The Walden Effect: Farming, simple living, permaculture, and invention.

Rooting trifoliate orange cuttings

Lemon scionwood vs. rootstock

Trifoliate orange cuttingsThis summer, our movie star neighbor proudly displayed dozens of dwarf lemons he had bought for a song.  The trouble was, every single one had sprouted from the rootstock, and the bushy growth of trifoliate orange was overshadowing the lemon scionwood.  I was itching to prune, so my neighbor kindly handed me the clippers and let me play.

Soon, the little lemon trees were revealed, and the ground was littered with dozens of Rooting softwood cuttingstrifoliate orange branches.  The opportunity to root this dwarf citrus species and use it to create more dwarf lemons was too tempting to resist, even though Mark reminded me that neither we nor our movie star neighbor have room for any more dwarf citrus plants.

There's the right way to root semi-difficult species like trifoliate orange, and then there's the homesteading way.  I tend to go for the quick and dirty methods that require no storebought supplies, even though these techiques give fewer successful results.  If I've only spent half an hour of my time and absolutely no money, who cares if only 10% of my cuttings make it?  With that in mind, I simply snipped the trifoliate orange cuttings down to four inch lengths and plopped them in glasses of water along with a few willow cuttings collected on the walk home.

Rooted cuttings

Next, I forgot about them.  The glasses of water dried up repeatedly, but I tended to remember to add fresh liquid before the cuttings really gave up the ghost.  Months later, I was shocked to see that three of my trifoliate oranges had grown hefty roots!  I potted them up in some composted manure and will graft on Meyer lemon twigs in a month or two, once our parent tree has ripened its lemons all the way and starts putting out new growth. 

And then I'll give the baby lemon trees away because Mark was right --- we really don't have room for any more potted plants.  But it sure is fun to make something out of nothing!

Our chicken waterer turns chicken chores into a joy by deleting the daily struggle with filthy water.


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About us: Anna Hess and Mark Hamilton spent over a decade living self-sufficiently in the mountains of Virginia before moving north to start over from scratch in the foothills of Ohio. They've experimented with permaculture, no-till gardening, trailersteading, home-based microbusinesses and much more, writing about their adventures in both blogs and books.



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Very cool that you could get them growing.

That Meyers lemon, do you have to take that inside over the winter, or will that survive in your area? I seem to recall you are zone 6. I'd like to give lemons or oranges a shot, but they can't become too big. I just don't have the space for a big tree.

Comment by Fritz Mon Oct 24 08:18:21 2011
It's a houseplant (although we do put the pots out in the summer for insect control and extra light.) Dwarf Meyer lemons turn into a large houseplant, but they stay just small enough that two people can heft the pots in and out every year. Our neighbor's tree is probably eight feet in diameter by now, but we're keeping ours to more like four by using a smaller pot and pruning.
Comment by anna Mon Oct 24 10:54:15 2011

You still get lemons from it, though, correct?

Those trifoliate oranges, will that produce an edible fruit? Could you graft on an actual orange and grow oranges in your zone?

Comment by Fritz Mon Oct 24 11:03:12 2011

You do get lemons --- lots of them if you do it right!

A farmer not far from us has a Flying Dragon trifoliate orange outside. This is the most cold hardy citrus and the only one we could grow here in zone 6 if we didn't want to take it inside. However, he wasn't very impressed with the flavor.

You can graft several different kinds of citrus onto this rootstock, but I've yet to see anyone's dwarf citrus other than Meyer lemon that really produced. I bought a dwarf tangerine several years ago, and after waiting a long time, I deduced that the rootstock had sprouted and I wasn't going to get any tangerines. Currently, I'm also experimenting with a dwarf Washington Navel Orange and a dwarf Key Lime --- one is currently blooming, so hopefully it'll fruit for us.

Comment by anna Mon Oct 24 14:51:20 2011
I just tried putting some trifoliate cuttings into some dirt myself. Same thing...a Meyer lemon was getting root stock suckers. I do have a lemon and orange fruiting as part time houseplants, but I think the place I bought the orange and a lime tree from sell cuttings on their own roots. How are you rootstocks fairing? I heard trifoliate is difficult to root, but I figure I'm not out anything if mine don't make it.
Comment by Nef Sat May 5 21:30:30 2012

The rooting didn't go as well as I hoped. As you can tell, three grew roots, and I transferred them to pots in October. Then they sat there. Around February, two of them started putting out new leaves, and I got excited, but the leaves were whitish and never grew.

I'm not sure if the problem is that I didn't pay enough attention to them, that it was chilly in the winter, or if they just didn't like the soil (pure composted manure instead of my usual stump dirt/compost mixture.) Either way, I finally gave up on them.

Comment by anna Sun May 6 06:54:01 2012
I live in beautiful Baldwin County, Alabama, about 30 miles form the Gulf of Mexico. Common citrus grows here with limited cold protection. The Owara type Satsuma is a favorite of many. Actually not all Owara trees are the same. The trees have some that are sweeter than others. Years ago, there were many very big orchards of satsuma, in our area, until a severe winter killed them. Most satsumas are grown on Trifoliet. This seems to give better endurance of our mild winter cold.As a Satsuma ages, it becomes more tolerant of cold. However, those mid to low teens will kill the trees. If the tree trunks are covered with more soil above the graft, during winter, the lower part of the tree will survive to grow Satsuma, again. Failure to bank the soil on very cold winters, will only leave the old thorny Trifoliet roots. Some yards have beautiful Satsuma trees with bushels of fruit; while others have only the sour oranges.
Comment by James Kirksey Mon Feb 25 21:33:37 2019

Thank you for the post - quite informative. I managed to root mandarin cutting using (mostly water). Changed the water every 2 days and used a beer bottle that had stained glass (the idea is too limit the sun out). After about 2 weeks it showed signs of callus forming so I just transferred it to potting soil (it had 2 leaves and around 60% humidity in my house).

Anyhow - nice read - I heard that you can make a jam out of trifoliate and in my opinion the limonade si pretty ok - too bad it has so many seeds...

Comment by vlad Mon May 20 11:19:27 2019





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