Tips for Enjoying and Sharing Alameda’s Citrus Bounty

Birgitt Evans -- Project Pick volunteers after harvesting a tree.
Birgitt Evans -- Project Pick volunteers after harvesting a tree.

Tips for Enjoying and Sharing Alameda’s Citrus Bounty

No one in Alameda should have to buy lemons in the winter. The bayside climate agrees with our most commonly found varieties of lemons, oranges, grapefruit, and mandarins. Today’s residents are the lucky heirs to a rich agricultural history wherein Alameda’s founders planted orchards and farms.

Through Project Pick, local non-profit Alameda Backyard Growers (ABG) has insight into the amazing numbers of productive fruit trees that can be found in the city. With the help of many volunteers and ABG members, the group has been harvesting fruit from around the city’s backyards. The sheer number of lemon trees, especially, never ceases to impress!

During the winter months, January through March, there are so many oranges, grapefruits, mandarins and lemons available to be harvested — or gleaned. I call it the Citrus Tsunami. Even this winter, though we were battered with storms making it difficult to schedule volunteers, we still managed to harvest over 2,700 pounds of citrus just in the first three months of 2023.

The most popular and abundant are Meyer lemons, which are a cross between a lemon and a mandarin, giving them their lovely sweet and flavorful taste. They are also self-pollinating and can bear fruit once or twice a year. Some tree owners find that they can pick lemons practically year-round.

It’s not difficult to take care of a lemon tree. Lemon trees can be pruned after harvesting to encourage new growth and increased fruit production. Lemon trees usually flower in spring, so they should be pruned before they flower to ensure a large yield. Clippers or pruning shears can be used to remove branches on the inside and outside of the canopy, as well as any suckers that grow from below the graft. Pruners should avoid removing more than a quarter of the tree at once. Prune smaller branches that are growing down or straight up, especially if they don’t have any fruit on them. Small shoots can be rubbed off by thumb, which prevents new shoots in that area. Cut out any dead branches or twigs. Keeping the tree to a manageable height (10-12’) makes it easier to pick the fruit.

Culling (hand-thinning) excess fruit from a tree in spring stops a fruit tree from overcommitting itself, breaking branches from a heavy fruit load. It’s a good idea to fertilize the tree with citrus specific (or high-nitrogen or slow-release all-purpose) fertilizer in January/February, March/April and again in August/September.

Check trees monthly spring through fall for evidence of Asian citrus psyllid infestation. Look especially for nymphs, the relatively stationary stage that hatches from the eggs, on the new shoots and leaves.

Traveling around Alameda, there are seemingly lemon trees everywhere. Although Project Pick has several hundred dedicated fruit donors, many who contact the group every year, that is only a fraction of the lemons that grow in our city. All the fruit that Project Pick collects is donated to the Alameda Food Bank, which is under tremendous pressure as they provide food for nearly 2,300 Island families. The fresh, local produce is much appreciated by food bank clients.

Picking backyard fruit to share, even with just friends and neighbors, builds community while keeping the trees healthy and reducing fruit that can attract pests.

Fruit tree owners can contact Project Pick ( and the group will either collect fruit picked by the owner, or can have volunteers harvest the tree if assistance is needed. Even without Project Pick, wouldn’t it be fantastic if everyone with a lemon tree in Alameda harvested and shared their lemons with their neighbors? With so many lemons available in the winter, no one should ever have to buy one!

For more information about taking care of fruit trees, check out the ABG website ( or sign up for one of the group’s pruning workshops, typically held at Farm2Market at the Alameda Point. These are listed on the calendar (

Jillian Saxty is ABG’s Project Pick Coordinator and board president.

Alameda Backyard Growers is dedicated to teaching people how to grow food. They offer online and in-person educational programming. Visit ABG at to join their mailing list to receive educational newsletters and information on classes and events, locate the Free Seed Library nearest you, or join Project Pick as a fruit picker or fruit donor. Contact ABG at