Citrus masterclass

Last weekend I was very fortunate to attend Ian Tolley’s Citrus Masterclass at the Diggers Heronswood nursery in Dromana. When I initially called to book, both classes at St Earths and Heronswood were already booked out. I ended up as number 7 and 3 on the two respective waiting lists. So great was my excitement when I got the call that a place had opened up at the Heronswood nursery. Besides learning about citrus, which we are battling with at Homeland, it also offered me the opportunity to get some more healthy non-GMO plants for some of the gaps at Dreamland.

What a setting! We’ve visited this nursery a couple of times, but it’s always so pleasant to come across on the ferry and enjoy the beautiful views across the bay.

It is very hard to convey the feeling of the class in a blog post, as Ian is a very engaging and entertaining speaker. He doesn’t just present a standard pre-prepared class – no, he has a very unique approach where he drives the whole agenda off the attendees’ questions. In-between he then side-tracks where necessary and weaves in anecdotes and stories of how he built up his experience and the rationale behind what he teaches. He illustrates many of the aspects by real practical examples and case studies.

Masterclass agenda

Creating an agenda based on attendees questions

So what I have I learnt in particular?

Citrus and the forest garden

One of my big concerns was that we haven’t designed any citrus into the Dreamland forest garden – partly, because there is very little material on it available. Turns out, citrus are very intensive feeders, with very shallow root systems, so they don’t really like any competition. So, although there are good “companion plants” for citrus, like artichoke, dill, fennel, tansy and a few others that encourage beneficial insects, they don’t want them growing anywhere under their canopy or near their root zone. For this reason, citrus does better in a managed orchard than in a forest setup. You need to plant the favourable companions near them, not amongst them.

Couch grass

When I asked what about couch grass amongst the citrus trees, Ian went into those long and detailed side-tracks. All the citrus roots are in the top 15 inches – and that’s exactly where couch takes over, especially if there is a regular water source. Although Ian is dead set against Glyphosate-based herbicides, he did recommend an organic based weedkiller. More of that in a separate post – it’s a whole debate!

One guy in the class told us he got an excavator in, dug out 2 feet deep of the entire orchard, got it carted away and drove in new topsoil in order to get rid of the couch grass problem. And we have established young trees! (And… we have couch amongst some of our apples and pears along our driveway – what about them?)


Citrus roots must never dry out – those were his words! So how do you get that right through our harsh dry summer? Well, mulching for one, which I think we do pretty well, having just carted in 70 m3 of mulch between the two properties.

The other approach is pulse watering. It’s the first time I hear about the concept, but it makes so much sense. Instead of running the drip irrigation for say 40 minutes, you run it for 20 minutes, wait an hour and then run it again for 20 minutes. Instead of saturating the one little area, it then spreads faster and further the second time round. You can have more intervals if your soil and climate require it. Capillary suction and all that good stuff you learnt in science way back when at work.

The irrigation controller I inherited with Homeland is already so complex to program. Now I have to set it up for pulse watering – and I need to get the pulses starting at different hours on the same days!

Masterclass decor

Class decor


Light plays a very important role in citrus trees, especially in fruit development. That is why it is so important to have your citrus trees shaped correctly. Ian hates the word “prune” – you shape the tree. Also by following the light around the tree, you can have a longer picking season, by picking the fruit on the sunward side first, then working around the tree to the ones at the back. This is a very useful approach in a home garden, where you don’t want everything ripe in the same day, but rather where you want to stretch your season.

And more…

This is just a sample of what I learnt. I obviously can’t repeat the whole day’s material here. We learnt so much in one half day, it’s incredible!

We also had a great lunch at the Hersonswood Restaurant, in the historic Heronswood House with stunning views over the gardens. We had a ciche and salad made from the heirloom vegetables grown in the Heronswood garden, washed down with quite a pleasant red. It was great meeting guys from all over Victoria and very interesting discussing the challenges they face and their approaches in their particular situations.

Lessons Learnt

Too many to list! I obviously walked away with Ian’s book under my arm. Now the real learning starts out in the field.

Masterclass Book

About (207 Articles)
My name is Martin Rennhackkamp, I now live happily in Lara, Victoria, Australia with my wife, two children and two dogs. My interests, apart from the obvious Organic, Biodynamic and Permaculture Gardening and Farming, include sustainable living, surfing, horse-riding, a wide variety of music, dancing, nature, birds, reading, Christianity and a few other things which I never get to...

1 Comment on Citrus masterclass

  1. What a great opportunity and a great location. I have fond memories of wandering through the gardens over there. Looking forward to more posts from your notes taking!

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