The Best Season Ever: Hardy Orange Topiary in Bloom

Here in New England, any citrus that is hardy decade by decade is a head-spinner, a miracle. Beyond the thrill of such ongoing vivacity, there are seasonal star turns such as fall foliage, orange fall fruits, and—if the tree is trained as topiary—shapely habit in winter and early spring. Plus the spring flowers: pure white sparkles, like a freak late snow.


Poncirus trifoliata 051018 overall 915


Topiary needs fearless pruning, and if it's performed annually, the remaining growth is largely too old to bear many flowers. See the lower ball in the picture below? It is the original ball when, nearly thirty years ago, this topiary had just one sphere. 


Poncirus trifoliata 051018 bottom two balls 915


To maintain this original ball's size and shape, the pruning must be particularly ruthless, leaving almost no growth that's mature enough to flower—but not so mature it's past it's fruitful years. The second ball, though, is still floriferous: It's younger, and can still be maintained at a the desired slightly-smaller size without also pruning away so many of the flower-producing stems.


Longer term, this second ball's floral future is likely to become the original ball's floral present: sparse flowering as the trade-off for maintaining the desired dimension and density of the vegetative growth.


What a contrast with the floral performance of the third ball. It's the very youngest, the newest. It's still smaller than its desired mature size and, hence, I've allowed it continued free-range life. So its flowering is still unstinting, even gleeful.


Poncirus trifoliata 051018 top two balls 915


What a joyful exclamation at the top of this living sculpture of Poncirus trifoliata that, otherwise, is a monument to uncompromising spatial control at the expense of flowers and fruit.


Poncirus trifoliata 051018 overall 915


I've written about the contrastingly bountiful floral and fruitful performance of free-range poncirus. It is so different from that of well-pruned topiary that it's worth it to grow one hardy orange free-range, another as topiary. Why not grow the free-range and topiaried portions on the same tree? Inadvertently, that is the result here: free up top, pruned below—and gorgeous top to bottom.


Is this lovely accident also a viable training strategy? If so, this topiary of hardy orange could have its floral cake and eat it, too.


Near-term, the top ball could continue to grow ad libitum as the flowering-and-fruiting finial atop the tight but largely barren growth below. But would it ever grow so large it would be out of scale? Would it ever grow so large that it would be susceptible to damage from heavy snow and ice? 


This tree is a centerpiece of my entire garden, so it's never out of view nor far from its next round of maintenance. If the top ball ever did become large enough to be unattractive or fragile, I'll soon see the need to begin pruning it—topiarizing it—regardless that this will soon make the resultant ball barren. 


But—surprise!—this doesn't mean that this topiary's giddy free-range life would be over. If this third ball were to grow so large it had to be topiaried for its own protection, as it were, it's likely that a central top stem (that had already been cannily staked vertically by yours truly) could be left in place to form the trunk of the next generation of free-range ball at its tip.


Further, it's likely that, as the tree's height increases ball by ball, the capability of the top growth to lengthen still farther is reduced. There's some natural limit to how high any hardy orange can grow here in Zone 6, regardless of how helpfully pruned and storm-proofed it is as a result of the topiarying.  


Someday, then, this tree's topmost free-range ball will be its last—and will never grow out of bounds despite never being pruned. Then, the fantasy would be complete: free-range growth that remains floriferous but also stays in bounds by itself and, so, escapes the need for "barren-making" topiarying.  


Or is that time already at hand? The narrative arc of this topiary of hardy orange is still unfolding.




Here's how to grow hardy orange. The pruning strategy I recommend in this subsequent post lets you have your cake and eat it too: One year, the tree displays a healthy crop of flowers and fruit, while the next it regains its topiary shape.

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