Plant memories for your children, grandchildren

December 3, 2009

by Suzann Herricks, Victoria County Master Gardener

edited by Charla Borchers Leon
Victoria County Master Gardener
Fruits and nuts grown in the area provide tasteful ingredients for recipes, as well as colorful additions for holiday decorating. Shown are the yellow - orange satsumas, lemons and smaller kumquats (on green foliage), along with a variety of pecans.
The holiday season is a time for enjoying fruits and nuts of the edible variety.

Magazines and newspapers tempt us with recipes to try and decorations to make using a variety of produce. Wouldn't it be great to be able to harvest some of the fresh ingredients from your own yard?

Citrus trees can add long-lasting beauty to the landscape and provide wonderful fragrance during bloom times.

Our state tree, the pecan, can provide shade for the summer and offer those pesky squirrels an alternate food source other than your birdseed.

South Texas residents are fortunate to live in an area where these can be grown locally.

Citrus Varieties

Which varieties should you try in the Victoria area?

Owari satsuma is a cold-hardy, easy-to-peel mandarin. It produces a dwarf tree that yields high-quality fruit.

Two additional good satsuma varieties are Armstrong Early and Kimbrough. Victoria County Extension Agent Joe Janak shared his Armstrong satsumas with Master Gardener members a couple of years ago, and they were delicious. The satsuma mandarin, citrus reticulate, has been designated a Texas Superstar and is the most cold tolerant citrus for Texas.

Lemon varieties include Meyer and Ponderosa. The Meyer lemon (citrus meyeri) is a small, productive tree that is more cold-hardy than the common lemon. Fruit is produced throughout the year. Its juice makes delicious lemonade and pies, and it makes a good container plant.

A very productive variety of kumquat that produces tart-tasting, oval fruit is the Nagami (Fortunella margarite). It is a good choice for a small tree accent or hedgerow, because its leaves stay green year round.

Meiwa produces a round fruit that is much sweeter than the Nagami.

Growing Tips

Citrus needs plenty of sunlight, good drainage, good soil and a patient gardener. It takes at least one to two years for them to begin producing fruit. Most citrus that you buy is container grown.

Check for overcrowding of roots in the container-grown plant and loosen them before planting. Citrus trees do not require cross-pollination, so you will not need to plant more than one variety.

They also do not require a certain amount of chilling time as other fruits and nuts may.

Freezes below 20 degrees can kill citrus. Plant them on the south or east side of the house for added cold protection or simply plant them in big containers and move them to a protected area when freezes threaten.

If you do not have good drainage, plant them in raised beds.

The rootstock on which citrus is grafted makes a difference in the cold hardiness of the plant. Those grafted on the trifoliate rootstock have maximum protection; however, the most common rootstock in Texas is the sour orange.

Unless the nursery where you purchase them has that information, it will be difficult to tell what rootstock they are on.

Texans Love Their Pecan Trees

When you think of nuts that are grown in the area, the one that comes to mind is the pecan.

In 1919, the pecan became the state tree as a result of the dying wish of Texas Governor James Hogg, who died in 1906.

At his death, he requested that a pecan tree and a walnut tree be planted at his grave in lieu of any monument and that the nuts they produced be passed out to Texans, so that the state would be filled with these trees.

His final wish re-emphasizes the importance that the pecan tree has had throughout Texas history. It is one of the few native plant species of North America that has been developed into a prolific agricultural crop.

Most pecans used in the United States in any commercial product are cultivars, which are improved varieties produced by research.

Pecan Varieties

Pecan varieties that have been improved from the native variety have Indian names such as Choctaw, Caddo, Hopi, Osage and Pawnee.

They produce a nut that is larger and softer-shelled than the native variety. The flavor of the pecan is tied to the oil content with native varieties having the highest.

Caloric content averages an amazing 3,390 calories per pound. But they are low in sodium, high in protein and unsaturated fat and have no cholesterol.

According to the Journal of Agriculture and Food Chemistry (June 2004), pecans rank highest among all nuts and are among the top category of foods to contain the highest antioxidant capacity, meaning pecans may decrease the risk of cancer, coronary heart disease, and neurological diseases such as Alzheimer's Disease.

Just a handful of nuts a day is all it takes. It's no wonder that the pecan pie is the first to disappear at holiday meals.

If you want a pecan tree for landscaping only (not planted for nuts), Doug Welsh, Texas Agri-Life Extension Service horticulture professor, recommends a seedling pecan tree. This is one where a pecan nut is planted and the seedling sprouts. The nuts may not be of high quality, but the tree structure will be far superior from those of the grafted, improved varieties.

Pecan trees lose their leaves by the first fall freeze, usually around mid-to-late November. They remain dormant until the end of March when new leaves appear.

As with most crops, pecans need an adequate water supply, protection from diseases and good soil.

Often, they produce heavily one year and then sparsely the next. Sioux and Pawnee are the best yard varieties.

Make Memories

Winter holidays bring back memories of visits to my grandmother's farm. A prolific pecan tree grew in the back yard.

There was a pear tree on either side of the farmhouse, pomegranate bushes in the front yard, a walnut and hickory nut tree outside the wooden fence and a persimmon tree on the pathway to the barn.

We ate the bounty from each tree and bush.

Perhaps you can begin planting memories for your children and grandchildren by including some fruits and nuts in your landscape.

The state tree of Texas, the pecan, is a native plant species that has been developed into a prolific agricultural crop through improved variety cultivars produced by research.  These nuts are larger and softer-shelled than those of the native tree, and rank highest in protein and unsaturated fat among all nuts and in antioxidant capacity food categories.
This kumquat tree in Master Gardener Suzann Herricks' garden is not only a good choice as a small tree accent with year-round green foliage but is also a very productive variety of tart yellow-orange fruit that is colorful for decor.
The satsuma mandarin is the most cold hardy citrus in Texas and has been designated a Texas Superstar Plant.  Preferring full sun, it flowers in the spring with its fruit ripening in early fall.
Fruit and nut varieties for the area:

Satsuma mandarins
Armstrong early

The Gardeners' Dirt is written by members of the Victoria County Master Gardener Association, an educational outreach of Texas AgriLife Extension - Victoria County. Mail your questions in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901; or, or comment on this column at