Growing Crops: Citrus Trees

Grapefruits, Lemons, Limes, Oranges, Tangerines…they’re like little balls of sunshine, particularly during the Fall and Winter months, when a great many varieties produce fruit. Contrary to what you may think, you don’t have to live in California or Florida to grow citrus trees. Did you know that citrus trees are evergreens? No? Well…you do now.

As with other fruit trees, leave the grafting and propagation to the horticultural experts and don’t try to grow them from seed. Check with your local nursery to see what varieties of citrus trees they have available. If they don’t have what you’re looking for, check with Nature Hills Nursery. They have a good selection of live citrus tree varieties; click on the banner below to see your choices:

Be sure to read Growing Fruit 101 in conjunction with this post.

Best Climate to Grow: The warmer the better, as many citrus tree varieties do not tolerate frost well. If you live in a colder, northern climate, growing dwarf varieties in containers is your best bet, as you can move them indoors for protection. See the Container Requirements section below. Whether or not you grow your citrus trees in containers or in the ground, they should be protected from the wind.

Light Requirements: Full sun, at least 8 hours per day.

Soil Requirements: Moist, fertile, nitrogen-rich soil that drains well and is rich in organic matter. The ideal pH range is between 6.0 and 8.0 – around neutral, but sliding a bit to either acidic or alkaline will not harm your trees. Amend as needed prior to planting.

Feeding and Water Requirements: Citrus trees require lots of nitrogen, consequently they should be fed with an organic fertilizer that is higher in nitrogen than the companion minerals phosphorous and potassium. The soil should remain moist at all times, but not water-logged. Mulch to retain soil moisture, replacing the mulch periodically as it breaks down into the soil. If you live in a dry climate, you will need to water more frequently and make sure your trees are very well-mulched.

Treegator-« Drip Irrigation – $ 25.99
The Treegator® Drip Irrigation System offers approximately 10 hours worth of drip time. It has a 20 gallon capacity and 2 or 3 can be zipped together to fit larger trees. It is 3 feet tall when empty. The fill opening will fit a 1.5 inch diameter hose. Treegator® Drip Irrigation System must be used on a level surface or properly built mulch pile.

Treegator-« Jr. – $ 23.99
The Treegator® Jr. offers approximately 6 hours worth of drip time. It is 33 inches round and 7 inches high when filled. The fill opening will fit a 1.5 inch diameter hose. Treegator® Jr. must be used on a level surface or properly built mulch pile.

When to Plant: If you live in a colder climate, late Spring is ideal, once the danger of frost is past. If you live further south in a warmer climate that rarely sees frost, you can plant in the Fall, or even in the Winter if you want to.

Planting Depth and Spacing: The planting hole depth should be about an inch shallower than the height of the root ball, and the width should be double the diameter. You want the topmost part of the root ball to be just above the soil line. Fill in the soil, pressing down firmly, and stake your young tree, making sure to give the trunk plenty of expansion room. Water thoroughly, mulch (but don’t mulch up to the trunk – leave about 6 inches clear all around to prevent root rot), and then keep moist.

Container Requirements: Dwarf citrus varieties grow very well in a medium-sized container that is at least 10 inches deep. In fact, growing citrus in containers may be the only way folks in colder climates can grow their own – the trees can spend late Spring, all Summer, and early Fall outdoors, and then spend the cold season indoors in a bright, sunny (or well-lit with grow lights at least 8 hours per day) area. More frequent feeding with nitrogen-rich organic fertilizer will likely be needed, as is the nature of container growing. Drip irrigation specifically for containers is highly recommended, as well as mulching to retain moisture – but making sure to leave a 6 inch ring of bare soil around the tree trunk to prevent root rot.

Pruning: For the first two years, don’t let your citrus trees fruit. Remove the blossoms as soon as they form. This will create a much stronger root and branch system to support your fruit harvests from the third year on. Immediately remove all sucker growth, particularly anything that grows below the graft line (a diagonal line above the root stock that should be quite easy to see, as the bark will look different above and below the line). Suckers will siphon off nutrients needed for your roots and fruiting branches.

Harvesting and Storage: Harvest ripe fruit as needed, rather than harvesting a large amount and letting the fruit sit – it’s better off left on the tree until you are ready to eat it. Either steady the branch and stem with one hand while twisting the fruit off with your other hand, or use a pair of garden shears to cut the stem (particularly if your variety has a thin rind that will tear easily).

Grated or finely diced lemon, lime, and orange peels that are dried and stored in glass jars make excellent additions to all kinds of recipes, from desserts to various sauces and gravies.

Pests to Monitor: Ants, Aphids, Fruit Flies, Mealybugs, Mites, Root Weevils, Scales, Stinkbugs, Termites, and Whiteflies. Visit our pest control beneficials, barriers, scare tactics, homemade organic pesticide, and commercial organic pesticide pages to see your options and choose your weapons.

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