There's more to citrus than lemons and limes. With multiple varieties of color and flavor combinations, there are many options for growing citrus. Whether you're looking for tart fruit, sweet fruit, or something in between, discover the differences and find the perfect citrus type for your garden.
It has the appearance of a lemon, but this member of the citrus family yields little or no juice and lots of pulpy flesh. The fruit of citron is large and thick-skinned, and it usually grows on a scraggly tree that sometimes serves as a novelty. 'Etrog' is the most common variety, but the fingered citron 'Buddha's Hand' has an unusual fruit shape and is often used in floral displays.
The citron's thick rind can be candied for use in flavorings and marmalades. It's most common in fruitcakes and Christmas puddings. 'Buddha's Hand' citron is ornamental, but in a pinch its "fingers" may be grated and used for flavoring. The tentacles of this unusual fruit are mostly pith (the zest is almost impossible to separate), so other varieties are better for preserves.
Researchers believe the grapefruit is a hybrid of pummelo and sweet orange that originated in the West Indies. To bear quality fruits, grapefruit trees require a long, hot growing season. Because the grapefruit is able to hang on the tree for long periods without deteriorating, you can attain acceptable flavor in cooler regions.
Grapefruit comes in white or pigmented flesh. 'Duncan' and 'Marsh Seedless' have white flesh, while 'Flame', 'Ruby', 'Redblush', 'Rio Red', and 'Star Ruby' develop pink to red flesh and a reddish rind in hot climates. Both types of grapefruit taste the same, however there is a difference in flavor when it comes to seeded and seedless grapefruit. Seedy fruits are the most commercially recognized. Cooked and sweetened with sugar, grapefruit makes excellent marmalade and candied peel, as well as juice. Look for heavier grapefruit with thin skin for the most juice.
Kumquats grow on attractive trees that are densely covered with small leaves and, unlike other citrus, bloom in the heat of the summer. While varieties grown from seed can get quite large, most varieties you'll find are grafted onto a rootstock that keeps them compact, so they're great for containers.
Kumquats are hardy to about 18 degrees F, making them ideal for hybridization with other citrus, such as limes (limequats) and oranges (orangequats), both of which are ornamental. Kumquats can be used in many delicious dishes, and they are also decorative and often used in holiday centerpieces.
Lemons are one of the most recognizable and widely used citrus fruits. A lemon tree can be just as useful to a cook as an herb garden due to the fruit's ability to be used in a large number of diverse dishes, from stew to pizza and even chocolate cake. Standard trees can reach more than 20 feet high; they are among the few citrus trees that should be regularly pruned to make sure the fruit is within reach.
A lemon tree can be a boon in the kitchen. If you don't have the time to make lemonade or lemon marmalade, squeeze the juice and freeze it in a freezer tray. Boil the lemon cubes with water, brown sugar, and a clove, and then add rum to make hot toddies. The cubes also work great for chicken, game, or pork marinades. The possibilities are endless.
Another quintessential citrus is the lime. The thorny lime tree is suited best to bearing its deep green fruit in humid climates. Because the lime's flavor is so appealing, gardeners often push this frost-sensitive tree to its limits, growing it in places where it requires winter protection. Limes can be divided into two groups: small-fruited (Mexican, West Indian, or Key limes) and large-fruited (Persian or Tahiti limes). Harvest both types when they reach acceptable size. Fully mature fruit turns from green to yellow.
The most recognizable variety is the Mexican lime, often referred to as the bartender's lime. Because this lime is the most aromatic, it is preferred for marmalades, garnishes, and Key lime pies. Authentic Key lime pie is the subject of much argument because it can be made in many ways, including topped with a meringue, as a chiffon pie, with a shortbread crust, or with a crumb crust.
With more new varieties now available than any other citrus, mandarin orange is one of the most diverse types of citrus. Many gardeners know mandarin oranges by another name: tangerines. This name originated with the brightly colored 'Dancy' variety from Tangiers.
Due to the diversity of this citrus group, the fruits vary dramatically. Mandarins range from small to large, ripen early to late, and vary in color from pale yellow to deep orange. They come in a range of flavors from sprightly to sweet to almost spicy. Mandarins are usually eaten out of hand, but they can also provide delicious juice. For all varieties, the heavier the fruit, the more full of juice it will be. Heaviness also indicates the prime time to pick the fruit.
Grouped as sweet or sour, oranges come in many varieties. The sweet orange is divided into three types -- blood, common, and navel -- while the sour orange is not widely grown for its fruit due to its bitter taste. Sweet orange varieties have many different characteristics. In the right conditions, a blood orange develops pink or red flesh and has a distinct berrylike flavor.
The most widely grown common orange is 'Valencia', which grows well in both the Southwest and Southeast. Common oranges are typically used for fresh juice. The trees are about the same size as navel orange trees. The navel orange gets its name from the small hole in the bottom of the fruit. The "navel" is from an undeveloped secondary fruit opposite the stem end. 'Washington' is the most widely planted navel orange. The ease with which it peels and separates into segments and its crisp flesh make it the most popular dessert orange. Standard navel orange trees reach 16 to 20 feet high; sports are smaller and slower growing.
Also known as a shaddock, a pummelo can grow two to three times larger than a grapefruit. Pummelos grow in clusters on a large tree with big, woody flowers. Hot summers are required for best fruit production and full flavor.
Even though pummelos look like grapefruit, they are sweeter and less acidic, and the pummelo has a thicker peel and a firmer, less juicy flesh. The irregular sections are best eaten peeled and segmented. Heavier fruit indicates more juice; look for pummelos with solid yellow skin.