Five years ago, when David Seewald took over the family’s nursery business, he decided to follow his interest in growing citrus. That took him overseas to see what other citrus growers were doing and he discovered the growing trend towards dwarf citrus, especially in Europe and Australia.
“I put this down to the fact that dwarf citrus trees are compact growing with less maintenance and space requirements than your normal full-sized citrus trees,” he says.
With so many more South Africans living in townhouses and flats with small gardens and patios, David could see that it was tailor made for container gardening, especially for those who want to grow their own fruit.
He set about developing the ‘Mini Me’ dwarf grafted citrus range that becomes available to home gardeners this month.
There is a tangy lemon (Limoneira), navel orange (the eating orange), naartjie (mandarin), spicy leaf Thai lime, and the juicy fruit Tahiti lime.
What’s to like
- The ‘Mini Me’ fruit is the same size as normal citrus fruit, even though the trees will only grow to a mature height of between 1.5m and 2m.
- The fruit is also sweeter than most other citrus because of the dwarfing rootstock that has been used.
- There is no need to re-pot like normal citrus trees when they get too big for their containers although they can be moved up a pot size if it is felt to be necessary.
- All are three-year old trees that will bear fruit in their next fruiting season, either next autumn, winter or early spring.
Fun facts: The secret behind the mini citrus is a Chinese rootstock called ‘Flying Dragon’ which induces miniaturisation. Because of the rootstock’s Chinese origins these mini trees are also less affected by the cold and they have an inbred resistance to root disease. In winter, trees in frosty areas should be protected with frost cloth, moved indoors or into a sheltered area.
Meet the trees
These dwarf trees are sale-ready at 25 to 30 cm high in 16.5 cm pots. That makes it possible to have more than one tree in your garden, patio or courtyard, which means that the whole range of citrus can be grown for an extended season of citrus fruit.
The trees grow equally well planted out into the garden or cared for in pots. : Prune your tree to keep it in the desired shape. As the trees get older, thin out the old branches in the center of the tree. This will help bring in light and air movement to the inner part of the tree.
There are two lime varieties. The spicy leaf Thai lime is grown mostly for its leaves which are used for flavoring. The fruit is edible but very strong. The juicy fruit Tahiti lime (picture above) has the more edible fruit.
The lemon cultivar (Limoneira) is more vigorous than naartjie and orange cultivars and will grow closer to the 2m height while the oranges and naartjies will be smaller, around 1.5m.
The navel orange is the juiciest and sweetest of all the eating oranges, with few pips. It’s name comes from the fact that it has a ‘navel’ or belly button at the bottom of the fruit.
Five things you need to know about dwarf citrus
Hedgehog: Dwarf citrus like normal citrus are sun lovers and need at least six hours of sun a day
soil: Garden-grown trees need soil that drains well (avoid clay). For citrus in pots, use a good quality potting soil. A layer of coarse gravel at the bottom of the pot will prevent the holes from clogging up. Adding perlite also helps with drainage.
Watering: Do not overwater your trees. Water more when it is dry and hot less when it is cool or wet. Let the soil dry out moderately between waterings. To check push your finger deeply into the soil to check its moisture content. Don’t just scratch the surface of the soil. Also, increase the watering during flowering and fruit setting. If the tree is stressed it will drop its flowers and fruit.
Feeding: Add a slow release fertilizer when planting or potting. Fertilize once a month during the active growing months from August to December. To encourage fruiting use a high potassium fertilizer like 5:1:5, or 3: 2:7 or 8:1:5.
Pests: Dwarf citrus is affected by pests, just like regular citrus. Citrus greening results in inedible fruit. It is spread by a disease infected Psylla insect. Red spider resides under the leaves and can cause leaf drop. Control both by spraying twice a month with Ludwig’s Insect Spray which has a smothering action.