Here's a reminder for all the Aussie gardeners with citrus plants of any sort, especially those growing in the ground: it's feeding time again, folks. These greedy plants need feeding at the end of February each year, then again at the end of August. You don't have to slavishly follow that timetable, but late winter and late summer are the ideal feeding times, and a good feed every six months is what they need. So here's what I did about an hour ago.
First, I watered the ground under the whole canopy of each tree (pictured here is my Eureka lemon tree, laden with developing fruit – yippee!). The reason for the 'water first' rule is to make sure the plants slake their thirst just on pure water, and not on fertiliser-laden water, which isn't such a good thing for them.
Second, spread the plant food all around the area under the tree's canopy, and especially around the outer edge of the tree's 'dripline' (just imagine the rough circle on the ground where water rolls off the foliage on the tree's perimeter, that's the dripline). Here, I'm using Dynamic Lifter, which is pelletised chicken poo. Being organic, it stinks to high heaven for a day (and Pam says "That's it, I'm going shopping in town for the day".) The packet says to apply three scoops-full per square metre of area. So my lemon tree got six scoops, scattered evenly, as did my lime tree. There are stacks of different citrus foods around, but I like the organic chicken poo, and I am sure the worms in the soil like it too. Pam's not so keen on it, but as she likes shopping she has discovered that citrus feeding day has its attractions.
Third and final step is to water in well afterwards, to get some plant food down into the soil, and to help all the rest of the pellets to start breaking down. That's it.
There are only three citrus trees in my small backyard. The other one planted in the ground is my espaliered 'Tahiti' lime, which is covered in limes ready to use now. This regular feeding keeps the leaves green and glossy and seems to fortify the tree so it looks after itself quite well. It still gets attacked by small numbers of pests, but largely it's pretty trouble-free, and I'm sure that's because it's well fed.
My other citrus tree is a potted cumquat. These need a different feeding regime altogether. I feed this one lightly every month in spring and summer. Today, I watered it first, then slipped one scoop of Dynamic Lifter pellets under the straw, then watered it again. Other times, when I'm feeling lazy, I give it a liquid feed. And in the cooler months I drop back to feeds every six weeks.
The cumquat is cropping better and better as it grows (it's about three years old now), and this crop should ripen in midwinter. Next spring I plan to transfer it to a slightly larger pot, and to replace the potting mix at the same time.
Listen to a gardening talkback radio show and about a third of the callers are having problems with their citrus trees. It's true that citrus can get all sorts of pests, diseases and nutrient deficiencies, mystery ailments and crop failures. But I'm slowly discovering that if you feed and water them very regularly, grow them in well-drained soil in a sunny spot, and they're much easier to live with than you might imagine.