Citrus is a popular fruit in Kenya and is one of the most widely consumed fruits. It refers to various types of oranges, limes, and lemons. Due to high demand, the local production of citrus is not enough to meet the needs, so large quantities of citrus fruit are imported.
In Kenya, different varieties of citrus are cultivated, including Washington navel, Valencia, kara mandarin, tangerine, citron, Lisbon lemon, bear lemon, and pixie. The main regions for citrus production in Kenya are the coast, eastern, and rift valley provinces. However, there is also great potential for citrus cultivation in Nyanza and north-eastern regions, and a few farmers who are growing citrus there are finding success.
Citrus can be grown successfully in both tropical and subtropical climates. It can thrive in a wide range of soil and climatic conditions. The ideal temperature range for citrus growth is between 20 and 34 degrees Celsius. In areas with high temperatures, there is a risk of premature flower dropping. Citrus plants prefer deep soils with medium texture, good drainage, and high fertility.
Adding well-rotted farmyard manure or compost can help improve the organic matter content of the soil. The ideal soil pH for citrus cultivation is between 5 and 7. Citrus trees can withstand long periods of drought, but irrigation is important, especially during the initial stages and after flowering, to ensure sufficient water for fruit set and growth.
Choosing the right site is crucial for successful citrus cultivation. The selected site should meet the soil and climatic requirements. It is advisable to choose a warm location with ample sunlight, preferably on elevated or rolling land. Citrus trees need an open space where they can receive at least 4 hours of full sun per day during the growing season.
A tree spacing of approximately 7 meters by 7 meters is recommended for proper air circulation and sunlight penetration. Select the desired citrus variety and make sure to obtain certified disease-free seedlings. When planting, dig a hole and mix the topsoil with compost. Place the seedling in the hole and cover it with the remaining topsoil-compost mixture. Water the plant well and create an earth wall around the seedling using mulch.
Grafted citrus seedlings take 2-3 years to start bearing fruit, and a single tree can yield 200-300 fruits per season by the fifth year. Pruning is important to shape and control the size of the tree. As a general guideline, maintain a single stem and select 3-4 main branches to form the tree’s framework. Regular monitoring and preventative measures are necessary to protect citrus orchards from diseases and pests.
Common diseases include anthracnose, leaf spot, greening disease, damping off, canker, and scab. Major pests that affect citrus include fruit flies, thrips, citrus whitefly, mites, aphids, ants, black flies, and false coddling moth. To prevent these issues, you can use fungicides, insecticides, foliar fertilizers, and supplements from Greenlife Crop Protection Africa Ltd (www.greenlife.co.ke) to ensure healthy fruit yields. With the changing weather patterns, fruit trees, particularly citrus, are a promising option for farmers in tropical areas.