The first family of citrus growers in Northern California are the Dillons, who began experimenting with dwarf varieties of orange, lemon and lime trees for home orchards back in the 1940's. Over the decades, founder Floyd Dillon, son Don Dillon, grandson Don Jr. and granddaughter Mary Helen Seeger have presided over Four Winds Growers, a wholesale citrus tree provider, with growing grounds based in Winters and Fremont.
Their website, fourwindsgrowers.com, offers up many solutions to home citrus growing problems in our area, along with information about the wide variety of citrus trees available that do well here. And a talk with Mary Helen and her husband, Cedar, offer even more insights for the successful backyard citrus grower.
Looking for year round oranges? Cedar Seeger suggests four varieties of trees that can keep you in orange juice nearly 10 months a year. "The Washington Navel, Lane Late Navel, Trovita and Midknight Seedless Valencia all feature sweet and juicy fruit that are nearly seedless," says Cedar. "The Washington ripens in winter and early spring; that's followed by the Trovita in the spring; Midknight in the early summer; then, the Lane Late, throughout the summer."
Add to that an Owari Satsuma mandarin that ripens in November and December, and you can be picking fresh, tasty citrus nearly all year.
Where should you plant citrus? A sunny, wind-free, southern exposure is best. Mary Helen Seeger puts it more succinctly, "As my father likes to say, 'Plant citrus wherever the cat sleeps.'"
Citrus grown in large containers on a sunny patio can be quite successful. "Either repot or change the soil in the containers every two or three years," advises Cedar. "You don't have to necessarily go to a larger pot if the roots aren't bound. This process helps provide fresh nutrients and controls circling roots."
Regular food and water are basic necessities for citrus. "A complete fertilizer with micronutrients, such as a food labeled for citrus, is a good choice," says Mary Helen. Chimes in Cedar: "Since citrus roots tend to be in the top two feet of the soil, they prefer to be flooded. That is why it is best to keep them out of lawn areas that requires shallow frequent watering. If drainage is a problem, then planting citrus in raised beds or containers is a good option."
And to stave off winter frost? "Buy the large, outdoor Christmas light bulbs and string them through the tree," says Cedar. "Turn them on when a frost is expected. And be sure to thoroughly soak the soil around any containerized citrus the night before. Frost in dry soils can draw the remaining moisture away from the plant roots, further stressing the plant."