Different varieties of citrus trees share certain characteristics that make the citrus harvesting process similar for a wide range of fruit. Since citrus does not continue to ripen once picked, the time to harvest fruit is when it’s ripe and ready to eat, juice, or use. This can be more difficult to judge for fruits like Persian limes that are green when ready to pick, or Meyer lemons, which are yellow long before harvest. Ultimately, a taste sample is the best way to know when your citrus crop is ready. But this article will give you more insight into certain aspects of citrus harvesting to help you plan and pick at the perfect times.
How Grafting Affects The Citrus Harvest
Grafting is the process of starting a new tree from a citrus tree branch, and fusing the living branch to a growing rootstock. This method speeds up the time it takes for a new tree to grow and produce fruit. Therefore, grafted trees can be picked far sooner than seedlings, because the trees have a head start on the growing process.
The Best Time Of Year To Harvest Citrus
Most citrus varieties are ready to pick in winter. In many citrus growing regions, oranges and grapefruit are picked from December through May. Limes and lemons ripen periodically, and can be harvested all year. As mentioned earlier, the best indicator of ripeness is always taste.
Harvesting Citrus And The Importance Of Color
A good rule of thumb is that most citrus is not ripe until it achieves its final color, and sometimes not even then. Limes will actually begin to turn yellow when overripe, and lemons turn yellow before they are fully ready. Grapefruit and oranges are more easily tracked for ripeness by their color, but flavor is always the final judge.
Harvesting Citrus And The Weather
Brief cold snaps that do not fall to freezing temperatures can actually drive the production of additional sugars, and create sweeter fruit. However, freezing weather can cause the internal liquid in citrus fruit to freeze, and damage the quality of both texture and taste. Frozen citrus fruit will not repair or recover, and will decay. If citrus fruit is ripe, and a freeze is impending, swift picking is the only response.
Harvesting Citrus Late
Leaving ripe fruit on a citrus tree can delay future tree growth and affect the next season’s bloom. Citrus will eventually fall on its own, and a grove littered with fallen citrus invites pests, fungus, and other calamity such as root rot. Fruit left on a citrus tree for too long will begin to dry out and decay, so a timely harvest is always preferable.
Harvesting citrus fruit is a rewarding job. Be mindful of color and maturity, but let flavor and taste inform your final picking decisions. Watch the weather, pick any ripe fruit before a potential freeze, and always remove fruit before it becomes overripe and falls of its own accord. Follow these citrus fruit harvesting guidelines and you will enjoy all of the benefits that perfectly picked citrus has to offer.