Spring is coming! Are you ready to get growing? Tulips, daffodils and crocuses will soon be popping up everywhere, and if you’re itching to add edibles alongside your blooms, you’re not alone – there are few things more satisfying than enjoying fresh-grown tomatoes, cucumbers and strawberries from your own garden.
And don’t forget about fruit trees, either! If you live in USDA Hardiness Zones 9-11, you’re in an area that’s well suited for growing citrus fruits, since citrus trees generally thrive in locations with short, warm winters that few freezes or frosts. This makes citrus varieties an easy choice if you are interested in including fruit trees in your garden or backyard.
What is citrus?
Citrus is a genus of flowering trees and shrubs in the rue family called Rutacae. Native to Asia, citrus trees are widely cultivated in warm areas for their fruit, which has juicy flesh and a pulpy rind. Types of citrus fruits in this genus include lemons, limes, oranges, grapefruits and kumquats.
What kind of citrus tree should I plant?
One of the first steps you will take when growing citrus is tree selection. Lemon trees, lime trees, kumquat trees and orange trees are all great choices for spring planting. Once established and producing at full capacity, a single tree will easily provide enough fruit for an average-sized family, so, unless you really love a particular type of fruit, you likely only need one of each variety in your family orchard. (Unlike apple and pear trees, most citrus trees are self-pollinating, so having only one does not affect fruit production.)
Before you start looking for citrus trees for sale, however, you should keep in mind that the average backyard can accommodate only about two full-size fruit trees. But don’t worry – if you have your heart set on planting a variety of citrus fruits, you can always go with dwarf citrus trees. This will let you include more trees in your garden and make the fruits easier to harvest, since the trees will be shorter.
Where should I plant my trees?
Choose a sunny spot that is protected from the wind. Once you have determined a spot where your trees will get full sun, you will need to measure the area to see how many trees will fit. Standard-size trees will need to be planted a minimum of 12 feet apart but may require even more distance depending on the variety. Dwarf and semi-dwarf trees can usually be planted between six and 10 feet apart.
I live in a colder climate. Does this mean I have to give up on the idea of growing my own citrus?
Not at all – you can always keep an indoor citrus tree! Remember those dwarf citrus trees we were talking about? When planted in the ground they can reach from eight to twelve feet depending on the variety, but if you keep them in containers they’ll stay much smaller. You’ll need to make sure to keep your trees in the sunniest location possible in your home, and provide humidity for them in the winter to keep them from drying out (setting them over trays of pebbles in water is one easy fix), but with a little care, many citrus trees can thrive indoors. You may also move the trees outdoors once the danger of frost has passed…a potted citrus tree is a beautiful addition to a summer patio!
If you want to grow more than one kind of citrus fruit but don’t have a lot of space for an indoor tree, get a citrus cocktail tree. Cocktail trees have been grafted to grow more than one type of fruit from the same genus so that you can get different fruits growing on the same tree (for example, lemons and limes).
I’d love an indoor citrus tree! But I have a pet that gets into things – can dogs eat citrus?
Good question. Most pets will shy away from citrus fruit, finding the smell unpleasant (hey, there’s no accounting for taste, right?). When you get the occasional critter that just has to sample everything, however, never fear – citrus fruits aren’t toxic to dogs and cats. Do keep an eye out, though, because pets that ingest citrus fruits are likely to wind up with an upset tummy.
When should I plant my citrus trees?
If you’re planting your citrus trees outdoors, spring is the best time to plant because the new trees will have time to take root before the heat of summer. A spring-planted tree also has time to get well established and acclimated to your landscape before the winter sets in.
How do I keep my new trees healthy?
Citrus trees are fairly simple to care for, but they do have specific needs and should be attended to regularly. Here are a few tips:
- Protect young trees from sun. Citrus trees need lots of sun, but young trees need some extra protection before their leaf canopies grow large enough to shade the trunk. You can protect the trunks of young trees by painting them with white latex paint diluted with water, or wrap them in newspaper.
- Water wisely. Younger trees will need to be watered at least once per week and may need more frequent watering in the hotter months of summer. Irrigation should be slow and deep, so if you’re watering by hand, set the hose to produce a trickle of water a foot or two away from the trunk and leave it on each tree for at least an hour. For indoor trees, keep an eye on the leaves to help determine if your trees are getting too little or too much water…with citrus, yellow leaves can mean you’re overwatering, while citrus leaf curl could indicate not enough.
- Fertilize occasionally. Fertilizing your citrus trees will help keep your trees healthy, and generally leads to larger harvests. If you plan on fertilizing just once each year, do so in late winter or early spring during the growing season (this is when the trees are preparing to bloom and could do with the extra boost in nutrients). If you have a bit more time to dedicate to citrus tree care throughout the year, you can divide the recommended amount of citrus fertilizer to distribute it three times a year: late winter/early spring, early summer and late summer.
For citrus tree fertilizer, consider a 3-Month or 1-Year Citrus Care Kit from Citrus.com. (You will also get Nutritional Spray and Bloom-Time Spray Concentrates that will help keep your trees healthy.) For potted trees, you can also purchase specially formulated citrus soil or go with cactus, palm and citrus potting soil mix from a local store.
- Prune regularly. Pruning helps to protect your tree from citrus diseases. It is best to prune citrus trees in late winter or spring after harvest and before you see buds begin to form. Focus on removing damaged or unhealthy branches to help prevent citrus tree diseases, cutting back branches close to structures (such as a house or shed), and removing new growth in undesirable places (such as suckers low on the trunk). Minimize the removal of healthy branches and foliage, and never remove more than one-third of a tree per year.
When can I expect to harvest fruit from my trees?
Ah, the most important question! You’ll need to be patient – depending on how old your tree is when you get it, you’ll probably need to put in at least a few years of care before you get a good crop. If you are transplanting trees purchased from Citrus.com, you will probably only have to wait three to five years. In the meantime, enjoy the beauty and fragrance of your trees while you work on creating a healthy, beautiful family orchard.