We're having a mini version of a white Christmas here in Sydney at the moment – our potted citrus tree is flowering like it has never flowered before. It looks great and smells sweet, but it's especially pleasing because it shows that the change in the plant's diet which I started mid-way through the year seems to be paying off.
Last weekend and the tree was much more thickly covered in blooms compared with previous years. Sure, it's getting older and that may have something to do with it, but I have changed its feeding so it gets light feeds once a month in the warm growing season, and once every six weeks during the cooler months. That's a lot more often than in previous years, when I fed it about once every three months at best.
I made this change on the suggestion of a workmate, Geoffrey, an expert gardener whose suggestions are always well worth following. He says that every time we water a potted plant we wash some nutrients out of the soil, and so the best idea is to regularly replenish potted soils with nutrients (do it lightly, not too much). I could just use a slow-release fertiliser for this job, but I prefer to feed all of my citrus trees with organic chicken manure. And so I now give the plant just a handful of chicken manure pellets once a month, followed immediately by a good watering. The other main thing with the potted citrus is to put the pot up on pot feet, so the water drains away. And that means no saucers!
I am convinced this change of feeding regime has worked. Like all citrus, the cumquat blooms are sweetly scented, but they are short-lived. They're in a hurry to become fruit, and that suits me fine.
This morning, many of the flowers have dropped their petals already and left behind the tiny makings of a fruit that will now take months to grow and ripen.
This of course is a photo of last year's crop, which was pretty good. Cumquats are a bitter citrus that are most often turned into jams, marmalade or pickled in an alcohol such as brandy and sugar as a dessert condiment. To tell the truth, I grow this tree as much as an ornamental plant as a useful crop – but I do like cumquat marmalade! The fruit are marvellously decorative on the tree and last there for many weeks. In fact last year I kept on delaying the harvest just because the potted tree, with its attractive, glossy green leaves, looked so pretty covered in orange fruits.
Finally, another use for potted citrus trees – festive cheer! Pam put out our Santa gnome, Ravi, to guard the potted cumquat then decorated the tree with tinsel. We had a bunch of old friends around for a Christmas barbecue get-together last night, and the tinselly cumquat really helped to set the scene.