2016-03-03 / From The Garden

Citrus in the Dining Room

By Cynthia Gibson


Key Lime tree filled with 40 limes. You only need 20 to make a ‘key’ lime pie. Key Lime tree filled with 40 limes. You only need 20 to make a ‘key’ lime pie. It takes about two or three years of patience to wait for your citrus trees to blossom and produce enough fruit to harvest for a Key lime pie or Meyer lemon bars. They are delicious, and it is amazing that you can grow your own limes, lemons and oranges without a greenhouse.

I was given my first Meyer lemon tree as a gift, six years ago. The first couple of years I delighted with the strong fragrance of lemon blossoms in my dining room. I could look beyond the tree to the window and see snow on the ground. It is worth keeping citrus in a south-facing window and fertilizing it once a week with Foliage Pro, and once every two months with Osmocote time-released fertilizer. The trees will reward you.

Key limes are small, only about two inches long. When they turn yellow, they are ripe and ready for a trip to the kitchen or into a rum punch.

While fishing in the Florida Keys years ago, I discovered Manny and Isa’s, a small restaurant that was more like a diner. They made the best Key lime pie in the Keys.

Meyer lemons turn to a pencil-yellow color when they are ripe and ready to use. They are sweeter and smaller than store-bought lemons.

My citrus trees spend the summer on the terrace and love it. They bloom nonstop, and by the end of October there are fruits on the trees in different stages of ripeness. That turns out to be great, as they don’t have to be used all at once. You want the taste and the fruit to linger on until the next spring when the cycle will begin anew.

Certain local nurseries carry these great trees or they can order them for you. Chaves Gardens, Middletown, sells them and keeps them in their greenhouse. Peckham’s Greenhouse in Little Compton sells them as well.

Regardless of where you buy them, they will be treasures. Citrus requires a special potting mix, known as Al’s gritty mix, that has no soil in it. It is best to mix in a rubber or plastic wagon, as you will need quite a bit. The smallest container to use should hold at least five gallons of potting mixture.

Al’s gritty mix:

It is a 1:1:1 ratio of bark fines, Turface, and granite. If you are not using Foliage Pro 9-3-6 for fertilizer, you may also need a bag of gypsum (calcium sulfate). But Foliage Pro is recommended by experienced growers. If you cannot find bark fines, you can substitute Repti Bark, available at pet supply stores. The rest of the ingredients can be purchased at a home store or hardware store. Plant your new tree in this mixture and water very well. Make sure the bark is soaking wet. Always use a saucer with these pots. They will be holding an overage of water.

Cynthia Gibson is a gardener, food writer and painter. She gardens and tends her miniature orchard in Newport.

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