Grow Citrus Fruits

It doesn't get any fresher than this! Citrus trees are relatively easy to grow, provided that you have a warm enough climate. Even if your conditions are not ideal, there may still be a citrus tree for you.

Choose a location for your tree. A warm, sunny, southern or western exposure is best. Shelter is a big help, too, if cold is a concern. Choose or create someplace with well-drained soil, and avoid putting a citrus tree directly into a lawn. A nearby reflective wall, fence, or even patio can provide both shelter and a bit of extra warmth, too.

Select and obtain a tree.

- Choose the type of citrus you would like to try growing (oranges, lemons, grapefruit, etc.).

- Ask the nursery about the climate that the particular tree is suitable for.

- If you live somewhere that's a bit colder than a strictly Mediterranean climate, look into cultivars bred for cold resistance.

- Taste the fruit, if you have the opportunity. Not all oranges are alike. If you can taste fruit grown on a tree in your area, perhaps from a neighbor, even better.

- Find out if the fruit produced has many seeds, or not.

- Ask for certification of the health of the tree, or ask someone who's experienced with citrus trees to inspect it. See Warnings.

Choose a size of tree that is appropriate for your setting. Ask at the nursery or look up online how large the mature tree will get.

    * Try dwarf citrus trees if you are short on space. You can even grow them in large pots, and they open up the possibility of covering the entire tree in a shelter during the delicate winter months or even bringing the tree indoors. Even though they are small, dwarf citrus trees can produce a very reasonable harvest.
    * On the other end of the spectrum, a couple of large lemon trees can form a good-sized hedgerow. It all depends on just how much citrus you want.

Dig a large hole. The saying goes that you should dig at least a $60 hole for a $20 tree. As a practical matter, make sure you know where you want to place the tree, then dig a hole that is about three feet (1 meter) in diameter and as deep as the container. Do not bury the root crown, the transition from trunk to roots, as this will cause problems down the road. Plant the tree slightly higher than the surrounding soil to allow for some settling, most container grown nursery stock has high organic matter content that will decompose causing the plant to settle in the planting hole dropping the root crown below grade if not planted slightly high.

    * If you have any concerns about drainage, such as in heavy clay soil, fill the hole with water and see how long it takes to drain out. If you have drainage problems (that is, if the water is not gone by the next morning), dig the hole even deeper and plant the tree up higher.
    * For a dwarf citrus tree, select a large pot. Try for two feet in diameter or a half-barrel, at least.

Partially refill the hole with good, well-draining soil. Depending on the quality of what you took out of the hole, you might try a half-and-half mixture of compost and the now-loosened soil. Create a mound of soil in the middle of the hole that supports the root ball with the crown (the base of the tree trunk where the roots begin)slightly above it.

    * Mix in some citrus fertilizer with the soil, if you like.
    * If you are planting a dwarf citrus in a pot, use straight potting soil and fill it in to a similar level. Place the pot up on blocks and be sure there are plenty of drainage holes in the bottom. Don't let the pot sit directly in a saucer or puddle of water.

Remove the tree from its pot and remove any burlap around the roots. Place the tree on the mound of soil. Add or remove soil underneath to adjust the height so that the crown is level with the soil or even slightly above it.

'Fill in the remaining hole with a mixture of compost or potting soil and the soil from your garden.

    * If you are using a pot, fill with straight potting soil. Leave at least two inches at the top to allow space to water thoroughly.

Apply Mulch generously (3 to 4 inches deep)over your tree's entire root zone. It will keep the weeds down and the water in.

    * Stay away from organic mulch, as it increases the likelihood of foot rot disease.
    * A safe bet is that the roots are at least as wide as the branches, so make the mulch area at least this large. You can even add a rim of mulch around the circumference of the circle to aid in watering.
    * Do not mulch right up to the base of the trunk. Leave a little margin so that the crown has breathing room and doesn't stay wet when you water.

Water the tree at least weekly until it is established, unless you get sufficient rain to do the job. Water even mature citrus trees regularly. Citrus trees have relatively shallow, broad root systems. Once established, the trees may tolerate some drought, but they won't produce fruit that's as good.

Fertilize the tree with an appropriate fertilizer. Fertilizers are available in citrus or citrus-and-avocado formulations. Apply them according to package instructions, typically three to four times a year for slow-release types.

Prune citrus trees occasionally. They don't require heavy or regular pruning.

    * Remove any "suckers", or shoots growing from the root stock. Citrus trees are grafted, meaning that a tree with desirable fruit is cut and attached to a sturdier root stock. You don't want the root stock taking over.
    * Remove any "wild" shoots growing beyond the general shape of the tree. These will often be long, straight, quick-growing branches that don't follow the overall form or shape of the tree.
    * Moderately thin the foliage if it grows excessively dense, to promote air circulation and availability of light.
    * Generally, train citrus trees as shrubs or hedges. If you'd like to remove a few lower branches to give it more of a tree shape, go ahead, but don't overdo it.

Harvest fruit when it is fully ripe. Oranges, lemons, and grapefruit should all be completely free of green coloring. They will not ripen off the tree. Limes are generally picked green, so go by size and season. See the external links for more details on limes.


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