Magazine article Sunset

Citrus Breakthroughs

Magazine article Sunset

Citrus Breakthroughs

Article excerpt

In your market or for your garden, here are new varieties to try

LEMONS WITH PINK FLESH, ORANGES WITH RUBY red flesh and a mouth-tingling flavor that hints of raspberries, and tangelolos that look like miniature grapefruits: these are some of the new (and not so new, but lesser-known) citrus--trees and fruits--now coming from growers in the citrus belts of California, Arizona, and Texas. Some, such as 'Melo-gold' and 'Oroblanco' grapefruit-pummelo hybrids and 'Wekiwa' tangelolo, are new types of citrus. Others, such as 'Encore' mandarin, 'Rio Red' grapefruit, and 'Variegated Pink' lemon, are new varieties of more familiar citrus. Here and on the next three pages, we describe these citrus surprises and tell how to grow them and how to use them in sweet and savory dishes.

The chart on page 82 lists 13 kinds. All were selected for their unique characteristics, suitability for home gardens, and the distinctive flavor of their fruits. Because some of them are very new, plants may be difficult to find at your nursery. On page 83, we list a retail mail-order source and five wholesale suppliers from which your nursery can order for you.

If you don't want to plant a tree but would like to prepare the recipes starting on page 83, you can buy many of the citrus discussed here in specialty markets and grocery stores that offer unusual produce. They're usually available between late fall and early spring. If you don't find them, you can substitute standard market varieties. But remember, every time you make a substitution, flavor, color, or tartness may be slightly different based on the substituted variety's characteristics.

Choose a variety suitable to your region

If you live in a mild area of inland Southern or central California, the lower deserts of California or Arizona, or the Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas, you can grow most of the citrus mentioned in the chart below. Along the coast and in the San Francisco Bay Area, citrus may not get enough heat to ripen. Periodic freezes in northern and inland areas can damage trees. TABULAR DATA OMITTED

While most blood oranges are marginal in coastal Northern California, 'Moro' colors well and produces a good tart-sweet flavor there (its juice is great mixed with sweet orange juice).

And grapefruit-pummelo hybrids are adapted to cool coastal temperatures; they'll sweeten up much better than grapefruit. Unlike other pink grapefruit, 'Rio Red' colors well on the coast, although it's fairly tart.

Gardeners in Northern California's inland valleys can grow a variety of citrus, but in these areas be sure to protect trees from freezes.

Planting and care

To give your tree the best growing conditions, take advantage of microclimates in the garden. In cool, coastal areas, plant trees where they get reflected heat from paving, the south side of the house, or a masonry wall. Protect trees from wind. In colder climates, avoid planting citrus in low areas where cold air drains.

Provide good drainage. Water trees regularly; they don't tolerate drought. Fertilize with a complete acid food that also contains iron, manganese, and zinc.

Prune only to shape trees. In the desert, let the branches grow to the ground to protect the trunk from sunburn.

Mandarins tend to bear a heavy crop one year and a light one the next. During a heavy year, pick off a third to a half of the fruits when they're marble-size so trees will produce more the next.

When to harvest citrus

Warm temperatures speed ripening. The same variety of citrus will ripen two to three months earlier in the desert than in coastal areas and about a month earlier than in southern inland areas (this range is indicated in the chart).

When you grow citrus at home, you can pick fruits at peak flavor. Near the estimated first-harvest date, pluck off a fruit and taste it. If it's not to your liking, wait to pick. It's best to store fruits on the tree unless a hard freeze is predicted. …

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