28 February 2013 By Billy Hawkins
Amanda Dennis from the Citrus Centre in Pulbrough came along to Alitex recently, sharing her wisdom and knowledge garnered over thirty years of growing citric plants – which include eighteen years of trading.
There really isn’t much Amanda doesn’t know about these plants and as the only centre dedicated to their specialisation in the UK she is the first port of call for many (including journalists and other experts).
The Citrus centre now has thousands upon thousands of plants and over 150 different varieties, from the micro-citrus (very hard to grow) to the much easier and beginners level of lemon, limes and orange. Seek Amanda’s opinion on where the plant will be situated in your home/conservatory/greenhouse, the level of light it will have etc, in order to determine which plant would best suit your circumstances. The same levels of delicious heavy scent will be emitted by most plants – some more than most, in fact scent may be the main reason you choose a citric plant.
In winter the plants need huge amounts of light, with little background heat. Underfloor heating is only OK if you can elevate the plant off the ground on pot struts. Indeed we were taught that these citric plants do well when they are moved outside between mid May (or June – depending on the weather) and let the plant breathe in the warmer climes, have the bugs nibbled off by birds and properly dry out.
The watering of these citric plants is a key issue as is ventilation. Even in February Amanda has her greenhouse vents open creating a through draft which the plants enjoy. One of our guests relayed how glass panels in his greenhouse had broken, right next to his very established lemon tree, and he was amazed to find how many fruits came that year. Ventilation on an extreme degree! External blinds, as you would find on an Alitex greenhouse are preferable as they truly exclude the heat. Internal blinds shade the plants from sunburn but not the room temperature, so care must be taken with watering. Low light and heat confuses the plant so keep it cool during winter months – near a cool window.
Watering and feeding top tips:
The plants must dry out between waterings – 8 weeks is easily possible during winter in-between watering. As an indication in a very hot UK summer the plant may need water each week, (no more) and no water during winter.
When you water add feed. However really drench the plant first, washing the nitrogen and fertiliser through the plant, to avoid chemical build-up. Then add the feed, keeping the type of feed constant, do not interchange between a summer and winter product. Abandon winter products onto the lawn and simply use the summer product, but watered down by one quarter.
Check the leaves of the plant – if they are dull and start to wilt they may need watering. However this might also just be a seasonal blip – check by lifting the pot and checking the weight. Seasonally, when the sun comes out after weeks of no sun, the leaves will drop as the plant not used to it.
Check the fruit of the plant – the softer the fruit the more likely it is to need watering. Fruit should be firm.
Amanda recommends a plastic pot with lots of drainage holes for the actual plant and then dress it up as you choose to suit your conservatory/greenhouse. Even then, put pot struts in the bottom of the decorative pot to create ventilation. Think drainage and air!
There is no reason to change your compost if you follow the instructions above, however if your plant grows out of its space you should use a good quality tree or shrub compost mixed with a sterile bark component – letting the air circulate around the plant. They have to dry out thoroughly and in the UK we have to encourage them to do so.
Citrus Plant Pests
Healthy plants following the watering schemes above will ensure that pests are kept to a minimum. However should you need to get on top of a bug infestation it is likely to be scale or red spider mite. If it is too cold and damp, scale could be problematic, too hot and dry it’s the spider mite. Using pesticides or whatever (washing up liquid seems to have more uses than washing up!) needs to be delivered to the plant at high pressure to achieve the desired effect.
Amanda really is a font of all knowledge and incredibly easy to listen to. Her knowledge and insight is the kind of thing that if you are interested you should visit her in Pulborough to find out more. click here.
Thanks Amanda for a great talk, and thank you to everyone who joined us in the atrium here at Alitex.