Growing Grapefruit Trees
Pictures of grapefruit trees. Information about the planting and care of different grapefruit varieties. How grapefruit got--and kept--its name. You'll find Oroblanco trees for sale here.
Grapefruit is believed to have originated in the Caribbean. Wild trees were documented by botanists on the islands of Barbados and Jamaica in the mid 1700s.
The first grapefruit trees planted in the continental U.S. were planted near Tampa, Florida in the mid 1800s. At that time, the trees were thought to be purely ornamental. It took a while for people to realize that the fruit was not only edible but delicious. By 1880, a Eustis nursery had begun to ship grapefruit to New York and Philadelphia and an industry was born.
Florida still produces more grapefruit than any other state in the nation. Florida, California and Texas produce nearly 75% of the world's grapefruit.
From that 1st planting near Tampa, the trees spread across the state. Florida residents ate the fruit and planted the seeds in their yards.
After noticing that certain types of grapefruit bears its fruit in clusters, like grapes, folks started to call the fruit grapefruits.
Botanists disagreed with this. Grapefruit and grapes are completely unrelated botanically. They tried to give the fruit a more "suitable" name.
The people would have none of this. They liked the name grapefruit and refused to call it anything else.
The name stuck.
Planting Grapefruit Trees
Like all citrus plants, the grapefruit needs soil that drains well. It is not otherwise picky about its soil.
Florida grapefruit is typically grown on the slightly acid, sandy soil we have here in the Sunshine State. California grapefruit grows best in desert areas where the soil is usually sweeter. The trees will also grow on clay soil as long as water does not stand around their feet for too long.
Plant the trees at the same level they are at in their nursery pots. When planting on clay soil, you can plant them a bit higher.
The flavor of grapefruit ranges from bitterly tart to nearly as sweet as an orange depending on climate and length of time on the tree.
It takes months of very hot weather to sweeten grapefruit. This is why most Florida grapefruit is grown in the Indian River area and most California grapefruit is grown in the desert.
Grapefruits will also sweeten more the longer they stay on the tree. You have to "test" the fruit to determine when to harvest the crop.
Once the fruit reaches full size, it will then begin to develop its characteristic color. Once it fully colors, I begin to sample a fruit every week or 2. When they reach an acceptable stage of sweetness, we start picking.
Our tree is about 15 feet tall so we use a long-handled fruit picker. We only pick as much as we think we will eat in a week and store the rest on the tree.
It is not a good idea to let grass grow right up to the trunk of a grapefruit tree. The lawn will need more water than is good for the tree. Also, citrus trees do not fare well against weed whackers.
Our last lawn maintenance guy killed a couple of our trees. Only after he casually mentioned to me that he hates citrus trees did I realize that the damage was intentional.
Surround the tree with a ring of mulch (not touching the trunk) or put it in a bed of flowers where lawn equipment will not venture anywhere near it.
Grapefruit is tender in the juvenile stage of its life cycle so a southern exposure is best. The trees become hardier as they mature. Grapefruit trees are typically hardy into zone 9a but the most cold hardy varieties may be grown as far north as zone 8b.
The tree will flower and fruit in part shade but all day sun will produce the sweetest fruit in the shortest time frame.
Grapefruit Tree Care
Keep young trees barely moist while they are establishing. As the tree ages, begin to let the soil dry some between deep waterings. The trees need a certain amount of air around their roots so they don't like to be constantly moist.
Never leave a citrus tree standing in water. It will suffocate.
Grapefruit Tree Seeds
Grapefruit seeds are processed into a food supplement typically called GSE (grapefruit seed extract).
I always take some when we travel to places where we are unsure of the water supply. It has a bitter taste but a few drops mixed into a glass of orange juice will not be noticed.
I use it in 3 ways:
If you forget to use it and develop a case of Mountezuma's revenge, you can take it to cleanse your digestive tract and restore you to health more quickly. Simply mix 6 drops into tea, juice, or whatever you are drinking, 3 times per day.
If you want to grow a tree from seed, plant fresh seeds from a piece of especially delicious fruit. They will sprout in a few days but you can expect to wait at least a decade for the resulting tree to begin to bear.
This is the white grapefruit tree I grew from seed.
It began to flower in its 12th year. It was another 2 years before the tree began to bear a full crop each year. The first 2 years it just bore a half dozen or so fruits at the very top of the canopy.
You should also know that seedling grapefruit will not bloom until they are very tall. If you prune the tree before it begins to flower, it may never do so.
This is why it is commonly believed that some citrus trees may never bear fruit.
Because of this height requirement, seedling grapefruit is not suitable for pot culture. Seedling trees will also have more thorns than grafted trees.
If you want fruit any time soon, plant a grafted grapefruit.
Types of Grapefruit
There are red and yellow or white grapefruit varieties. Some varieties are better suited to arid climates. Some perform better in humid areas.
Many types can be grown in either type of climate but the fruit will be different. Florida grapefruit will have a thin rind and be heavier and juicier than California or Texas grapefruit. When grown in hot dry climates, grapefruit develops a thicker rind.
The large fruits take about a year to ripen depending on how much heat and sun they get. Fruit grown under cool or cloudy conditions may take a few months longer to sweeten.
Grafted grapefruit trees are beautiful container plants. Plant them in large tubs and protect them from frost.
Grapefruit trees flower, just once per season, in the spring. The white blossoms carry the sweet jasmine scent that citrus blossoms are best known for.
In the ground, these evergreen trees will grow to 20 feet or more if you do not prune them. They can take as much pruning as you have a mind to perform. I think it is best to keep them low for easy harvesting.
White Grapefruit Trees
Marsh -- This variety originated in Florida and is the white grapefruit you are most likely to see in the grocery store.The fruit has few seeds and holds well on the tree. The tree is vigorous and productive bearing fruit singly as well as in clusters. Performs well in all areas.
Duncan -- The large, seedy fruit of Duncan holds well on the tree. The tree is vigorous, productive and more cold hardy than the others. Best grown in Florida and the Gulf Coast.
Oroblanco -- Oroblanco is a Siamese Sweet pummelo-Duncan grapefruit hybrid developed by breeders at the University of California at Riverside. It performs best in desert areas. The large fruit is seedless, juicy and sweet but does not hold well on the tree. The fruit, being less acid than true grapefruit, ripens more quickly.
Melogold -- Melogold is another seedling of the same cross as Oroblanco. It produces larger fruit with thinner skin but its flavor is inferior to that of Oroblanco.
Red Grapefruit Varieties
Redblush -- Also called Ruby or Red Marsh. This is a seedling of the yellow Marsh. The fruit is like that of Marsh except that both the flesh and rind have a pink tinge which will not always develop in trees grown near the coast. Performs well in all citrus-growing areas.
Star Ruby -- This smaller grapefruit (both the fruit and the tree) was developed for Texas but is suitable for planting in Florida and California as well. The seedless, juicy fruit holds well on the tree and is truly pink.
More Juicy Fruit:Subscribe to Botanical Journeys Gardening Newsletter to follow us on our botanical travels and get gardening tips that are not on the site.
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