It is that time of year in the Valley of the Sun where folks are harvesting their citrus, some for the first time, some gifted, and some discovering a sour surprise.
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Some of the garden forums have been fielding questions about why their sweet oranges are NOT sweet or why they have lumpy lemons some with the look of "orange"?
How did that happen?
The Citrus tree is a shrub, not a true single trunk tree. So as a shrub in its natural environment it can have many, many trunks all bearing the fruit of the variety: Orange, lemon, grapefruit, lime etc.
Citrus grows very well in the desert southwest, however the desert soil harbors certain diseases which would kill off the citrus tree rather quickly if not for the practice of grafting - we will talk lemons for now - lemon stock on to the disease resistant sour orange stock. The allows for a health, well maintained citrus to produce great fruit for decades. [Some areas of the valley have healthy citrus trees over 50 years old.]
Once the lemon tree is grafted on to the sour orange root stock, you have to maintain a single trunk for a couple of feet to keep track of the suckers that the root stock tries to send up. Look at this photo and observe 1) The green suckers and 2) where the graft is - it is quite noticeable - a "lump" in the trunk.
ALL OF those suckers need to be removed and you MUST check regularly to keep them cut off. When they are very small you can just see the green leaf tips and you can rub them off the tree. One they reach the sizes of the ones you see in the picture you need to prune off with sharp pruners as close to the trunk as you can and check those areas regularly - they will try to come back.
In the example of the tree where the meld occurred there is probably no way of saving the tree. It would take observing which main branch/trunks are the fruit want and sawing off all of the others, creating a lopsided tree.
However, if you have the room and want to keep the tree, you can USE the juice and fruit.
The Sour Orange is also called the "Seville Orange" in Europe and the juice in particular has historically been used in place of vinegar or lemon. You can search the internet for Seville Orange recipes. Lots of interesting uses. And of course you can make marmalade - I have a great recipe for marmalade which uses the whole fruit (except for the seeds), just adjust the sugar to your taste with sour fruit.
I hope this helps you understand how to maintain your citrus trees and how to deal with a problem if you catch it in time.
-- Catherine, The Herb Lady
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