Harvesting Citrus


harvesting an orange
     We returned from our Thanksgiving vacation to find our grapefruit and orange trees ready to pick.  At least it looked like it.  We have been watching the fruit on them becoming more orange in the last month.  I know gardeners in California have bee harvesting their citrus for a month now.  Here the ripening schedule for grapefruit is mid-October through June, and for oranges it is mid-November through April.

Arizona Sweet Orange tree
     I have never grown citrus because I have never lived in a citrus growing climate until now.  The oranges on our tree are called Arizona Sweet.  I don't know the variety of grapefruit other than it is pink.  Many of the orange trees used as ornamental plantings on highway and curb medians are the Seville Sour Orange, which grows well here but are so sour they are not edible.  Citrus trees are evergreen and retain the majority of their leaves year round.  They can produce fruit for over 50 years.  And I discovered my orange and grapefruit trees have thorns!  Evidently younger trees produce more thorns.  I have read that there are thornless varieties, but not in my yard.

     Citrus should be fertilized three times a year.  But I have read that citrus can go for years without fertilizer and do well if correctly watered (17 gallons per week in mid-summer and 3 gallons per week in mid-winter).  I fertilized three times this year in hopes that the trees would grow better and produce more.  Nitrogen is low in the soil here and is the main fertilizer element needed.  The grapefruit tree has done the best with 27 grapefruits on it.  The orange tree has 10 oranges, and the lime tree did not produce any fruit this year because it was damaged by frost. 

pink grapefruit tree
      The sun can burn the tree leaves and bark.  Temperatures above 110F (43 C) may damage bark on young and old trees, leading to fungal infections.  It is recommended any exposed bark be painted with white latex paint.  Most of the citrus trees in neighboring yards have their exposed bark painted, and my husband painted our citrus tree trunks.  Salt concentration in the soil can be a problem here and can be reduced by heavy irrigation.  Citrus trees have no significant pests in Arizona.

bark painted with white latex paint

     We gave our oranges and grapefruit a taste test.  They were edible but not as sweet as we would like them.  So we will give the fruit another week or two on the tree before harvesting more.

first harvest - two grapefruit and an orange

Meadowlark Botanical Gardens


Lake Caroline at Meadowlark
     I am spending this Thanksgiving week with family in northern Virginia.  In the town where we used to live there is an outstanding botanical garden called Meadowlark which we visited.  Meadowlark Botanical Gardens is a 95-acre complex with numerous plant, shrub and tree collections.  Besides lovely lakes and gazebos, it has walking paths, sculptures, benches for sitting to contemplate the surrounding beauty, bird houses, and bee houses.

a walking path

one of many sculptures

a bee house

     You enter through an architecturally pleasing visitor center which contains a library, gift shop, meeting rooms, and exhibits on the various garden collections. The day we visited there was a collection of different bird nests.

visitor center

      Besides annual and perennial flowers, other collections include native wild flowers, irises, daylilies, lenten roses, ferns, hostas, chrysanthemums, salvias, herbs, native wetlands, aquatic plants and a bog garden.  Shrub collections include azaleas, lilacs, hydrangeas, nandinas, hollies, peonies.  Flowering cherries and plum trees, crabapples, dogwoods, Virginia native trees, and conifers encompass some of the tree collections.

Tenderheart collection

daylily collection
      Some specialized areas include a children's tea garden, a picnic area, a Korean bell garden.

Korean bell pavilion

     Meadowlark presents workshops, on gardening and horticulture, conducts tours, field trips, moonlight walks, bird watching walks, and puts on concerts.  There is an additional building on the grounds called the Atrium that has three glass sides and that houses an indoor tropical garden that is a popular venue for weddings, corporate banquets, flower shows, nature photography exhibits, and gardening/horticultural workshops.

      A thoroughly enjoyable visit to a sanctuary of beauty and nature.



dry, dead tumbleweed
      Tumbleweed or Russian thistle is an annual plant known throughout the American west.  Tumbleweeds are plants of the Salsola genus, part of the Chenopodiaceae family, that are now included in the family Amaranthaceae.  Although native to Russia, the plants grow in many parts of the world.

     Tumbleweeds were first reported in the United States in the 1870's in South Dakota, apparently imported in shipments of flax seed.  Tumbleweeds like the dry, sandy soil of deserts.  They need only a little bit of moisture and warmth to grow.

green, growing Russian thistle
      Inconspicuous flowers bloom from July through October in the junction between the leaf base and the stem and are pinkish-red and white.

Russian thistle flowers

     Leaf tips are sharply pointed to spine-tipped.  Mature plants generally grow to about three feet and are large and bushy.  The stems curve upward giving the plant an overall round shape.

Russian thistle leaf tips

     When mature in autumn, the mostly dried up Russian thistle plant breaks away from its roots, and is now called a tumbleweed.  Because it is rounded, it is rolled or tumbled by the wind.  There is a purpose to this tumbling.  A tumbleweed can produce up to 250,000 seeds, and the tumbling serves to spread those seeds.

     There are hundreds of tumbleweeds strewn across the desert floor out here where I live.  Because of their rolling motion, tumbleweeds can damage the protective soil crust, and this can lead to subsequent wind damage and topsoil loss.  Tumbleweeds can also be a fire hazard if many of the dead plants collect along fence lines, or if ignited plants blow across fire lines.

tumbleweeds along a fence line

     In moderate amounts, the immature plants are nutritious for livestock.  Phytoremediation, or the use of plants to clean up pollution, could be a possible use for tumbleweeds.  They are one of the best accumulators of uranium from the soil, and could be used to clean up soil contaminated with it.

      Tumbleweeds can also be a source of entertainment.  The song Tumbling Tumbleweeds was made popular by the Sons of Pioneers in the 1940's.

Water in the Desert


Roosevelt canal
It's odd to think of a drought in the desert, but we've had one this year.  We normally get about 8 inches of rain, but have only gotten about 2 inches so far this year.

But that's not to say there is no water in the desert.  The Phoenix area has 8 major canals running through it, and several minor ones.  We have a minor canal near our home called the Roosevelt canal.  Much of Phoenix was founded on a network of canals inherited from the Native Americans (Hohokems) who farmed this land from about 500 CE to 1450 CE.

 The Native American system utilized at least 1,000 miles (1600 km) of canals and irrigated over 100,000 acres of land.  Many of the canals running through Phoenix are based on the Hohokem system, and most of the early development of the Phoenix area was agricultural.

Most of the water comes from the rain and snow in the mountains to the east and north.  The runoff is dammed, collected in reservoirs, and released into the canals, so the three rivers that run through the Phoenix area (Aqua Fria, Salt and Gila) are dry except following downpours.

dry Gila riverbed
 In addition to the main canals, Phoenix has 924 miles of laterals, which are ditches that take water from the large canals to various delivery points in irrigated areas.  The major crops grown here are alfalfa hay, cotton, citrus, melons, spinach, broccoli and cauliflower.

lateral ditch

cotton field nearing harvest time
These canals also irrigate golf courses (over 150 in the Phoenix area), and, of course, provide drinking water.

The Phoenix area also has a superabundance of swimming pools (I would guess at least one million), and most of them are part of private homes.  There are pools in many of the backyards of our neighborhood.

Most people think we have no mosquitoes here with our dry desert climate, but because of all this water lying around in canals, laterals and pools, and because many older homes use flood irrigation to water their land, Arizona had the most cases (167) of West Nile virus of any state in the nation last year according to the Centers for Disease Control.