A large crop of Texas-grown citrus trees has landed at NHG, and among favorites like ‘Meyer’ lemons, some lesser-known gems can be found. Here are three featured varieties that gardeners of all experience levels can succeed with, given some time and care:
‘Makrut’ (aka Kafir or Kaffir) limes (Citrus hystrix) are native to tropical Asia and reach up to 35 feet tall in their native range. Here, they grow to about five feet and thrive in containers, where they can be kept on a patio or deck in full sun during warm months (they’ll need to be moved indoors during freezes). Provide good drainage, as soggy soil can lead to root rot. Generally, the plants are pest-free, but do keep an eye out for evidence of scale or mites. Prune the plant while young to encourage branching and bushier growth.
The distinctive leaves resemble two leaves fused together, with one appearing to grow from the tip of the other. The leaves are the most frequently used part of the plant and can be enjoyed fresh, dried or frozen. They’re an essential flavoring in Thai, Lao, Vietnamese and Cambodian dishes, including soups, curries and fish, and the rind of the fruit is also finely zested in many dishes.
Pummelo (Citrus maxima) is the largest citrus fruit and is the principal ancestor of the modern grapefruit. It’s native to southeastern Asia, where it grows on riverbanks in Fuji and the Friendly Islands. Pummelos were introduced to China around 100 BC and made their way to the United States in 1919, where they were grown experimentally in the quarantine station in Bethesda, Maryland.
Our two varieties include ‘Hirado’ (aka ‘Hirado Butan’), which was introduced (or found) in Japan in about 1910. This vigorous variety can grow to about ten feet tall and is unusually cold-tolerant. The large fruit has smooth, yellow peel and pale yellow pulp. Segments may be separated and used in salads, desserts, or preserves. In North Vietnam, the aromatic flowers are used in perfume making and the tough, fine-grained wood is used for tool handles. Our other variety, ‘Sarawak’, is also native to Southeast Asia. This variety has a greenish peel even when ripe, and pulp may range from lime green to dark purple. It shares many of the cultural characteristics of ‘Hirado.’
Satsuma mandarins (Citrus unshiu) are a variety of tangerine with a relaxed, open habit that can reach ten feet tall and wide. Satsumas are grown primarily for fresh consumption. It is best to keep them in containers, where they can be moved inside to protect them from frost—they’re cold hard only to about 22 degrees F.
Our varieties include ‘Seto’ and ‘Okitsu’; ‘Seto’ matures early and produces relatively large fruit with a smooth, thin peel. The fruit is slightly flattened and usually matures around Thanksgiving. ‘Okitsu’ is a vigorous grower and is also cold tolerant; the fruit matures in late September or early October and is seedless and easy to peel.
Our tropical greenhouse is filled with the fragrance of blooming citrus plants right now. Citrus is a popular crop for edible and ‘foodie’ gardeners, so visit us soon to select the perfect addition to your garden!
By Ann Grimes, MAg, NHG Garden Advisor