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The Coastal Gardener: The juicy details on growing citrus

February 18, 2011|By Ron Vanderhoff
  • Lance Walheim, left, discusses citrus varieties with eager home gardeners.
Lance Walheim, left, discusses citrus varieties with… (Courtesy Ron Vanderhoff )

Lance Walheim might be just about the smartest guy around when it comes to growing citrus in gardens.

Lance is a professional citrus grower, co-founder of California Citrus Specialties, a commercial grower of dozens of citrus, including many lesser-known varieties. He is a UC Berkeley graduate with a degree in botany and the author of over 30 gardening books, including the definitive book "Citrus, A Complete Guide to Selecting and Growing Over 100 Varieties." Lance was staff editor at Sunset magazine for several years and served as contributing editor to the 10th, 11th, 12th and 13th editions of the "Sunset Western Garden Book," as well as the 14th edition, now in process.

For several years I've listened to Lance patiently instruct countless home gardeners on everything citrus, from the best varieties, to methods of planting, fertilizing, pest control, pruning, soil and so on.

Perhaps the two points that I hear Lance emphasizing the most are the importance of the correct variety for each person's unique climate and the importance of choosing citrus varieties that will provide the owner with fruit over a long period, not all at once.

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Although almost any variety of citrus will grow and flourish wonderfully in just about any Orange County garden, a particular variety may not taste the same in every garden. A variety planted in a Huntington Beach garden may not have the same flavor and sweetness as the same variety just 20 miles away in Anaheim Hills.

Don't choose a citrus variety for your garden because of the flavor of the fruit in the supermarket; it's a huge mistake. Citrus flavor is strongly influenced by climate, especially in oranges, tangerines (also called mandarins) and grapefruits. The amount of a hot, dry summer may make the fruit sweet in one garden yet sour in another.

The other lesson that Lance always encourages is to select citrus varieties that ripen in succession, or at least in alternate seasons. For instance, why have four varieties of tangerines that all ripen at Christmas and then none to pick at other times of the year? Instead, with just a little planning and knowledge, then the right varieties, you can pick sweet, juicy tangerines over at least half the year.

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