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A Complete Guide to Growing and Caring for Citrus Trees

Looking to add fresh Citrus Trees to your garden? Our easy guide covers everything from selecting varieties to planting, fertilizing, pruning and troubleshooting common problems for thriving citrus trees.

There’s nothing quite like biting into a fresh, juicy orange, grapefruit or lemon plucked straight from your garden. Citrus trees make an excellent addition to any yard, providing lush greenery, fragrant blossoms and an abundance of nutritious fruit.

However, growing successful citrus does require some know-how. These trees have specific climate, soil and care needs. With the right approach though, you can enjoy a bountiful harvest of oranges, lemons, limes and more for years to come.

Let’s dig into everything you need to get started growing vibrant, productive citrus in your backyard.

Selecting Citrus Varieties

The first step is choosing which citrus varieties you want to grow. Popular options include:

Oranges

Oranges A Complete Guide to Growing and Caring for Citrus Trees

Here’s a short information chart about oranges:

Botanical NameCitrus × sinensis
Common NameOrange
Plant TypeFruit tree
Zones9-11
Sun ExposureFull sun
Soil TypeWell-draining, loamy soil
WateringRegular watering, keep soil evenly moist
Growth HabitEvergreen tree
Height/Spread15-25 feet tall, 12-20 feet spread
Special FeaturesFragrant blossoms, edible fruit rich in vitamin C

Navel, Valencia, blood oranges

Mandarins

Mandarins A Complete Guide to Growing and Caring for Citrus Trees

Here’s a short information chart about mandarins:

Botanical NameCitrus reticulata
Common NameMandarin
Plant TypeFruit tree
Zones9-11
Sun ExposureFull sun
Soil TypeWell-draining, sandy loam
WateringRegular watering, keep soil evenly moist
Growth HabitEvergreen tree
Height/Spread6-15 feet tall, 6-12 feet spread
Special FeaturesEasy-to-peel fruit, sweet flavor, rich in vitamin C

Satsuma, clementine

Lemons

Lemons A Complete Guide to Growing and Caring for Citrus Trees

Here’s a short information chart about lemons:

Botanical NameCitrus limon
Common NameLemon
Plant TypeFruit tree
Zones9-11
Sun ExposureFull sun
Soil TypeWell-draining, sandy or loamy soil
WateringRegular watering, allow soil to dry slightly between waterings
Growth HabitEvergreen tree
Height/Spread10-20 feet tall, 10-15 feet spread
Special FeaturesSour, acidic fruit used in cooking and beverages, rich in vitamin C

Eureka, Meyer

Limes

Limes A Complete Guide to Growing and Caring for Citrus Trees

Here’s a short information chart about limes:

Botanical NameCitrus aurantiifolia
Common NameLime
Plant TypeFruit tree
Zones9-11
Sun ExposureFull sun
Soil TypeWell-draining, sandy or loamy soil
WateringRegular watering, allow soil to dry slightly between waterings
Growth HabitEvergreen tree
Height/Spread6-15 feet tall, 6-12 feet spread
Special FeaturesSour, acidic fruit used in cooking and beverages, rich in vitamin C

Persian, Key

Grapefruit

Grapefruit-2 A Complete Guide to Growing and Caring for Citrus Trees

Here’s a short information chart about grapefruit:

Botanical NameCitrus × paradisi
Common NameGrapefruit
Plant TypeFruit tree
Zones9-11
Sun ExposureFull sun
Soil TypeWell-draining, sandy or loamy soil
WateringRegular watering, allow soil to dry slightly between waterings
Growth HabitEvergreen tree
Height/Spread15-20 feet tall, 15-25 feet spread
Special FeaturesLarge, tangy fruit rich in vitamin C, available in pink and white varieties

Ruby Red, Marsh Kumquats

Consider your climate as you make selections. Some varieties are more cold hardy than others. Oranges and mandarins, for example, can’t tolerate temperatures much below 25-30°F. Lemons, limes and grapefruit fare a little better with cold.

You’ll also want to think about how you plan to use the fruit. Navel oranges are perfect for eating fresh, while Valencia oranges are ideal for juicing. Eureka lemons have amazing flavor for cooking and baking.

Many nurseries offer dwarf or semi-dwarf citrus trees too, which stay smaller and are better suited for limited yard space.

Planting Citrus Trees

 A Complete Guide to Growing and Caring for Citrus Trees

Once you’ve picked your varieties, it’s time for planting. Citrus trees require full sun – at least 6-8 hours per day. They’ll get leggy and produce poorly in too much shade.

Soil is also crucial. Citrus thrives in well-draining, slightly acidic soil. A pH between 6.0-7.0 is ideal. If your soil is heavy clay or very alkaline, consider planting in raised beds or containers using a quality potting mix.

When digging the hole, make it twice as wide as the root ball but no deeper. The top roots should sit at or slightly above the surrounding soil level. Backfill with the existing native soil, not amendments.

Finally, add a 2-3 inch deep mulch layer over the root zone, leaving a few inches next to the trunk bare. This helps conserve moisture.

Most citrus varieties should be planted 15-25 feet apart, depending on their eventual size at maturity. Dwarf types can be spaced 6-10 feet apart.

Basic Citrus Care

Citrus-Care A Complete Guide to Growing and Caring for Citrus Trees

With the right care, your young citrus will quickly establish itself. Here are the main requirements:

Watering

Keep the soil consistently moist, but not saturated, while trees are young. Once established, citrus prefers deep, infrequent watering rather than light, frequent sprinkling. Check soil moisture regularly and adjust your schedule based on weather.

Fertilizing

Feed citrus trees every 1-2 months during the warm growing season. Use a balanced fertilizer blended for citrus, following label rates. Less is needed during winter dormancy, usually just 1-2 applications.

Pruning

Minimal pruning is required on young citrus to develop strong structure. Simply remove any suckers from the base and clear out dead or crossing branches annually. Established trees benefit from thinning every few years to allow sunlight and air flow.

Frost Protection

In cold winter climates, you may need to wrap trunks or set up heat lamps or wall-o-waters to guard against severe frosts. Anti-desiccant sprays can also help minimize cold damage.

Preventative Spraying

Citrus tends to be susceptible to insect pests and fungal diseases. Stay on top of these with a regular spray program using insecticidal oils, copper fungicides and other approved products.

With good cultural practices focused on the basics, you’ll have healthy, vigorous citrus to keep the fruit coming year after year.

Common Citrus Problems

 A Complete Guide to Growing and Caring for Citrus Trees

While generally resilient trees, citrus can sometimes struggle with certain pests and disorders. Here are some frequent issues to watch for:

Citrus Leaf Miner

These small moth larvae tunnel inside the leaves, causing squiggly lines and curling. Damage is mostly cosmetic but severe infestations stress trees.

Aphids

Honeydew-excreting pests that congregate on new growth and undersides of leaves. An early sign is lots of ants climbing the trunk “farming” the aphids.

Citrus Greening

Fatal bacterial disease that causes twig dieback and bitter, misshaped fruit. Unfortunately there is no cure; infected trees must be destroyed.

Iron Chlorosis

Lack of available iron results in yellowing leaves with green veins. Treat by applying iron chelate or soil acidifier.

Blossom Drop

Poor fruit set caused by environmental stressors like drought, frost, excessive heat or pest damage during flowering.

The best way to avoid serious problems is with proactive monitoring and preventative treatments. Keep your eyes peeled and act quickly to nip any issues in the bud.

Harvesting Citrus

 A Complete Guide to Growing and Caring for Citrus Trees

One of the best parts of growing citrus is picking that fresh, sun-ripened fruit for your family to enjoy. But how do you know when citrus is ready?

Color change from green to yellow/orange is one indicator. However, the best test is taste and aroma. Ripe fruit should have a rich citrus scent and tangy-sweet flavor.

Generally, navel oranges are ripe starting in winter, Valencia oranges in spring, and lemons are ready on an ongoing basis year-round. Watch each variety closely though and don’t hesitate to sample a few along the way to check ripeness.

With their bright colors, delicious taste and lovely fragrances, citrus trees make an amazing edible addition to any home landscape. Get started with the right varieties for your area and care for them well. You’ll soon be harvesting bushels of oranges, lemons and limes to enjoy fresh or in all your favorite recipes.

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