Phoenix citrus. Selections based on orientation and size?

jen512August 17, 2013

It's our first foray into fruit trees in Arizona, and we're trying to make good citrus selections given our backyard. It's a typical tract home subdivision with cinderblock walls. There are two long, narrow spaces available for citrus, and we're hoping to have as many and as much variety as is reasonable given our space. Interested in everything: lemon, lime, orange, grapefruit, kumquat...we love it all!

1) The first is west facing, about 20 feet long and 8 feet between the wall and lawn edging. What varieties can handle full afternoon sun? I'm happy to protect them while they're young, but I'm not sure which are most likely to be happy there once they're mature.

2) The second space is north facing, about 50 feet long and only 5 feet between the party/cinderblock wall and our retaining wall. Retaining wall is 2 feet high. Lots of winter shade and summer sun. Which citrus are most likely to handle those types of exposure? Also, for that narrow space, should I just go for dwarfs? What's the verdict on those? Or some folks have recommended I put in full sized varieties and just be aggressive about pruning them, "high density/backyard culture orchard" style...?

And before you ask, the east facing wall with afternoon shade is already given over to the vegetable planters :) All advice is welcome!

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I have no advice but want to wish you well as you venture into your new citrus grove plan. I planted a mandarin orange tree myself this year so I will be reading this for ideas myself.

    Bookmark   August 17, 2013 at 10:31AM
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MaryMcP Zone 8b - Phx AZ

The best source for information and good, local/native propogated trees is (imo), Reid at RSI Growers.

Here is a link that might be useful: RSI Growers

    Bookmark   August 17, 2013 at 11:18AM
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My advice is to choose wisely. There are so many kinds of citrus. You may find that you run out of space (like me) and wish you could have that one variety you no longer have space for. You may just find out their are some other really great fruit trees that do well here so do your research and try to taste the variety before you buy.

Also, you'll find that one tree can feed your neighborhood.

    Bookmark   August 17, 2013 at 11:30AM
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Citrus is a shrub turned tree so pruning BYO style on mature trees is not a problem though I would not do the initial topping cut. In my limited experience they may not like high density planting space however. Citrus handles sun quite well once they have a reasonable canopy (usually before second summer) depending upon if you get them in the ground in Oct.

As for varieties, do you eat enough lemons and limes to bother having trees that take up your limited space? Usually the answer is to buy lemons and limes at the store (whose quality is actually high) and plant oranges, mandarins and grapefruit you will eat a lot of.

Further limes and to a somewhat lesser extent lemons are VERY sensitive to frost damage, so you will work your butt off keeping them alive and productive over their lifetime. That said if you want a lemon select an Improved Meyer lemon as it is the second most frost hardy citrus there is and will not need protecting. It produces a good "lemon" too. I am afraid for lime I'd go with either a thornless Mexican Key lime or Bearss (aka Persian or Tahitian) lime. MK is the king of the limes as far as flavor and Bearss large, pretty, tasty (my second favorite) and precocious. Lemons and limes tend to be year round producers/hangers on trees. A Rangpur "lime" tree is fairly frost hardy.

As for standard citrus types: Consider parent navel Washington, Cara Cara, Arizona sweet, Marrs or Trovita orange, Daisy Mandarin (Tangerine), Rio Red or Marsh grapefruit. Also Midnight or Delta Valencia orange. This will provide you with (fairly seedless) citrus from Nov through the end of May. These are not too frost sensitive. I prefer Seville Sour Orange rootstock for all.

I believe that narrow 5 foot wide strip mostly in the shade will not be productive for any fruit. But if you paint the area block walls white (reflective sunlight) and plant kumquats (I like Meiwa's; sweet and few seeds) you might get away with it. Kumquats are the most frost hardy citrus and naturally small trees---still require pruning to keep them that way. They are normally year round fruiters but if they don't get enough sun may be seasonal. You could include a limequat as a lime substitute as it is frost hardy as well. Consider turning them into a hedge.

Citrus is a bush. It normally should be grown up and then the canopy allowed to grow down shading the sun sensitive trunk. Kind of a mushroom shape. The best fruit will be found in the first 8 feet of canopy (tree height) so just over that is a good target height for what you want to do. Paint any exposed trunk and main branches white with water based white latex paint (50%). LIGHT pruning is best done in late June (oh joy) with the sun directly overhead to achieve a slight dappled pattern of sun filtering through and hitting the ground.

With only 20 feet you really should only plant three trees. You can certainly try to squeeze in more but I am not optimistic as to fruit yield and how happy you'd be.

Here is a link that might be useful: 2011 Maricopa County Citrus and Deciduous Fruit Guide

    Bookmark   August 19, 2013 at 7:53PM
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I'm a Noob with citrus, but my Cara Cara grows like a weed. The fruit is fantastic too, but it took about 4 years to get real juicy.
I bought it at Lowe's knowing nothing about citrus trees.

    Bookmark   August 28, 2013 at 7:56PM
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