Citrus For All Seasons

Freshly picked, home-grown citrus isn’t a luxury reserved only for the picturesque gardens in the warm and sunny climate of the Mediterranean. Short on garden space? Growing citrus in containers can deliver you lemons even indoors. All it takes is some simple citrus basics, a little human ingenuity and you’re on your way to growing your very own fruits.

Citrus plants grown in containers do best in porous pots that dry out fairly quickly since the roots do not like to remain wet for long. Make sure you remove your citrus from the plastic containers they come in when purchased as the heat from the summer sun and can cause the roots to burn. 

Envious images of potted citrus can steer you toward big pots, but starting small and steady will win this race. Extra soil around trees complicates moisture control, so work your way up in pot size as trees grow. For small trees, a 30-cm diameter container is perfect for starters. Mature trees need pots double that width and at least 50 cm deep. This gives roots growing room and prevents tippy, top-heavy trees. 

Be sure that whatever container you use has plenty of drainage holes so that water drains away freely. It is prudent to raise any container off the ground on “pot feet” to facilitate drainage and ensure good air circulation.

The soil should be sterilized, gritty, and free-draining. Some of the soil mixes especially formulated for containers work well; if they seem to hold too much moisture, add sand or gravel to the mix. Water carefully, as overwatering is a common mistake, you may feel you’re doing the plant a favour, but this smothering of love may lead to the drowning death of the plant.

Most citrus plants like to partially dry out (the top Five centimeters of soil should feel dry) before receiving more water. These plants are quite greedy and require regular feeding to do well. If you are repotting a plant, incorporate some timed-release fertilizer into the soil at planting time. Also, select a liquid fertilizer that is high in nitrogen and apply this approximately every other week.

Standard citrus trees grow too big for indoors, but dwarf varieties are grafted onto special roots that limit their size and speed up fruiting. Growing them in containers keeps them smaller, too. If you’re new to growing citrus, start with dwarf types known to flourish and fruit well indoors. Easy-to-grow favourites, such as Meyer lemon, Key limes, Kumquats and Calamondin oranges, fit the bill.

When bringing pots in from outside before a frost, giving them a nice warm, slightly soapy wash will help to remove dust and any hidden pests, like a good wash should. They will also benefit from daily spritzing with plain water throughout the winter months to help raise the humidity level. When moving citrus from one area to another, do it gradually. Temperature fluctuations will stress the plant and can cause bud and/or fruit drop.

Grow Your Winter Herb Garden Indoors

 

I’ts officially winter out there and the coming of winter is a not always the most exciting or activity packed time in most gardens. During this season of short, dark days, indoor herb gardens offer welcome greenery and fragrance. You can easily bring herbs indoors for the nippy months even if you have little experience with plants or very little space to work with.

Some herbs naturally lend themselves better to indoor growing conditions. Parsley, basil, sage and thyme are known to hold up stronger inside. Extra perk is they are all perfect herb solutions for winter stews, casseroles and roasts. Isn’t it great when those things work out?

To bring your herb garden indoors for winter you need to find a table or shelf with sufficient fluorescent light (you must remember that to a plant, light is food) this will guarantee that your herb plants obtain all the necessary light and will also prevent them from die-back that occurs from being against a cold window. In warmer months, you can move your herbs to a sunny window or a shady balcony that receives at least six hours of sunlight per day so that they thrive.

The easiest way to start your indoor winter herb garden is to buy established plants especially if you’re only a novice gardener. There are several types of containers you can use for the plants, but terracotta planters are very popular and can me the modest option if you’re only starting out. Make sure the pots and container you select have drainage holes in the bottom Whatever container you select it should be deep enough to promote proper root development. You can plant multiple herbs in one container or select individual pots for each herb plant. You should also make sure that your herbs are not to overcrowded as this, too can lead to fungal problems that may kill your plants.

When repotting It’s a good idea to go with a store-bought potting mix. Be sure the mix is lightweight and will drain well. Pour a 5cm layer of potting soil into the bottom of your container and place your plant gently in its location. Finish filling it with potting mix, pressing it firmly around the plants. Leave about an 3cm of space at the top to make room for watering.

Remember that too much love can kill your herbs by watering too often: Excess water is harmful to the roots and causes rotting. Fertilize your herbs once a month with an organic fertilizer. Once you start to see new growth, you can begin to use your herbs for cooking.

Here are a few herbs that are particularly well suited for indoor growth:

  1. Parsley: Parsley needs at least eight hours of direct sunlight each day. If you can’t provide enough natural sunlight, grow the plants under fluorescent lights.

  2. Basil: Requires bright light and warm temperatures.

  3. Sage: Appreciates a manicure (prune back spindly branches) and drier conditions.

  4. Chives: Member of the onion family is best used fresh. Chives like bright light and cool temperatures.

  5. Dill: Choose a dwarf variety. You’ll need to make successive plantings to ensure a continuous crop since dill doesn’t grow back after harvesting.

  6. Lemon balm: This is easy to grow from seed and its fresh fragrance can be enjoyed in salads and drinks.

  7. Oregano: The soil must need to be loose and well-drained to prevent over-watering. The plant requires partial to full sun light either in a well-lit window seal or under a florescent light for at least 6 – 8+ hours per day

  8. Rosemary: Soil needs to be well drained, but don’t let it dry out completely.

  9. Thyme: Many varieties of thyme are available. Very well-drained, or gravelly soil is especially important for woolly or creeping thymes. Keep the plants moist by misting until you see new growth.

 

How To Get the Kids Gardening

 

It won’t be news to you that today’s kids don’t spend enough time outdoors. Despite our frequent encouragement (or should we say please) the lure of phones, iPads and the TV, prove too strong a match for the prospect of fresh air and sunshine.

Throw in our own busy lifestyles and it’s a tough ask to meet the activity levels recommended for health and wellbeing. If you think you’ve used every trick in the book to get your kids off the couch, think again.

Gardening might just be your new best friend.

It turns out a bit of green thumb activity is the perfect fit for the creativity and boundless energy of children. If you don’t know the difference between a spade and a shovel (hint: they’re actually the same thing), these tips will come in handy when convincing your kids to get into the garden.

Motor skills and intellectual stimulation

Most children love being outdoors, creating things, digging in the soil, getting dirty and watching plants grow. By channelling that passion into gardening, your kids will learn new skills and develop self-confidence while they get to play and have fun. And there’s nothing more satisfying than tending to plants and growing food you then get to eat.

There’s no room for boredom

There are so many different skills needed in the garden, from weeding to pruning, planting seedlings to harvesting vegetables. That makes it perfect for restless, energetic little ones. Set up a circuit of different stations in your backyard so your whole army of budding gardeners remain engaged for hours at a time.

Muddy hands and face, oh yeah!

Do your kids love mess as much as you despise it? The garden is one place where it’s recommended to get your hands dirty, which your little ones are sure to love.

Gardening lets them get as filthy as they like, meaning they’ll get all that wild banshee energy out of their system – and at a safe distance from your beautiful linen sofa.

Keep it simple

As we all know, kids are inquisitive (read: easily distracted), so start them off with plants that are child-friendly: those that grow quickly, are hardy or have interesting textures or colours. Give your kids their own garden space and start small. Think a few pots, a large container or a 1 metre x 1 metre patch in the garden. Soon they’ll feel like this activity is really their own.

Use colours and shapes to stimulate them

Kids like large, brightly coloured flowers and vegetables. Sunflowers, corn, pumpkins, tomatoes and strawberries are all great choices for visually interesting plants.

Strawberries in particular are an easy (and rewarding) plant for your kids to grow, thanks to the added fun of picking and eating your very own berries.

Fruit trees are another great choice. Go for a lemon or orange tree – hello freshly squeezed OJ and lemonade – and make sure you buy an established tree, otherwise you (and your kids) will be waiting years for any fruit!

Stimulation overload – mission impossible in the garden

Create a sensory garden by adding some plants that reward touching, tasting and smelling, alongside those with bright colours and interesting textures. Find some varieties that make noise when the wind blows through them. By stimulating every one of their senses, the garden will quickly capture their attention.

Start a project

Make a mini greenhouse, set up a worm farm and plant flowers that attract butterflies, ladybirds and other interesting insects or birds. Show your kids where flowers, fruit and vegetables come from by planting seeds together. You can let them decide what they would like to grow, and they can see the growing process from start to finish. A great little experiment is to grow an avocado from seed. As well as enjoying a bounty of free avocados, you and your kids also get to see the huge seed turn into a plant. Another great way to bring the kids outside is by building a bean or vine teepee. By planting a vertical garden, this will create a fun hideout for the kids and you’ll be having to tell them to come inside for once.

This one is for the parents

Garden organically wherever possible and make sure you only give children garden tools that are safe and that they’re ready to handle. There are heaps of garden tools available now that are made just for kids.