Many people in Napa Valley have a Meyer lemon or Key lime tree. While these are good fruits with many culinary uses, there is a much wider world of citrus to consider for your garden.
If you are a fan of limes, why not try a kaffir lime or finger lime? While the fruit of the kaffir lime (Citrus hystrix) is not much different from other limes, the leaves are special. Beautifully segmented and extremely fragrant, they are prized by chefs around the world.
The finger lime (Citrus australasica) is an appealing tree with small, delicate leaves. The fruit is oblong and contains many small, pearl-like droplets. Often called “citrus caviar,” finger limes are a great way to add lime flavor in a unique and eye-catching way.
If you are a cook, consider a Yuzu tree (Citrus ichangensis x C. reticulata). Yuzu juice has been used in Japanese and Korean cooking for centuries but has recently also become popular in the U.S. The zest is incredibly flavorful and can invigorate a favorite recipe. The fruit produces little juice but save what you can. Bottled Yuzu juice can cost $4 to $6 an ounce.
Perhaps the most exotic-looking citrus is Buddha’s hand (Citrus medica var. sarcodactyli). With its finger-like pointed protrusions, the yellow fruit of this tree resembles a strange, twisted hand. It produces little juice, but the zest has a lemon-like flavor. The tree is most often grown for the novelty it adds to a landscape or garden.
To keep your favorite citrus tree company, try finding a new variety to plant. Some citrus have variegated leaves; some, like pink limes, have flesh with an unusual color. A tree with variegated leaves is a beautiful addition to any garden.
If you do decide to plant a new citrus tree, wait until spring. Citrus trees are intolerant of soggy soil and frost. Planting in early spring will give your tree some time to become established before next winter.
If you garden in containers, choose a dwarf or ultra-dwarf citrus. Dwarf citrus reach eight feet at most; ultra-dwarf types top out at about six feet. Choosing a dwarf tree will ensure that it does not easily outgrow the container. A dwarf citrus in a half wine barrel will be comfortable and happy for many years.
Planting in the ground gives you more flexibility. Visualize the full-grown tree to be sure it will have the space it needs. It can be frustrating to move an established tree when you realize you planted it too close to a structure.
Even the smallest gardens have microclimates, or variations in heat, air flow and sunlight. These variations can affect your plants, in good ways and bad. Being aware of your garden’s microclimates can help you choose the optimal planting site.
During winter, structures and hard surfaces will retain heat, raising the air temperature around a tree. Conversely, planting in a low spot will allow cooler air to pool around the tree, making it more susceptible to frost. For more information on citrus care, consult the Napa County Master Gardener website (below).
Workshop: UC Master Gardeners of Napa County will host a workshop on “Creating Holiday Wreaths” on Sunday, Dec. 11, from noon to 3 p.m., at the Yountville Community Center, 6516 Washington St., Yountville. Learn what plants in your garden could make good wreaths for decorating. Learn how to choose and prepare plant materials so they will look good for a long time. Learn tips and tricks for designing and making easy wreaths for the holidays or any time. Participants will create their own wreath to take home, made from locally collected plant materials. Cost is $20 for Yountville residents; $23 for non-residents. Register with Yountville Parks & Recreation or call 707-944-8712.