I can’t help it. I gloat when I go out and harvest my lemons. I’d pay 49 cents apiece for them at the store, and here I have them nearly year round for free. My lime tree produces enough fruit in May and June for me to have freezer bags full of lime cubes available for margaritas and fruit smoothies. Plus, I have lime leaf to use for myself in Thai cooking and to share. (While we’re talking about lime leaf, I have to bring up the fact that the name used by most people, kaffir lime, is, in fact, an ugly racial slur. We are working hard to get people to call it by another name. Nurseries are calling it kieffer lime and many cooks are calling it lime leaf; take your pick.)
If you live in a mild winter area like I do, USDA Zone 9, or warmer, the rich green shiny leaves, stunningly fragrant flowers, and colorful fruits make these edibles a must have. If you live in a colder climate, then you can grow them in containers.
Citrus fills all sorts of niches in your edible landscape. Full-size citrus reach 20 ft.; dwarf varieties that can be kept under 6 ft. are best for most yards. Of course, they’ll need sunlight; 6 hours is ideal, though lemons and limes can take less. Temperature is even more important. Most varieties tolerate only light frosts – kumquats and calamondins are the hardiest; lemons and limes are the least. For sugary sweet grapefruits, oranges, and tangerines you need heat, lots and lots of heat. In cool-summer climates, give them full sun, plant against a hot south wall, or set them along a sunny patio that absorbs heat and reflects it back. All these tricks add to the sweetness of the fruits. Consider citrus for hedges along the driveway or use smaller ones as foundation plantings, and make sure to have a few off your patio or bedroom window because the smell in the spring is unbelievable!
Remember, your edible landscape also includes the no-man’s land between two houses or along a back alley. Ordinarily, this area is wasted. Citrus are perfect for that because they are shade-tolerant. A bonus for the trees is the extra heat from the street and house walls. The bonus for you is that the shade from their foliage cuts air conditioning bills.
Where do you start? First, decide. Do you want tangerines, mandarins, tangelos, grapefruits, lime leaf, limes, limequats, or lemons and oranges? Then, check your climate. What grows well in your area. If you have questions, there’s an amazing resource for you – Four Winds Growers. They’re a wholesale citrus nursery with a special place in their hearts for the home gardener. They’ve helped me when I’ve had questions, and they can help you, too. Their website will take you through the whole process from choosing from the many, many different varieties to how to plant, be it in the landscape or containers, how to grow them, and how to deal with any problems that may arise. They really want you to grow their citrus and succeed.
Tangelo and Kiwi Salad with Orange Blossoms
This citrus salad is lovely to look at and the flavors are both familiar, yet slightly different. Taste your citrus petals before adding them to the dressing. Expect some bitterness but if they are very harsh try blossoms from another tree. The point of adding a few citrus blossoms to the dressing is to infuse the tangelo juice with a lovely aroma and to deepen the citrus flavor.
6 medium tangelos, divided or 3 tangelos and a cup of bottled fresh tangerine juice
1 tablespoon lemon juice
5 lemon, tangerine, or orange blossoms
1 teaspoon honey (optional)
2 kiwi fruit
Squeeze three of the tangelos and put the juice in a medium bowl. To the tangelo (or tangerine) juice add the lemon juice, and the petals of 3 of the orange blossoms. If the tangelos are not very sweet, add a tablespoon of honey. Peel and section the remaining 3 tangelos and peel and slice the kiwi fruit, add them to the juice mixture and stir to cover the fruit. Refrigerate for a few hours or overnight.
To serve divide the fruit between 4 serving dishes. Pour the tangelo juice over fruit and garnish with orange blossom petals. Serves 4