The citrus season has just begun, thankfully in time to make Christmas gifts and decorating easier and more useful. Here are some suggestions for gifts for anyone who doesn’t have a yard full of citrus trees of their own.
Oranges, tangerines or citrus samples are great gifts to give by the box and are ideal for long-distance giving. You can visit your nearest grove in person or online and order quickly. With grapefruit you might want to check with the recipient first, because some folks can’t eat the fruit due to medications they’re taking.
For local giving and creative economy, you can buy the fruit yourself and put it in a nice basket or gift bag. Fresh citrus and citrus gifts like orange marmalade are useful gifts for teachers, bus drivers and mailmen – even families.
My mother used to make grapefruit peel candy. Actually, I don’t recommend this for Christmas. It’s good, but it can’t compete with chocolate. Make it as a New Year’s gift when so many resolve to take off a few Christmas pounds. A stripe or two of candied grapefruit peel often satisfies a sugar craving. I know. It’s enough to keep me from all the other things I might eat for a bedtime treat.
There’s a long tradition of putting an orange in the toe of every stocking. Use a Clementine or tangerine for small stockings. For bigger ones use navel oranges, even red navels. I had never seen the ones with red fruit until I came to Florida, but now they are my favorites.
If you have a giant stocking, drop in a pummelo. Many people, even here in Florida, have never heard of, seen or tasted one. They’re the granddaddy of grapefruits but sweeter, less acid and less juicy. Once you pick the segments apart, you can eat them with a toothpick and no sugar is needed. More and more produce stands and some grocery stores have them. We have a tree that never fails and some of its fruit are huge. A pummelo is a gift that probably won’t be duplicated or forgotten.
Citrus is good for wildlife. Give the birds, butterflies and squirrels a Christmas gift by cutting fallen or second-grade fruit in halves. You can put these on a windowsill or prepare a board or fence by hammering in nails with their tips exposed to hold the fruit. Put this in front of a window you look out of often and you can enjoy watching the visitors.
This would also be a good gift for the homebound if you can visit often enough to replace the fruits. Even from a sick bed, a person can enjoy watching the birds and butterflies come for food. If you only have the best store-bought citrus, save the emptied halves of the peel and fill them with peanut butter, bird seed or suet.
Two other suggestions for Florida gardeners: give them a small citrus tree to plant and a copy of my book, “Citrus: How to Grow and Use Citrus Fruits, Flowers, and Foliage.” It’s full of useful tips and information.
Today’s pick is the Florida Maple or Acer saccharum, now in its autumn color, adding many a bright spot in our yards and along our roadways. The opposite leaves are the same shape as the one on the Canadian flag but they’re smaller than most northern varieties. The tree grows to 25 feet and is native from Virginia to central Florida and west to Texas. Its branches are bare for only a very short time between bright-colored leaves and blooms, and then seeds that start in January. In the wild it grows along stream banks and swamp edges as an understory tree. It thrives in partial shade to full sun and has medium drought tolerance.
Now’s the time to enjoy a bit of dormancy. The garden can get along without us some days as long as it has enough water. But remember that plants need less water during short winter days, and don’t fertilize any plant that’s only marginally hardy because we don’t want to bring on new growth that could be killed if we get frost.
You can still feed your vegetable garden. And check on container plants for wilting but don’t over-water them or rot will set in.
Monica Brandies is an experienced gardener, freelance writer and author of 11 gardening books who can be reached at [email protected] Her website is www.gardensflorida.com.