’Tis the season to taste-test and choose the best variety for your yard
Although in wintertime many plants are dormant and the days are drizzly, there’s one Test Garden chore that always cheers us up this time of year: harvesting citrus. With citrus-planting season coming up— around mid-February in mild-winter regions—we’re sharing the tips and tricks we’ve learned from years of growing. And while there’s a variety for every climate or garden size (and even some you can grow indoors), we’re highlighting the more exotic types of citrus that have won us over. From finger limes to variegated kumquats, these fruits are both delicious to snack on and perfect in another winter antidote: cocktails.
Impress your friends and thrill your taste buds with these varieties, recommended by Test Garden designer Stefani Bittner.
Citrus trees are sensitive to frost and temperatures below 30°F. In colder regions, always plant in pots and wheel indoors for the winter. In milder climates with occasional frost, move potted citrus next to your house until the spring—reflective surfaces create a warm microclimate. To protect in-ground trees, be sure to deeply water (freezing soil will stress and suck moisture from roots) and cover with a frost blanket before a frigid forecast.
With a nod to lesser-known varieties, Aaron Dillon, vice president and general manager at Four Winds Growers, has a recommendation for every part of the West. (Order at fourwindsgrowers.com, our go-to source for citrus trees.)
Tight on space? Citrus grow happily in containers with drainage holes in a sunny, warm location in your garden or on a patio. Plant after Valentine’s Day or when the danger of frost has passed.
Got room in the garden? In-ground citrus need the same conditions: plenty of heat and sun, plus good drainage.
Clusters of tiny brown insects that feed at a 45° angle are a telltale sign of Asian citrus psyllids; visit saveourcitrus.org. These pests transmit Huanglongbing, an incurable disease that causes green, bitter, and misshapen fruit and can eventually kill the tree outright.
“I want people to think of citrus as more than a garnish,” says Stefani Bittner, coauthor of Harvest and co-owner of Bay Area landscape design company Homestead Design Collective. With these three recipes, inspired by growing her own citrus trees and adapted with the help of her mother, she has us convinced. Citrus fruit aren’t just rinds and slices to be squeezed and discarded—they deserve to be the star of the show.
Mix these cocktails: