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Don’t let Alaska’s climate stop you from growing citrus from seeds

  • Author: Jeff Lowenfels
    | Alaska gardening
  • Updated: November 29, 2018
  • Published November 23, 2018

The other day I noticed she who has to endure the writing of these weekly columns, Jude, was germinating a handful of mandarin orange seeds. It is that season, after all, when cases of mandarins appear in stores, just in time for the flu season. It is almost as if they bring the flu, but that is a conspiracy column I won’t write!

Anyhow, seeing the folded paper towel with seeds reminded me of all the little seedlings my father grew and that graced the room where we always ate breakfast.

My brothers and I learned a lot about growing plants at the breakfast table. We had numerous miniature forests, though I suppose I should say groves as they were almost always citrus and only grapefruits to begin with. After they were germinated, they were potted up and put on the windowsills and eventually moved to the greenhouse.

Dad was into bonsai and to him grapefruits were perfect subjects for wiring up and trimming and such. And, he liked grapefruits an awful lot and could coax more mature plants into flowering. We each ate half a grapefruit every day they were in season (along with his all-time fave, rhubarb, which we had every day, period) and that added up to a bunch of seedlings.

This was back in the days way before mandarin oranges, of course, but the germination system was the same: a plate with a paper towel sitting on it, folded in half and enclosing grapefruit seeds.

Pretty soon we expanded into tangerine and tangelo seeds and even lemon and lime (hey, I’d try anything to disguise the rhubarb), and even apple seeds and quince or a tamarind or whatever strange fruits Dad got his hands on. He was in the food business, and we ate plenty of strange stuff.

Anyhow, there is another way to get these seeds going and it really speeds things up. This is one of those breakfast tips you will not find on the back of a breakfast cereal box!

After citrus seed is collected, wipe off any pulp and dry them. Splurge and use a cloth towel so each gets nice and dry. This makes it easier to hold and examine. See the thin, flat extension on one end of each seed? Think of a Hersey’s Kiss and gently peel off what turns out to be the seed’s outer shell.

You probably never really consciously knew this shell encased the citrus embryo. If you are not sure what I am referring to, squash an extra seed or three; they are readily available. You will notice the shell along with the beginning of the cotyledons and root tip.

What you have just removed is the waterproofing that must be penetrated before the seedling will germinate. Removing the waterproofing speeds up the process

Back to Jude’s mandarin oranges. She is going to get seedlings from those seeds, for sure. And if we lived someplace warmer, knowing Jude, we would probably have a grapefruit tree in our backyard one day.

That’s right. A grapefruit. Well, maybe not a grapefruit, but I doubt it would be a mandarin orange. Chances are those Cuties we all love are probably hybrids and any offspring plants will be stock from the hybrid lineage. Somewhere back there is the grapefruit

Of course, we don’t live in a warm climate. That shouldn’t stop you from you from growing citrus plants, however. The choices seem to be ever-expanding, albeit seasonal. Once they’re germinated, just pot them up and treat them like houseplants -- or bonsai if you are like my Dad.

Alaska Garden Calendar

Out at the Alaska Botanical Garden: First-ever Holiday Lights in the Garden! Every Thursday, Friday and Saturday evening Nov. 29 - Dec. 29, plus a New Year’s Eve Bash! $5 members, $7 others.

Lights, the indoor kind: Are you getting the benefit of the lights in your growing system? Look up duration for your type of bulb and replace if necessary. What good is having lights that are no longer efficient?

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