Getting citrus trees off to a good start

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This week’s article is triggered by being asked to look at several disastrous one to three year plantings of oranges, mandarins, lemons and limes.

The fundamental problem was that the trees had died or were well down that route. The causes of tree and crop failures, seen all too often along the Costas and in inland valleys over the past 25 years, can be summarised as follows.

1. Failing to recognise that limes are not as winter hardy as the other three fruits.

2. Not preparing good 50cm diameter, 50cm deep planting holes and not filling with a loamy soil mix rich in well composted animal manures.

3. Not spreading out the embryo root ball rather than just sliding the root-ball from a narrow pot or black plastic sleeve into a narrow shallow hole and risking that within just a few years the young roots will form a corkscrew around each other and gradually strangle the plant.

4. Feeding the plant regularly with pelleted chemical fertilisers around the trunk and irreversibly burning the tender hairless polished roots.

5. Watering close to the trunk which often starts to rot rather than in a moat 15 centimetres away from the trunk and moving this moat gradually outwards as the tree widens in order to water below the drip line and encourage roots to grow sideways as well as deeply.

6. Watering shallowly frequently rather than a couple of times a week deeply. Watering through a couple of three or five centimetre diameter plastic water tube sets to deliver water at the level of the deepest roots can help in this respect.

7. Don’t bury all the tubing of an irrigation system under plastic and deep stone chippings so you can’t check the extent and effectiveness of the watering as set on a timer.

8. Immediately pruning young trees to shape rather than being patient for a few years to see which branches are strong to use these as the main framework of the tree as it matures.

9. Planting new citrus trees during the hottest time, June to September, is not the greatest idea. In non-frost areas it’s better to plant between November to April and in April or May if frosty. Like-wise in frosty areas plant early-fruiting varieties that can be harvested before February as commercial growers do to avoid crop damage.

10. If planting trees in a windy spot surround them with a wind break for the first three to five years. If some trees are planted in an exposed windy part and others in a sheltered spot protected from winds by the mass of the house the latter will soon demonstrate the benefits of the milder microclimate.

11. Don’t wait until trees are heavily affected by insect and fungal attacks. Spray preventively with mild ecological insecticides like neem oil or fungicides like propolis.

12. Remove all young fruit the first year to enable the trees to concentrate their energies on creating viable root balls. Then thin out fruit for a few years to obtain sizeable fruit and not just small fruit for juicing. Hope that helps readers with current problems and readers very new to Spain to avoid problems from day one.

© Dick Handscombe June 2016.

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