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When Life Gives You

Lemons A local woman has taken on the challenge of growing citrus fruit in north Mississippi. written by Melanie Crownover

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itrus plants aren’t typically associated with northeast Mississippi. Native to the hot and humid climate of South and East Asia, fruit-bearing citrus trees prefer coastal areas with subtropical settings, like Florida and Texas in the United States. And yet, Sandra Witt of Tupelo has savored the challenge of growing the finicky fruit, one species at a time. The Texas native, who moved to Mississippi and became a master gardener 18 years ago, might not have tried her hand at citrus growing if not for her love of a particular dessert. “It was probably the lemon meringue that got me started,” Witt said. “It’s my favorite. There still aren’t many of us around here that even try to grow them, so it’s more of a novelty. Just the thought of having my own lemons to make a pie at Christmastime made me do it.” As a regular instructor of local gardening classes, Witt was aware of the “hurry up and wait” mentality required to nurture a tree that could take seven years to produce its first fruit from seed. That timeline encouraged her decision to start with semimature trees from a nursery. She also recognized the importance of finding a reputable tree dealer before she brought her first citrus plant home. She opted for a garden center in Alabama, where an Auburn University professor emeritus specializing in fruit trees was available on staff to answer any questions she might encounter. Witt began her venture with a potted calamondin orange tree. The variety grows to just two-and-a-half feet tall, which makes it easier to bring in and out of the house during cooler months. Meyer lemons came into the mix about 10 years ago. Her latest trials with grapefruit and lime trees didn’t go as well, likely because of dry weather conditions the past few years that have made growing any type of citrus in the local area even more of a task. Witt’s dedication to her miniature orange tree and small batch of lemon trees remains staunch. “Growing citrus commercially here would be next to impossible, but they are such beautiful plants to grow, with sweet-smelling blossoms and fruit year-round,” she said. “I know I’ll never have a ton of fruit at the same time because I don’t have that many trees. It’s just enough for me to enjoy it, especially that difference in the taste of a pie made with homegrown lemons. That’s enough.”

28 INVITATION | April 2018

Invitation Magazine - April 2018  
Invitation Magazine - April 2018  
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