October 05, 2006

Paradise in a bathtub

Grapefruit treeCitrus paradiso, to be precise. And here you thought I was talking about some home spa experience, right? Well, maybe for my grapefruit plant(s). For once, I'm coddling my houseplants as I haul them in from the great outdoors.

Now, coddling in my mind is basic care in the mind of any responsible houseplant owner, but I'm not very good at boring maintenance things. (Hence my enthusiasm for perennials, which more or less take care of themselves while I sit and admire them.) I'm vowing to reform though.

Unlike last year, when I just brought my plants in from the great outdoors and plunked them in front of a window - and ended up with a nasty infestation of spider mites - this year I'm giving them the "treatment". So the grapefruit was gently placed in the bathtub and sprayed all over with soapy water. I couldn't find my insecticidal soap (stop laughing, I never claimed to be organized), but a little clear dish soap in a litre of water should do the trick. Then I laid it carefully on its side and sprayed the undersides of the leaves. I feel so responsible.

I decided not to repot it, as it isn't severely rootbound and I don't want to stimulate new growth at this time of year. I'll do that in late winter when new growth is starting and all things gardening are irresistible. I did pick off some of the lower leaves, along with the battered ones, to start giving it a more tree-like appearance, but I didn't get too ambitious. Not too much stress for the poor thing all at once.

These little grapefruits were started from seeds a few years ago and grew very slowly for a couple of years. This year I potted it in a mix of plain vanilla potting soil and sheep manure, and got serious about keeping it fertilized (or what passes for serious in my world) and it responded by doubling in size. I might actually be getting the hang of this.

Citruses in general are happiest in fairly arid climates, so overwatering is a good way to be nasty to them. They don't seem to mind getting pretty dry now and again, although I somehow think that keeping them that way for too long would not be appreciated.

If anyone has any experiences with citrus plants in particular or good advice to pass on, please feel free!

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