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Growing orange trees
I 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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