Driving around Amelia Island as winter sets in, it’s hard not to notice citrus trees heavily laden with fruit. I’ve seen individual trees that must have hundreds of fruit waiting to be picked.
Once the cooler weather sets in (and the temperature drops especially during the night), it’s said to be the time to start picking local fruit.
Unlike south Florida, here in Fernandina Beach on Amelia Island — the most northeastern coastal area of Florida (near the Georgia border) — there are no commercial citrus groves. However, plenty of local home owners have different varieties of fruit trees growing in their yards. I’ve heard that once we’ve had some cold nights, it helps sweeten the fruit.
A PERK OF FLORIDA LIVING — PICKING FRUIT OFF BACKYARD CITRUS TREES
As a former New Yorker, picking fresh fruit off citrus trees in the backyard is a novelty. Being unfamiliar with citrus trees here in the south, let me tell a tale of my first year with a Florida citrus tree in the yard.
Having bought an existing home that had a citrus tree already planted by former owner (the tree was still a small, immature tree), I had no idea what variety it was. The second year, small green fruit grew on the tree to my delight. So one day it occurred to me that a beverage with fresh lime juice from the backyard tree would be great. Thus, I picked the first little crop of limes. However, when I cut them open, my limes were actually immature, unripe grapefruit, (which was a surprise and a bummer at the time, since I had just harvested all the fruits that had to be thrown out).
About five years have passed now, and this season the tree grew around 14 grapefruits — the most fruit yet (but it’s still a small tree). The fruits turn from green to yellowish over several months, and finally then turn orange around December. In fact, if you look at the photos here, you’ll see these pink grapefruits on the outside look more like oranges than grapefruit.
I’d wager that most people who don’t have a trained eye for citrus trees would think they are oranges until the fruits are harvested and cut open. When sliced in half, they reveal the pink pulp, and taste like sweet grapefruit. If you’re a Florida resident with a yard, I highly recommend planting a few citrus trees on your property. It’s very satisfying to pick and eat your own fresh fruit. My tree bore wonderful fruit this year with about zero effort in caring for the tree.
HOMEGROWN FLORIDA CITRUS IS A SWEET TREAT!
My recent daily ritual has been to pick a grapefruit from my little tree and enjoy it for breakfast. These pink grapefruit are naturally sweet — no need to sprinkle sugar on top. In addition to eating the pulp, they are also remarkably juicy. One grapefruit provides about a half cup of grapefruit juice (this is just the juice from cutting it up to eat, not actually squeezing it).
You’d think by now I would have researched citrus trees and how to care for them but, shamefully, I haven’t. And neither has the “gardener.” About two years ago I purchased a lemon and lime tree to complement my home-grown citrus and planted them in the yard. The only thing I’ve done to manage these trees is placed citrus spikes (a fertilizer) in the ground (just one time).
Pictured below are the leaves of my grapefruit (left), lemon (center), and lime trees (all are still small trees). As you can see, the leaves of these different citrus trees look fairly similar.
After the initial fruits on the young lemon and lime trees were picked (these were already on the trees when I bought them at a garden center), they didn’t produce any fruit the subsequent year. Then this year, “the gardener” got trigger-happy with his electric trimmer. Needless to say, the gardener (i.e. husband), over-pruned the lemon and lime trees and cut off all the white blossoms (that would be the future fruit). So no lemons or limes this year.
If you’re a potential buyer in the market for Florida real estate, keep it in the back of your mind to consider some existing homes with citrus trees already producing fruit in the yard. In the current home buying environment with high inventory for sale, buyers have plenty of properties to choose from. Thus, if you like the idea of backyard fruit trees, mention your interest to your Realtor. Think of it as another desirable “upgrade” you’d like to have, if possible. Then you won’t have to plant the trees yourself and wait years for a decent crop of backyard fruit.
IT’S TIME FOR NEW YEAR’S RESOLUTIONS
Wishing all the very best in the New Year! Here’s one of my New Year’s Resolutions:
In 2010, I intend to pay more attention to these backyard citrus trees and make an effort to learn more about their proper cultivation. I’d also like to plant another — maybe add an orange tree. This is Florida, after all. And backyard citrus trees are, indeed, a perk of Florida living.
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