Growing orange trees

by Kate Bradbury

I recently spent a few days in Barcelona. The orange trees growing in its streets were laden with fruit and looked stunning in the February sunshine.

Oranges growing in BarcelonaI recently spent a few days in Barcelona. The orange trees growing there were laden with fruit and looked stunning in the February sunshine. I loved seeing them growing outside in the streets, though admit to having felt a pang of jealousy on behalf of the orange sat in my gloomy east London flat.

My orange tree has been beset by problems since I received it as a gift six years ago. First it had mealybugs. For six months I regularly used soapy water to remove the bugs, their sticky secretions and resulting black mildew (which prevents the plants from photosynthesising and causes leaf fall). This was a disgusting job, made worse by the removal of the sticky blighters from my hair, clothes and fingernails after each session. The infestation was so bad the plant nearly died, so I took it to my allotment, hoping the fresh air and a good dose of sunshine would sort it out. It did, but then the greenhouse it was overwintering in was stolen, leaving it exposed to some hard, Manchester frosts. At least they put paid to any remaining mealybugs.

I moved house five times over the next 18 months, so the half-dead orange lived at my partner's mum's, then my mum's, where it picked up a fresh mealybug infestation before I finally brought it home to a flat full of vine weevils. It's not flowered for four years.

To thrive, citrus trees should really be grown in the Mediterranean. Failing that they need a rich, open compost and plenty of ventilation. If grown indoors, they benefit from a regular misting of water to increase humidity, but it's best to put them outside in a sunny, sheltered position after all risk of frost has passed. Only water them once the soil has dried out and add liquid seaweed, to aid nutrient absorption.

I've decided that 2011 will see my orange tree flower and bear fruit. I've top-dressed it with some sieved, home-made compost, sponged down its leaves and given it a light prune - it's all set to go outside once this bout of freezing weather has passed. As for the mealybugs, I'm convinced there are still some lurking in the bark and beneath the leaves, but I've yet to find them.

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Gardeners' World Web User 04/03/2011 at 15:05

Ha-Ha. Mealy bug is about the only thing from which we (well I mean a lemon, an orange, a kaffir lime & a calamondin) haven't suffered. Red spider & scale by the bucket load,but not mealy bug (yet). Fingers remain tightly crossed. But even if they don't fruit (& moving them outside in the spring/summer should certainly help them to do so) the scent from the flowers is enough to make the effort of helping them survive worthwhile.

Gardeners' World Web User 04/03/2011 at 16:47

THat is SO sad! I spent years washing scale insects of our bay tree with soapy water. Leaf by leaf - it took forever. Finally sprayed it with some fatty organic stuff and totally got rid of them

Gardeners' World Web User 04/03/2011 at 18:18

Can identify with your woe. Have you tried a Calamondin orange? So far mine's it's overwintered in my bathroom happily and no sign of mealy bugs or other nasties. Still, give it time. Have otherwise given up on citrus entirely - have 2 skeletal lemon trees outside that make me feel guilty every time I see them.

Gardeners' World Web User 07/03/2011 at 10:17

Alex M - not tried a Calamondin orange, thanks for the tip. Found a fresh batch of mealy bugs on my orange this weekend... Am just going to put it outside and hope for the best! Kate

Gardeners' World Web User 07/03/2011 at 18:34

We had a few hours in lovely sunshine today digging our allotment. We found what looked like a runner bean and it was loaded with tiny white worms which were also outside the "bean". We are concerned that this could be harmful to humans....having just manured with 4 year old horse manure. Does any one have any idea what these worms are?

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