- Author: Betsy Lunde
On Saturday, June 23, there was an amazing talk by John “Cedar” Seeger of the Four Winds Citrus Growers. He held court at Annie’s Annuals in Richmond. The day was perfect, sunny but not too warm with a gentle breeze as we were given a lecture – fun, not dry – on citrus growing in the Four Winds style. First, though, a few facts about the company.
Four Winds was started in 1946 by Floyd Dillion, a transplant from the Mid West. He came to California to start his own business and because he LOVED oranges, decided to start growing them. He was rather a visionary to notice that men coming home from the War were buying their own homes. He also noticed that the typical house of the time had a small yard with a patio. There was not enough space for a standard size orange tree in those yards, so he decided to figure out how to make the trees smaller or “dwarf” sized so that the tree could be grown in a pot. Through breeding and with plain old hard work and luck, he was able to hybridize dwarf sized trees! His goal of “every yard, an orange tree” was eventually realized. Today Four Winds is the largest producer of dwarf citrus trees.
Floyd is gone now, but his descendants still own the business. His grandson runs the main office in Southern California, while his grand-daughter and her husband (John) run the growing fields in Winters.
Things we learned from John:
How we grow our citrus trees effects the size of the tree. We can control the size of the tree when we grow in containers. If we take a “pip” or seed from an orange and plant it, we will get a tree that will be standard-sized or quite large. If we buy a tree already started, it can be a “semi-dwarf” or a “dwarf” sized tree. The size of the last two is dependent on the root-stock used. It is a good idea to check the tag for the growing size. This is to assure that the tree will fit within the limits of your yard.
John brought up root-stocks for several reasons: 1) the root stock effects the entire tree’s growth; 2) folks get confused as to why citrus on the tree is not consistent with fruit of past seasons (sound familiar?); 3) folks don’t know why the tree has a different foliage pattern than before. John brought up the root stock known as the “Flying Dragon”, a trifoliate-leafed plant primarily known for the wicked knife-like thorns. It used to be a popular and common root stock but is now grown as a “security gate” shrub for around houses and businesses. Four Winds uses a total of 8 root stocks for its propagation of citrus.
Root stocks are chosen for the different varieties based on hardiness and, believe it or not, for seedlessness. In the business, the cutting is the fruiting variety, while the mother is the root stock.
98% of all troubles growing citrus = TOO MUCH WATER! According to John, “drainage is everything”. If you have bad drainage, grow your citrus in containers or on a mound. The mounding method works well as the roots of a citrus of any size are 2 feet down. The exception is if you plant a seed into the soil where it will form a tap-root. Citrus purchased will not form tap roots. It take 5 years to have a citrus tree fill in a wine barrel; by that time, the tree should be 6 feet tall. Plant in a sheltered spot; would you believe that the Meyer lemon is a great houseplant even in California? John swears it’s true!
When you plant a citrus tree in its new container, the top roots, those little frilly roots should be at the surface. If your tree appears to be in “suspended animation” or isn’t showing any signs of growth, physically expose those top roots yourself – it will start showing new growth again.
Citrus trees need more than just N, P & K (nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium). Use a 3-1-1 or multiples of that formula with trace elements. Sea weed products or finished compost supply these needed traces.
If you planted your citrus in or near the lawn, remove the sod or grass no less than 4 feet from the base of the tree. Water the tree with 5-7 gallons of water once every 7 days. In Winters, John waters the nursery trees 3 times a week, with one of those watering containing fertilizer. He suggests that we fertilize citrus year around; those in the ground monthly. A containerized tree can have a thick layer of compost instead on top of the soil. “Good roots = good tops”; healthy roots are either white or tan and firm to the touch. Don’t use fertilizer stakes on the citrus as they can create “hot” fertilizer spots which can burn the roots.
There was more excellent information which I will put down in my next blog.The talk was good, the company fine, the weather lovely, and the shopping afterward was divine!
PS: John LOVES the Master Gardeners!