Saturday, October 10, 2009

Thinning citrus

I always thought there were two good reasons for thinning out your crop of baby citrus fruits, but reading up on the topic I've discovered a third excellent reason to do it.

1. The first reason for removing some of the baby fruits from your tree is to increase the size and quality of each of the remaining fruit that forms on the tree. Knew that.

2. The second is that thinning fruit prevents the tree totally jettisoning all fruits during a heatwave. A few years ago I didn't know that, and I didn't thin the fruit much, and a heatwave struck early in the season, and then I discovered that in order to survive the tree will willingly abandon a whole season's crop of thirsty little baby fruits (especially if it has also been dry and the plant is thirsty, anyway). Young trees are more likely to do this than older, established trees, but it's always a bit of a risk when fruits are just forming.

3. Here's the thing I discovered only recently. Citrus trees can tend to have a pattern of bearing a huge, bumper crop one year, then virtually no crop at all the next year. If you thin out your crop each year, it will tend to keep on producing crops to a nice, steady beat, year after year. Cool discovery!

Anyway, that's what I've been doing lately, and I thought one or two photos might be helpful.

This is a baby Eureka lemon this morning, covered in the latest shower of rain. Originally part of a cluster of three, he's the only one left, and he has doubled in size in a week of rain.

And here's the two-year-old Eureka lemon tree itself. In its first year I removed every last fruit from the tree, so it could put all its energy into growing. Last year I let just a couple of fruit mature, and they were lovely, squeezed over oysters I think it was. This year I have removed four out of every five baby fruit, as my main priority is for the tree to keep growing, but that should still give me about 15-20 nice lemons a few months from now, if all goes well.

Over the other side of the pathway, this is my espaliered 'Tahiti' lime, which is now about eight or nine years old and, given the small space it is allowed to occupy, fully grown. It actually needs a trim back, especially the top bit, which is hard to reach now, but I'm leaving it alone while the baby fruits are forming and the rest of the plant is looking so green and well. I've never done an espalier before, but it has worked out fairly well. I blogged all about it last year, here, if you're interested in the idea. Anyway, these last few days I have been thinning back what was looking like a bumper crop of limes.

Typically, I start off with about four, five, six or seven baby lime fruits in a cluster. As every last branch and stem of the tree is covered with these crowds of lime-green babies, my aim is to leave just one fruit to develop in each spot, after thinning.

The easy way to remove the fruit is to pinch one in your fingertips and give it a gentle twist. They usually come away very easily when they're young, like this.

As mentioned earlier, with this cluster I've just left one, the largest and healthiest baby.

I find the best way to thin the fruits is to have a couple of goes at doing it. Yes, it is a bit boring and arm-achey too, so I do it bit by bit, not all in one go. Besides, I always seem to just miss heaps of clusters the first time round, so I come back a couple of days later do a bit more. The nice part about doing the job is the lovely fragrance of the leaves, by the way. So it's not all bad and boring.

This approach works just fine if you have only one or two trees, as I do. I'm not sure what they do in orchards! Maybe they hand out fruit-thinning duties as punishment to bad orchardists – maybe they don't bother at all?

While at best it's fragrant drudgery, it is worthwhile doing, and here in Sydney it's the perfect time of year to do it.


prue said...

I might have to try that this year. Usually the tree decides on four or five lemons and then discards the rest itself (it is on a very small lemon tree in a pot.) At the moment it is full of blossom and bees so no little lemons yet. Great pictures!

Darren said...

That is the one thing I just can't seem to get myself to do. I know I should thin the fruit a little, but it is so hard.
Australia has some of the most interesting Citrus, I would love to come visit someday. The Blood Limes and the Finger Limes fascinate me.
Would love to chat sometime, touch base with me through my blog:

Anonymous said...

May I suggest the method I use on my three Arizona Sweets? Simply, as soon as there is sufficient blossom, take a water hose and shoot down about a third of the flowers. It's the easiest, most efficient way of ensuring an -adequate- crop without having to hand thin.

/GWPDA - Phoenix

Brandon Norris Photography said...

Very helpful post. Thank you!

Veronica Ng said...

Thank you very much for the helpful hint. My Tahitian lime tree has a bumper crop of at least five baby lime in a clusters. I shall thin them out tomorrow.

Dmilind said...

It's hurting, "It is recommonded that you pinch off all the flower buds in the first year and let the plant grow."