The Forgotten Fruit and the Forgotten Coast
It’s safe to say that almost everyone equates citrus with the state of Florida. It just goes hand in hand. Most people first think of citrus as being oranges and grapefruit. Even by traveling south on I-75 or I-95, our welcome centers will gladly supply you with a complimentary cup of the juice of your choice, orange or grapefruit. However, the kumquat is a fruit that rarely comes to mind. The Panhandle is prime habitat for this forgotten fruit.
The kumquat is a native of southeast China, but it has found a home on the Gulf coast. It’s a cold hardy citrus, much like the Panhandle favorite satsuma orange. Due to the plants ability to be semi-dormant in the region, the kumquat has been known to withstand temperatures in the low teens. The kumquat fruit is an oddity in the citrus world. The peeling is sweet, the pulp is tart and it’s all edible, except for the seeds of course. The fruit reaches maturity around October, and will remain viable on the tree until March.
Figure 1: Kumquat fruit: Nagami variety.
There are two varieties grown in Florida. The Nagami (Fortunella margarita) is by far the most popular in the state. This variety has oval shaped fruit and 2-5 seeds. The Meiwa (Fortunella crassifolia) has a more rounded shaped fruit with almost no seeds. This variety’s fruit is more sweet and juicy compared to the Nagami.
Kumquat is one of the easiest fruits to grow in the Panhandle. Most gardeners enjoy the ease of management as the kumquat tree is relatively small in size, and requires much less care compared to other citrus. Another advantage to kumquats is the ability to be grown in containers. Also, the dark green leaves and orange colored fruit is quite appealing on your back deck or patio.
When planting a kumquat, make sure the location has plenty of sunshine. Always apply mulch, but be sure to keep the mulch at least a foot from the trunk to combat any potential of disease. As for container growing, be sure to purchase a large container with adequate drainage holes. Place a screen in the bottom of the container, rather than rocks. This will ensure no soil is lost during drainage events. Newly planted kumquats will need significant water on a regular basis to become established, especially if planted in a container. Once established, watering can be limited.
Kumquats will need a fertilizer regimen too. A citrus formulated fertilizer works great. Although not required, pruning should be done after April or later in the summer before new flowers appear. A major plus, kumquat trees generally bear fruit just after a couple of years.
Kumquats are a delight to grow in the Panhandle and a fantastic evergreen for your landscape, back deck or patio.
Supporting information for this article can be found in the UF/IFAS EDIS publication, “Fortunella spp., Kumquat” by Michael G. Andreu, Melissa H. Friedman, and Robert J. Northrop & “Get Acquainted with Kumquat” by BJ Jarvis, CED & Horticultural Agent, UF/IFAS Pasco County Extension: