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Wide Variety of Citrus to Be Available at Feb. 5 Fruit Tree Sale and Home Citrus Production
by Dr. William M. Johnson
Many people are surprised to learn that the Upper Gulf Coast has a thriving home citrus "industry." Shown above is the much sought after Republic of Texas orange which produces a heavy crop of tasty fruit during the late fall season. A wide variety of fruit trees will be available at the upcoming Master Gardener Fruit Tree Seminar & Sale on Saturday, February 5, at Carbide Park in La Marque. Photo credit: Heidi Sheesley, TreeSearch Farms
Our subtropical climate allows gardeners to grow a remarkably wide selection of plants. Even so, many people are surprised to learn that the Upper Gulf Coast has a thriving home citrus "industry." The Galveston County Citrus held last December was a testament to that increasing occurrence as area citrus growers submitted a record 185 entries for viewing.
Indeed, producing your own home-grown citrus does not require unique skills or special growing conditions. Not only can you pluck fresh and tasty citrus from your own backyard tree, you can impress your neighbors or your friends that may be visiting from up North.
Whether youre just thinking about growing your own citrus or youre an experienced home grower, make a notation on your gardening calendar to attend the annual Master Gardener Fruit Tree Seminar & Sale on Saturday, February 5, from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. Before the sale starts, Heidi Sheesley of TreeSearch Farms will provide a Fruit and Citrus Varieties seminar from 8:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m., highlighting the star varieties.
This time the sale is not located in the cramped parking lot at the County Extension Office in Dickinson, but in the spacious Carbide Park located at 4102 FM 519 in La Marque. The seminar will be conducted in the Wayne Johnson Community Center in Carbide Park. (To obtain a map and directions, contact the County Extension Office at 281-534-3413, ext. 6.)
Now back to the subject of home citrus production. Our area is well-suited to home citrus production. Summers are long and hotthe absolute favorite growing conditions for most citrus. Rainfall is generally adequate and soils are suitably fertile. The climate is adequately seasonal, a necessity because most of the familiar varieties of citrus require the crisp, cool nights of autumn to properly ripen and color fruit.
In the late fall and early winter months, citrus fruit just bursts from our Gulf Coast trees. A wide selection of citrus will be featured in this year's sale, the biggest selection ever: oranges, mandarins, satsumas, limes, kumquats, grapefruits, lemons, and several hybrid citrus varieties such as limequats, tangelos, and mandarinquat.
All of the citrus to be offered are outstanding for our area, and most are not commonly found in area nurseries. For instance, you wont have to kill for a rare Republic of Texas orange this year. The supply is good for this hardy, delicious citrus that has grown in our part of Texas since the 1800's. Virtually all the great satsumas and mandarins for our area will be available, including early, mid and late season producers.
A new offering at this years sale is the Bloomsweet grapefruit. It was developed from a cross between a pummelo and a sour orange which results in a big, pear-shaped, juicy, grapefruit/orange flavored fruit. It can be peeled and eaten like a navel orange, in luscious, mostly-seedless segments.
Homegrown citrus and the Texas Upper Gulf Coast go hand-in-hand. A common question during the harvest season is, "When is my citrus ready to pick?" Hands-on experience is perhaps the best way to ensure that the flavor is to your liking. If not flavorful when picked, let the citrus hang on the tree a week or so and taste again.
Citrus should not be harvested prematurely. Fruit color is not an accurate indication of ripeness, because some fruits can develop fully colored rinds well before they can be eaten. The only sure way to determine maturity is to taste the fruit.
Don't expect citrus fruits to increase in sweetness or ripen more fully once you've picked them, as do peaches and some other fruits. Unless damaged by cold temperatures, citrus fruit keeps longer on the tree than if picked and stored. If the fruit is to be consumed immediately, it can be harvested by handpicking. However, if you do plan to store citrus fruits, they should be clipped from the branches to leave a small section of stem on each fruit.
The Fruit Tree Sale & Seminar is sponsored by Galveston County's Master Gardener volunteers. Of course, dozens of Master Gardeners will be on hand to help you select your fruit trees and will tell you everything you need to know about planting, pruning, fertilizing and caring for your fruit trees.
Proceeds from the sale of the plants are used to develop and maintain the Horticulture Demonstration Garden located at the Galveston County Extension Office which the public is invited to enjoy and learn from year-round. For more information, visit the Galveston County Extension Office located at 5115 Highway 3 in Dickinson, give us a call at 281-534-3413, Ext. 6, or visit our web site address provided below.
Growing citrus does not have to be as "chancy" an adventure as many area gardeners might believe. Citrus trees can become an attractive and low-maintenance yet productive member of your landscape.
Dr. Johnson is a horticulturist with the Galveston County
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