Costa visits an awesome orchard in the hills north west of Sydney and meets up with third generation citrus grower, Mark Engall, to talk everything from grafting to grapefruits!
According to Mark, grafted citrus are the only way to grow. “I know there are people trying to grow from cuttings, but, for me, grafted citrus are stronger trees, more pest and disease resistant and, most importantly, give you more fruit much more quickly!” explains Mark.
All the citrus grown and sold at Mark’s nursery are grafted, and he explains that the tree you may buy from your local nursery has taken three years to get there – from the rootstock to the saleable product. Each citrus is actually two separate plant parts– the rootstock and the scion or top stock.
• Rootstock – the underground and root-forming part of the citrus`, generally selected for vigour and disease resistance.
• Scion – The “top section” of the plant, grafted onto the rootstock, that will eventually produce the foliage, stems and of course, the flowers.
And the process for growing and grafting is simple:
1. Plant seeds of desired rootstock into pots (Mark uses ‘Flying Dragon’ – a mutation of Citrus trifoliata, highly regarded for it’s dwarfing properties).
2. After 12 months of growing, rootstock are potted on into individual grow bags
3. At this stage, during the growing season, the grafting of the bud stock to the rootstock can occur
4. Select appropriate scion or budstock – individual buds are cut from new growth of the desired citrus – each bud/leaf petiole can become a new citrus tree
5. Using a sharp budding knife, slice just below the leaf petiole, with the knife almost flat against the stem. Slice upwards, under the bud and remove.
6. On the rootstock, find a clean, undamaged area of trunk to graft on to and remove thorns and foliage in the area.
7. Using the budding knife, make a shallow, vertical cut on the stem, and a horizontal shallow slice across the top of the original cut, to form a ‘T’ shape
8. Using the bark-lifter on the budding knife, gently lift the bark on each side and top of the ‘T’
9. Slip the prepared bud into the ‘T’ on the rootstock, fold edges of ‘T’ over the bud and trim any excess “tail” from the bud-stock
10. Wrap area tightly with budding tape to prevent moisture ingress – bud can be covered as it will grow through the tape.
11. After a month or two, this bud should have begun to grow away, and develop its own foliage. Once this has occurred, the excess top growth of the rootstock can be removed.
a. This ensures all the plants energy and growth is directed into the graft, rather than the rootstock
But, how do we go about maintaining older trees so that they continue to produce? Costa has that covered as well, and undertakes some vigorous “pruning” on a twenty-year-old Red Grapefruit (Citrus paradisi cv.) that hasn’t been pruned since planting and it shows. Loss of vigour, poor foliage coverage in the canopy, dead wood and small fruits. Here are Costa and marks top tips for rejuvenating and reinvigorating a tired citrus tree:
Skeleton Prune – undertaken in late winter or early spring to rejuvenate citrus that have lost vigour, but are still healthy and have a sound root system
1. Remove all small dead and damaged branches, and those crossing over or rubbing on others
2. Remove all leaves and twigs cleanly, with sharp pruning tools
3. Cut all the main branches that form the framework of the tree at 2 – 5cm diameter so that only the skeleton remains
4. Assess the skeleton of the tree, and further remove any multi-branched ends
5. Within 18 – 24 months, this tree will come back beautifully, and produce buckets of fruit
a. Trust the process – the tree may be without fruit in the first 12 months as it puts its energy into foliage production, but after that, you’ll be rolling in citrus!
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