Available in sunshine colors, oval or oblong shapes and sweet or sour flavors, citrus is worthy of devotion. Its blossoms are fragrant, its evergreen appearance regal. Dwarf citrus grown in containers are decorative and delicious. Go peel an orange, pour another cup of java and immerse yourself in the world of citrus.
Citrus twisters Q: Why are my oranges always sour?
A: Perhaps because the variety isn't a sweet one, but sour. "Seville" is the most common sour orange. These oranges are used for candying and marmalade. So, if your crop tastes awful year after year, you may have inherited a sour orange from the previous owners.
Q: How come my oranges split?
A: The exact cause isn't known, but chances are, it's not your fault. It's likely an environmental thing, according to citrus grower Lance Walheim of Exeter, Calif, who also wrote the book "Citrus" (Ironwood Press, $17.95)
"It happens the time of year the fruit is growing vigorously," he says. "Just a fall rain or increase in humidity can cause the fruit to grow faster inside than the rind. It's a combination of things and it mostly happens with navel oranges."
Q: What's the black stuff on my lemons?
A: Sooty mold. Pests in citrus trees, like aphid, scale or whitefly, secrete a sticky substance called honeydew. Sooty mold grows on the honeydew and can stain fruit, leaves and stems. Fairly harmless to plants, sooty mold can be wiped off citrus with a vigorous scrubbing. Get rid of the pests and sooty mold disappears, too.
Q: Does citrus continue ripening after being picked?
A: No. Skin color won't give you an accurate assessment of ripeness. A half-green orange may be ready to eat. You'll have to taste-test to discover the degree of ripeness.
Q: How come store oranges are always so perfect looking?
A: The greenish skin of commercially grown oranges is turned bright orange by "degreening," or exposure to ethylene gas. It's also called gas coloring. Once an orange turns bright orange, it is more appealing to consumers. Before degreening, oranges were dyed but the Food & Drug Administration has banned the use of synthetic dyes on oranges. Most oranges also are waxed for a brighter appearance and longer shelf life. Look for certified organic oranges if you seek those that haven't been altered in appearance.
Q: What citrus fruit, if any, can be eaten whole?
A: The olive-sized kumquat. No peeling or sectioning required. Skin and flesh go right in the mouth. Reclassified around 1915 from genus Citrus to genus Fortunella, kumquats nonetheless are considered members of the citrus family.
Q: Why are limes green?
A: If you left limes on the tree, eventually they'd turn yellowish and lose their flavor. Limes are picked green and immature, when they exhibit that spirited tartness. Leave a lime in the refrigerator vegetable bin too long and you can experience the difference.
Q: What happened to the citrus groves in Citrus Heights?
A: What citrus groves? According to Citrus Heights historian Jim Van Maren, investors thought Citrus Heights sounded better than Sylvan District, which the area was called because of its many oak trees. So they changed the name around 1910 in hopes of selling 10-acre ranchettes. "Sylvan wasn't so sexy. Citrus Heights sounded warm and suggested citrus groves, which there weren't," says Van Maren.
Q: Is Orangevale misnamed, too?
A: Not at all. According to the Orangevale Chamber of Commerce Web site, "Orangevale (originally Orange Vale) was known for the many orange groves existing in the large agricultural area known as the 1884 Santa Juanita Grant of the Mexican government." Oranges went sour in 1930 when "an extremely frigid winter wiped out nearly all the orange groves."
Sources: Four Winds Growers; Purdue University Department of Horticulture; Lance Walheim, author of "Citrus" (Ironwood Press, $17.95); Dan Vierria; www.naturalhub.com
A zesty test of all things orange Match the clues below with their orangish answers
1. Vietnam-era herbicide "A Clockwork Orange" 2. Tim Roth's character in "Reservoir Dogs" Orange hair 3. Orange-flavored astronaut drink Orange tabby 4. Stanley Kubrick film classic Safety orange 5. FedEx is event's main squeeze Grand Marnier 6. Also known as "The OC" Tang 7. Cute, citrusy kitty Orange County 8. Orange-flavored liqueur Mr. Orange 9. Road workers' color of choice Agent Orange 10. Milla Jovovich had it in "The Fifth Element" Orange Bowl ANSWERS 1. Agent Orange; 2. Mr. Orange; 3. Tang; 4. "A Clockwork Orange"; 5. FedEx Orange Bowl; 6. Orange County; 7. Orange tabby; 8. Grand Marnier; 9. Safety orange; 10. Orange hair.
Planting citrus Best time to plant: Spring or fall.
Best planting sites: Southern and western exposures are the warmest. Full sun areas are best.
Digging the hole: Dig as deep as rootball and twice as wide.
Amending the soil: UC farm advisers recommend not adding soil amendments unless your soil is heavy clay. Good drainage is essential.
Placing tree in the hole: The upper surface of the rootball should be about an inch above ground level to discourage diseases. Water should drain away from the trunk.
Backfilling: Refill around the rootball, gently tamping soil. Leave the top of the rootball exposed. Water thoroughly to encourage root growth and eliminate any air pockets.
After planting: Fertilizer can be applied to the surface around tree. Mulching around trees will help control weeds and maintain soil moisture.
Sources: Four Winds Growers; "Citrus," "The California Master Gardener Handbook"
Peeling away some advice from an expert We asked Lance Walheim, a Central Valley citrus grower and author of "Citrus" (Ironwood Press, $19.95, 112 pages), for his opinions on home-grown citrus:
Best orange variety: Washington navel.
Best orange varieties for extended season: Washington navel (bears December to April) and Valencia (bears April through September).
Best lemon variety: Meyer Improved. Lisbon "for the real lemon lover."
Best new variety: Yosemite Gold mandarin.
Why citrus are worth growing: "They're such a pretty tree, they're fragrant and they have colorful fruit. We live in a great citrus climate."
The Sacramento Bee - Get the whole story every day - SUBSCRIBE NOW!
ORANGES WASHINGTON NAVEL Protect below: 28 degrees Harvest: November-April Comment: Considered by many as the best orange for eating fresh. Peels and sections easily. Larger than Robertson navel. Not noted for juice, which quickly turns bitter if not used right after squeezing. ROBERTSON NAVEL Protect below: 28 degrees Harvest: November-April Comment: Smaller orange and ripens 2-3 weeks earlier than Washington navel. Fares well in Central Valley heat. VALENCIA Protect below: 28 degrees Harvest: February-August Comment: What the Washington navel is to fresh eating, the Valencia is to juice. Smaller fruit than navels with thin skin that is more difficult to peel. Valencia oranges hold well on the tree, often for months. Sacramento Bee/Scott Lorenzo
LEMONS EUREKA Protect below: 32 degrees Harvest: February-July Comment: Unlike the Meyer and the Improved Meyer, the Eureka is a true lemon. Nearly thornless, needs periodic pruning. LISBON Protect below: 32 degrees Harvest: December-July Comment: Another true lemon. Thorny, but most productive, cold hardy and heat-tolerant of the true lemons. MEYER and IMPROVED MEYER Protect below: 28 degrees Harvest: November-March Comment: Not a true lemon but a hybrid of lemon and sweet orange or lemon and mandarin. Its true parentage is unknown. Improved Meyer is "virus free," but otherwise the same lemon as Meyer. Few thorns, ideal for containers. Sacramento Bee/Scott Lorenzo
MANDARINS/TANGERINES OWARI SATSUMA Protect below: 24 degrees Harvest: November-January Comment: Hardiest of all mandarins, earliest bearer. Seedless, peels easily. GOLD NUGGET Protect below: 28 degrees Harvest: March-May Comment: Seedless, sweet and store well. Mandarin hybrid. HONEY Protect below: 32 degrees Harvest: January-April Comment: Sweet, juicy, seedy. Mandarin hybrid. Sacramento Bee/Scott Lorenzo
LIMES BEARSS Protect below: 32 degrees Harvest: August-March Comment: Large, seedless lime. Also known as Persian or Tahitian lime. MEXICAN Protect below: 32 degrees Harvest: July-November Comment: Small fruited, has seeds and not as cold-hardy as Bearss. Plant in protected areas or containers. Also called "bartender's lime." Sacramento Bee/Scott Lorenzo
GRAPEFRUIT ORO BLANCO Protect below: 32 degrees Harvest: November-January Comment: Sweet, seedless, white flesh. Intensely fragrant flowers. Grapefruit and pummelo hybrid. RIO RED Protect below: 28 degrees Harvest: January-June Comment: Red flesh, seedless. Needs more summer heat than the Oro Blanco. Sacramento Bee/Scott Lorenzo
TANGELO (Mandarin-grapefruit hybrids) MINNEOLA Protect below: 28 degrees Harvest: January-March Comment: Reddish-orange fruit, tangerine-like flavor in late spring. Excellent ornamental. ORLANDO Protect below: 24 degrees Harvest: December-February Comment: Orange rind and flesh. Very juicy. More cold resistant than Minneola. Sacramento Bee/Scott Lorenzo
KUMQUAT MEIWA Protect below: 28 degrees Harvest: December-March Comment: Best variety for eating fresh. Few thorns. Grows best in hotter locations. NAGAMI Protect below: 24 degrees Harvest: December-March Comment: Popular commercial variety. Bright orange fruit. Beautiful ornamental. Sacramento Bee/Scott Lorenzo
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