Grow Your Own

Planting Citrus Trees

Planting citrus is a favorite for backyard farmers, particularly in California where growing conditions produce flavorful fruit – and lots of it. With glossy evergreen leaves and fragrant spring flowers, citrus trees are a handsome addition to any edible landscape.

March and April are ideal months for planting citrus. Here are some tips on establishing and caring for new citrus trees.

Preparing 

  • Choose a sunny, frost and wind-free site – southern exposure is best. Warm microclimates are created by reflected heat from walkways or houses. Avoid planting in lawns that get frequent shallow watering.
  • Dig a hole twice as wide as the pot the tree is in and one-and-a-half times its depth. To check drainage, flood the hole with water. The following day, refill the hole with water. Drainage is OK if water drops two inches in two hours. If drainage is poor, plant in a raised bed or container.

Planting

  • To plant your tree, tap the side of the citrus tree’s pot to loosen the roots. Gently remove it from the pot and stand it in a bucket of water. It’s best to do this about an hour before you plant it to allow the roots to get a thorough soaking.
  • Begin filling the hole with native soil until you are about the depth of the pot minus 2 inches.
  • Premix the remaining native soil with about one-third organic matter such as compost (and sand if your soil is heavy clay) in a pile or wheelbarrow. You can also add a small amount of manure or blood and bone meal but not too much as there is a risk of burning the roots.
  • Remove the tree from the bucket, tease out its roots with your fingers, and place it in the hole so that the top section sits about 2 inches above the level of the ground, planting the root ball high for future settling.
  • Fill the rest of the hole with the soil/compost/sand mixture to ground level.
  • Use the remaining soil mix to build a several inch-high, circular irrigation berm around the root ball. Make this watering berm or basin no larger than the root ball, or irrigations may wet the soil around the plant but not the root ball. Expand the area as the tree grows.
  • Spread a 2- to 3-inch layer of organic mulch around the base of each citrus tree to help hold in moisture, regulate the soil temperature, and prevent weed germination and growth. To lessen the threat of root rot, spread the organic mulch at least 6 to 12 inches away from the citrus tree’s trunk. This prevents excessive moisture retention around the roots and allows for proper air circulation.

Watering

  • Citrus don’t like “wet feet,” but it’s important for the first 12 to 18 months to keep new citrus watered. Don’t drown them, but water as often as necessary to keep the root ball moist. This may mean watering every three or four days at first.
  • As the tree grows, explore the soil with a screwdriver or soil probe to make sure the whole root ball is getting watered. Lengthen the time between irrigations after about nine months to every seven to 14 days. After 18 months, deeply water tree every 10 to 12 days, or as seldom as once or twice a month.
  • Begin fertilizing right away with compost tea or applications of liquid manure or fish emulsion. Citrus trees are shallow rooted, so try not to cultivate the ground under the tree and don’t plant any ground cover near it. Maintain your mulch.
  • More prolific with age, producing better-tasting fruit with maturity, citrus trees reward careful planting, watering, and fertilizing.

Here’s to a great start for your trees!

Eat Good Food

Learn About Citrus Salts

citrus salts

Citrus salts are perhaps the stars of our new SHED Pantry line, an in-house collection of flavors inspired by our café kitchen.

Here are somesuggestions for using our versatile and aromatic citrus salts.

Black lime salt can be used in any dishes that encompass the flavors of the Middle East. With a tang of acidity and umami flavor-enhancing properties, the black lime packs a powerful punch.

For a savory mezze platter, finish naan bread smeared with labneh (or yogurt), snap peas, cured olives, and blood orange with a sprinkle of this salt. Add it to a roast chicken that has been brined in olive brine – it’s complex and beautiful.

Lemon salt is our top-selling product across the entire Pantry line.

The lemon salt is perfect for brightening up sunchokes! Roast them with rosemary and finish with lemon salt. Any green vegetable, from broccoli to artichokes to asparagus, can be complemented by finishing with a sprinkle.

During cocktail hour, rim a glass of a gin- or vodka-based cocktail. And for dessert, try dusting some on vanilla ice cream.

What’s clear is that citrus salts add a bit of zing and natural flavor to foods from savory to sweet. Experiment with what you like best!

Grow Your Own

Protecting Citrus Trees from Frost

protecting citrus trees from frost

Protecting citrus trees from frost helps to guarantee your annual crop. It doesn’t take long and is so worth the effort!

Here is our shortlist of important things to keep in mind:

  • New citrus trees should be planted in the early spring to allow for root development before summer heat.
  • Plants exposed in open areas to winds, especially in low areas of the garden, are most likely to suffer frost damage first, as cold air accumulates in such pockets. For protection, consider planting citrus trees near walls and fences, which trap and radiate heat.
  • Before an expected frost, water trees well, but don’t get the leaves or trunk wet as they are most vulnerable. Keep the ground as clear as possible of weeds or mulch to allow for more heat to be retained from daylight sun.
  • Protect young tree trunks with cardboard, wrapped tightly around the trunk just before nightfall, from the lowermost branches to the soil. Also consider covering trees with breathable, water permeable frost blankets for the night, and remove during the day.
  • When frost hits, ice crystals form inside the plant cells, disrupting the flow of fluids, causing cells to break down.

Overall, when temperatures fall to 29°F for 30 minutes or longer, some frost damage to tender citrus plants will occur. Certain citrus  – citron, lemon, lime, and Satsuma mandarins among them — are more sensitive than others.

  • As applicable, remove frost-damaged fruit with cracked skin immediately to prevent fungus and mold spreading throughout the tree. (Yellowing leaves in winter are common, and may be a sign of over- or under-watering.)
  • Wait to prune damaged branches until spring, to allow for further analysis and recovery in warmer weather. Remember to clean pruning tools to avoid the spread of disease.

Want more? Here’s our guide to California winter citrus.

Eat Good Food

Northern California Winter Citrus Guide

California winter citrus

Wet and muddy, iced-over and slushy, even California’s grayest winters are bejeweled with citrus.

From blood oranges to Buddha’s hand, winter in California brings an abundance to our tables.

Before the advent of human migration and trade, citrus was originally a genus made up only of three plants: the mandarin, the pomelo, and the citron. These three trees cross-pollinated over time to bring us hybrids such as grapefruits, lemons, and oranges.

A few notes on cultivating citrus: While frost is not likely to kill a healthy, mature citrus tree, it can damage trees when temperatures drop below 29°F for longer than 30 minutes.

To care for your trees against frost, wrap the trunks in several layers of cardboard and leave until the last frost in your region, leaving pruning until early spring.

In the meantime, here is a guide to some citrus that grow closer to home here in Northern California.

Buddha’s Hand
The Buddha’s hand is an aromatic citrus fruit that is all peel and pith. Considered a symbol of good fortune, it is a popular New Year’s gift in China and Japan. When shopping for Buddha’s hand, look for bright, firm fruits with smooth skin and avoid any with bruises. Store at room temperature, in a single layer on a plate, for three to four days.

For a savory, aromatic snack, Michelle McKenzie’s Dandelion & Quince offers a recipe for marinating olives with olive oil, cracked fennel seed, shaved Buddha’s hand, and chile de arbol. For something sweet, try candying the rind in sugar syrup and dipping in dark chocolate.

Buddha’s hand can also be used to infuse spirits. Kevin West’s Saving the Season suggests cutting the “fingers” away from the base of Buddha’s hand, splitting them lengthwise, and then pushing the citron pieces into a bottle of vodka, allowing to sit for one week before adding to a martini or other cocktail.

Meyer Lemon
Introduced to the U.S. from Asia in the early 1900s, the Meyer lemon is a hybrid between a lemon and an orange, most likely of the mandarin variety. As a result of the hybridization, they have lower acidity and thinner skin than lemons.

Satsuma Mandarins
Available early in the citrus season, Satsuma mandarins are sweet, seedless, and easy to peel. As the growing season continues, colder nights trigger natural color production in the fruit, so fruit later in the season is darker.

Navel Orange
The quintessential orange, navel oranges grown in California tend to produce thicker-skinned, more brightly colored fruit. As they are grown by grafting, navel oranges are all direct descendants of the same tree.

Cara Cara Navel
Cara Cara is a variety of navel orange with pink flesh that is sweet and juicy like the navel, but less acidic.

Blood Orange
Similar to red cabbages and red grapes, the color in blood oranges come from anthocyanins in the flesh of the fruit. Italy and California are the top producers of blood oranges, as the color develops with cooler temperatures at night.

Palestine Lime (Sweet Lime)

Easily mistaken for lemons because of their yellow color, sweet limes are commonly used in India to sooth sore throats. With less acid than regular limes, Palestine limes can also be sliced and added to water instead of lemon, or just eaten as is.

Yuzu
A cross between a mandarin and a papeda (a subgenus of Citrus), with a flavor somewhere between a lemon and a grapefruit, yuzus are about the size of mandarins but with yellowish-green dimpled skin and large inedible seeds. This Japanese fruit is the basis of ponzu sauce, and it’s mild sourness adds a bright note to marinades and salad dressings.

Eat Good Food

Citrus Salad with Olio Nuovo

This is a salad that takes the purest foods of winter — and in California, that will always mean citrus and avocados— and marries them with olio nuovo for a light, refreshing dish that speaks of sunshine. Try it yourself at home!

Citrus Salad with Olio Nuovo
1/4 pound mâche (or substitute arugula)
1 medium fennel bulb
1-2 watermelon radishes
8-10 kumquats
3 oranges: Cara Cara or blood oranges
2 avocados, sliced ¼” thick
1/2 cup lightly toasted pistachios
2 tablespoons Champagne vinegar or white wine vinegar
1/3 cup freshly pressed olive oil (olio nuovo)
Salt and pepper

Thoroughly wash the mâche, keeping the rosettes intact, by agitating gently to remove any sand lodged at the base of the stems. Dry in a salad spinner, wrap in towel, and chill.

Using a sharp knife, cut the skin and all of the bitter white pith off of the oranges. Working over a bowl, cut in between the membranes to release the sections.

Squeeze the juice from the orange membranes into another bowl. Add vinegar and whisk in the olive oil; add a generous pinch of salt and let the vinaigrette stand for a few minutes.

Using a sharp knife or Japanese mandoline, thinly slice the kumquats, fennel, and watermelon radishes.

Gently mix everything together with the vinaigrette, adding the avocados last, and taste for salt and pepper. Arrange prettily on chilled plates, and scatter pistachios on top.

Hungry for more? Learn about olive cultivation and how we select our olive oil here at SHED.