areas where there is a sizable fluctuation in temperature between day and night, but you can grow perfectly acceptable oranges, lemons, grapefruit and mandarin oranges on Oahu. They do best in temperatures of 65 to 90 degrees and in warm, sunny locations.

Mandarin oranges, in good supply this time of year, come in dozens of varieties. Ideally, you want fruit with excellent flavor, easy peeling and no seeds from a slow-growing moderate-sized tree. And there is no such thing. According to Sato's evaluation, the best flavored mandarins (and tangerines are more or less the same thing) are the Freemont, Honey and King of Siam. But they have lots of seeds and sometimes thorns. The varieties with few or no seeds include Nova and Pera, but Nova is a light producer of fruit and Pera is susceptible to a virus. Good compromises appear to be the Page, with few seeds, rich and juicy fruit and a moderately vigorous growth; or the heavily bearing Wilking which has acidic, richly flavored fruit, few to numerous seeds and grows on a small tree.

Orange trees are also easy to grow and decorative even when they aren't in blossom or fruiting. Sato says that the best oranges are easy to peel and have few or no seeds. His recommendations include the Washington navel, Raratonga seedless and Shuekan, all of which have good flavor and grow on medium-sized trees. They ripen between October and January, as most citrus do.

Lemon trees, which are smaller than orange trees, are native to Asia. The Eureka is the standard supermarket lemon. It is juicy, has good flavor, and is fairly free from thorns but it is a light producer here. The juicy Meyer lemon is milder than the Eureka. It is rounder, thinner skinned and more orange in color than the commercial lemon. The Meyer is a good producer and bears fruit year-round. However the oil from the peel can give an undesirable flavor to the juice.

Among limes, the Bearrs seedless is a local favorite. It is a large lime, very acidic and juicy, and the tree bears almost all year. Key limes, about half the size of the Bearrs lime, have a strong flavor and lots of seeds. The trees are usually started from seed and are short-lived.

The most popular commercial grapefruit variety is the Marsh seedless, but it prefers hot days and cool nights. The Nitta is well suited for local gardens, has a well-blended flavor and grows on a beautiful small to medium-sized tree.

Pummelo, closely related to grapefruit, is a bigger tree and requires more space. Varieties such as Chandler, Diamond Head, Haiku B and Sakata are grown for their excellent quality, Sato said.

Tangelos, a cross between a mandarin orange and a grapefruit, are planted for their juice but need to be cross-pollinated, requiring the services of the birds and the bees, for a vigorous crop. The Orlando is easy to peel but the Minneola has a better flavor and fewer seeds.

Calamondin is grown mainly as an ornamental bonsai or container plant, but the fruit is delicious squeezed on papayas and makes an interesting marmalade. Kumquat is a shrub rather than a tree, and is often grown as an accent to the entrance of a home. The fruit is seedy and sour, but less sour than calamondin, and is also used in marmalade or candied.

Sato recommends buying grafted varieties of any citrus rather than starting from seed. "Grafted varieties that have been proven for the locale are worth the expense because they are likely to yield quality fruit and are tolerant to some diseases found on citrus. Where space is limited, citrus varieties grafted on dwarf rootstocks may be considered." Most garden shops carry these plants.

Plant citrus trees in full sunlight and away from heavy wind. Fertilize every three to four months by applying a 10-10-10, 16-16-16 or 10-20-20 fertilizer around the drip line, the circumference of the crown of the tree. Fertilizer should be applied before bloom, when fruits are rapidly developing and when they are about five weeks away from harvest.

The tree should be watered thoroughly after fertilizing, and should never be allowed to show symptoms of water stress, such as drooping leaves. Water thoroughly once or twice a week, or when necessary, depending upon the weather.

Scale, Chinese rose beetles, citrus swallowtail, thrips, aphids and whiteflies all attack citrus trees. They can be controlled with pesticide sprays, such as Diazanon, Malathion or Carbaryl.

After the last crop of fruit has been picked the tree should be lightly pruned. Remove dead and undesirable branches, leaving the interior of the tree open to light and air, but severe pruning will lead to vigorous vegetative growth -- leaves and branches -- and result in fewer fruit.

Fruit is harvested when 1/3 to 1/2 of the rind has turned color and the fruit is ripe. Leaving fruit on the tree beyond complete coloration may lower its quality. It is sometimes hard to tell if the fruit is ripe because color depends upon the time of year rather than ripeness. So pick a piece of fruit carefully with a gentle twist or snip of shears and cut it open. If a Persian princess emerges, don't give her a glass of water unless you intend to marry her

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