Grapefruits kick start many a winter breakfast with a tangy citrus ‘wake-up’ call. If you grow them in your garden they are likely to be far sweeter and juicier than any shop bought fruit you may have had. Grapefruits are generally eaten fresh, cut in half and segments being scooped out with a spoon they are also squeezed for their juice and they can be made into a delicious marmalade. Trees get fairly large – around twice standard ceiling height and maybe more. In the right location and with the right preparation they can be grown in all parts of the country – either as a medium sized tree planted in the garden or a container grown specimen. Grapefruits are highly productive, they are frost-sensitive and need warm winter temperatures if they are to be planted in the ground. To get round this in cooler areas they can be grown in containers and protected during winter. Grapefruits are rich in vitamin C. Plants are self fertile – meaning they can be pollinated without the need for another plant.
Companions Dill, yarrow, thyme, marigold, borage, cosmos, calendula.
Quantity 1 tree per household
Golden Special Dwarf a compact tree great for containers. Only grows to between chest and head height. Produces large, well-flavoured fruit that are great for juice as well as marmalade.
Star Ruby a popular variety with medium-sized sweet, juicy fruit. Skins are yellow and flesh is rich red. The red colouration contains lycopene a powerful anti-oxidant. Likes a particularly warm spot.
Wheeny a medium sized tree producing large, yellow-skinned juicy fruit from late spring to autumn. Main crops of fruit are formed every two years.
Plant container grown plants in winter and spring – avoid planting during frosty weather.
Plant grapefruits in full sun with room to grow – they form wide, spreading trees. Grapefuits will tolerate some partial afternoon shade. Protect them from strong winds where possible. Trees planted in lawns or grassy orchards will grow better if grass is removed from a circle around their stem – take a stride away from the stem and make this the radius of your circle, remove grass and add a finger-deep layer of mulch.
Grapefruits can be grown in containers such as half barrels and deep pots. This will reduce their ultimate size and is a good way of growing them in a small garden. Planting grapefruits in containers means you can put them in your sunniest spot – say on a deck or terrace. In colder areas pots can be moved to a protected location in winter or they can be insulated with frost cloth.
Grapefruits grow well on fertile soils with good drainage. If your soil is very sandy or slightly sticky and you want to improve it, you can add well-rotted compost at the time of planting and continue to mulch with rich compost as your plants get established. You can always grow grapefruits in a large raised bed filled with sterilized topsoil and well-rotted organic compost if you have a really sticky clay soil.
Plant grapefruit trees at least six full strides apart. Soak plants in water before planting them.
Prepare the planting area. Soil should be weed-free and well dug through to at least a full spade’s depth. Add well-rotted compost if necessary and mix with surrounding garden soil. Carefully remove grapefruit plant from container by turning upside down and holding the plant across the base of its stem with a spread hand. Tap the bottom of the container until the plant and its root ball come loose. Handle plants by the root ball to prevent damage to stems and shallow roots. Place grapefruit plant in a hole that is just larger than the container it came in. Back fill around root ball making sure there are no air pockets. Water well and mulch with a finger-thick layer of compost, shredded bark or untreated sawdust.
If planting in a container ensure it is large enough. Half barrels or large terracotta pots look good with oranges and they are the right size too. Use a rich, fertile compost with a layer of drainage material – scoria or broken pot fragments – at the bottom. Add slow release granules or sheep pellets before planting. When grapefruits are grown in containers it pays to put them where you’ll easily monitor them to ensure soil is moist – particularly in dry weather.
Keep plants weed free and maintain constant moisture levels – this is especially important as fruit swell and start to ripen.
Watering: Container grown plants will need regular watering once fruit set and start to swell if they are to ripen to their best flavour. This may mean watering daily during warm weather.
Feed: To give plants a boost, feed them with a sprinkling of blood and bone meal around outer edge of foliage in spring. Ensure you keep a nutrient rich layer of mulch around the base or your trees at all times – this should give the shallow roots the nutrients as well as protection that they need.
Container grown plants may need more regular feeding with a constant layer of mulch maintained at all times and a sprinkling of blood and bone meal every spring and autumn.
Flowering: Flowers are pollinated by bees and other insects.
Grapefruits can usually be harvested between mid winter and spring. Fruit are ripe when they turn fully yellow and soften slightly. Fruit do not ripen off the tree so wait till they dislodge with a gentle twist. You can snip them with secateurs if you are sure they are ready. Ripe grapefruits can stay on the tree for several weeks before picking. Fallen grapefruits are likely to be bruised and they’ll not last long so use them straightaway.
Storage: Once picked, grapefruits should last a few weeks at room temperature. Chilling them in the fridge reduces their sweetness.
Not much pruning required:
Young trees are pruned to create a suitable, open shape
Cut out any suckers from the base of plants.
Remove stems to improve shape and open up center of large growing plants.
Remove dead, diseased and spindly stems.
Aphids and scale insects can be a problem on tender growing tips. These sap sucking insects deposit a sticky sugar solution on leaves and this often causes spores of a sooty black fungus to coat leaves. Use Neem oil spray in spring to control an early outbreak. It can be hard to deal with pests on large trees, better to plant companion flowers to lure beneficial predators such as hoverflies and lacewings into your garden.
Lemon tree borer can be a problem.