South-side resident Paul Fimbres has been growing orange and tangerine trees for a few years but can’t seem to get a reliable crop every year.
Tucson newcomer Julie Reynolds harvested tangelos from her recently planted tree before the first frost, but now she can’t tell if it has been damaged by the cold.
Both gardeners admit that growing citrus trees isn’t the easiest gardening to do in Tucson.
The master gardeners of Pima County Cooperative Extension hope to simplify it a bit with a two-session class starting Saturday on growing citrus and deciduous fruit trees.
The comprehensive class will cover choosing plants, grafting, feeding, irrigation, pest control and solving problems such as defoliation and loss of fruit, says instructor Deborah North. The second session includes hands-on pruning.
North, a master gardener specially trained to educate others, has 40 fruit trees in her Foothills backyard and helped plant the citrus trees at the extension’s demonstration garden at 4210 N. Campbell Ave.
“I see people have a lot of trouble with citrus,” North says. “The limiting factor in Tucson is the areas that are too cold for citrus.”
She’ll explain in class that the cold-hardiest citrus to grow is grapefruit. The most cold-sensitive citrus are limes.
Deciduous fruit trees such as apple, pomegranate, fig and peach also face challenges. They require a certain number of chill hours during the right season in order to blossom and bear fruit. This requires planting the tree in just the right spot.
North says there are varieties of fruit trees that can thrive in Tucson’s growing conditions.
“Anna apples and Ein Shemer apples of Israel grow in soil that’s not good and they’re used to very hot, dry regions,” she points out as an example. Pomegranates and figs originate from dry Uzbekistan, she adds.
Fimbres says the effort to grow citrus is worth it. He juices, dehydrates and candies his oranges, as well as makes orange tea.
One reason Reynolds and her husband moved to Tucson from Massachusetts in October was to grow fruit. “Having fresh fruit in our own yard was part of the moving dream for us,” she says.
North hopes her class will spread that joy to other gardeners.
“I want them to know that after putting in time, money, energy and water, there’s going to be some reward for them,” she says.
“There’s nothing better than going out to your own fruit tree and collecting your breakfast for that morning.”