Why you should start fertilizing your citrus trees now for maximum impact

5 things to do in the garden this week:

1. Begin to fertilize citrus trees now for maximum flowering and fruit development. Jack Christensen, who authored the things to do column for many years until his passing in 2021, recommended the following citrus fertilization regime. “Mature citrus trees need a yearly total of 1.6 pounds of actual nitrogen fertilizer,” he wrote, “divided into four equal portions applied in late January, early March, late April and early June – about six weeks apart – and distributed around the drip line. Since one pound of any dry fertilizer equals about two cups, that is about four cups of ammonium sulfate, two overflowing cups of ammonium nitrate, or 1.5 cups of urea, each time you apply it. Be sure to water it in well.” Christensen also recommended Citrus Grower Blend micronutrients , a Grow More product, to increase the sweetness of your fruit.

2. When pruning roses, especially hybrid teas, you can cut the shoots back to any length you desire, leaving canes three feet long to 18 inches in length or less. You just want to keep in mind that the shorter the canes, the larger the first crop of roses will be in late winter or early spring. Here, as in pruning practices generally, it is useful to keep in mind the two types of growth exhibited by plants: vegetative (roots, shoots, and leaves) and reproductive (flowers and fruit) growth. A plant has only so much energy to expend and the gardener can manipulate where this energy goes through pruning practices. It’s the same principle involved in fruit thinning, which is appropriate for citrus trees, most of which begin to flower in later winter or early spring. Fruit will start to form soon after that. About a month after you see tiny fruit on your citrus tree — many of which will drop on their own — take the liberty of removing up to 25% of them. The remaining fruit will be sweeter and probably larger than if all the fruit were allowed to remain on the tree. Furthermore, citrus branches, like those on any fruit tree, can break under the weight of too much fruit.

3. You can propagate deciduous fruit trees by taking two-foot-long cuttings from this year’s growth. Make the cuts at an angle and douse the bottom few inches of the cuttings in root hormone powder. Bury the cuttings 18 inches deep in the soil, taking care not to rub off the root hormone on the sides of the holes. Make sure that the soil drains quickly; if not, soften it with amendments before planting. Keep the soil moist but not soggy wet. Use this same procedure with leafless crepe myrtle suckers at the base of your tree, although it will be sufficient to bury the detached suckers (whose diameter is at least pencil size) six inches in the ground with another three inches above the soil surface.

4. The absolutely best mulch for your garden is wood chips and the best part of this picture is that they’re free. Find a tree trimmer in your neighborhood and they are usually happy to dump a load of chips on your driveway. Some orchardists use nothing but wood chips around their trees, piled as high as four inches deep or more, and never fertilize. As for the leaves shed by trees, never pick them up but allow them to decompose in place from where the mineral elements contained in them will eventually be taken up by roots and recycled back up to the tree. There is evidence that allowing fallen leaves from avocado trees to accumulate where they drop deters Phytophthora soil fungus, a devastating disease to which avocado trees are highly susceptible. The only caveat here is not to allow wood chips or leaves to accumulate around the trunk or bark of any tree since pathogens will take advantage of the situation to the tree’s detriment. Incidentally, never use cardboard for a mulch or in your compost since it contains toxic chemicals that you don’t want in your garden.

5. Ornamental fruit trees produce the most brilliant of all flower displays during late winter and early spring. The industry refers to these trees, whose fruit is insipid, as flowering pears, flowering peaches, flowering cherries, flowering apricots, and flowering plums. The downside of these trees is their poor immune systems as they seldom live for more than 30 years. Still, to see these trees covered in a cloud of pink or white more than compensates for their limited lifespan. Flowering plums such as Krauter Vesuvius sport dark purple foliage which adds to their aesthetic appeal. Flowering peaches such as Peppermint Stick have double flowers with pink and red stripes. Weeping dwarf flowering cherries and apricots are worthy of special attention.

Please send questions or comments to joshua@perfectplants.com. 

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