Citrus trees are surprisingly easy to grow, and so rewarding – their glossy green evergreen leaves, colorful (and delicious!) fruit, and fragrant blossoms can add interest to your outdoor (and indoor) spaces. And if you’re lucky enough to live in USDA Growing Zones 9-11, you can grow citrus trees right in your yard. Here are some tips for growing citrus at home:
Soil Composition for Citrus Trees
Citrus trees are surprisingly hardy, but they do have some soil preferences. Although citrus trees can grow in nearly any soil with good drainage, they grow best in loamy or sandy loam soils. Planting citrus trees in clay soil can be problematic, because fine particles in clay soil make it compact easily, shutting out air and water that citrus trees need to flourish, while planting in sand-heavy soil can make it difficult for your tree’s roots to retain moisture.
Both problems can be overcome by adding organic matter to the soil. Dried animal manure (available in many yard and garden centers) is a great way to amend problematic soil. All-in-One Kits from Citrus.com include organic matter to help you get started with growing your citrus trees successfully.
How to Plant Citrus Trees
Because they are very sensitive to cold, when planting citrus trees outdoors you should select a location to the south or southeast of your house (if possible) so the building can offer some protection from the wind.
- Keep the soil moist. Citrus grows best in moist (not soggy!) soil. Water your tree every seven to 10 days during the summer, providing it with 4 to 6 inches of water each month. Allow the soil around mature trees to partially dry before watering again – citrus trees that are over-watered are at risk of root rot, while trees that aren’t watered enough won’t produce as much fruit.
- Fertilizing citrus trees. Citrus trees need applications of nitrogenous fertilizer throughout the growing season to promote fruit production. Give trees two to three years old about 2 tablespoons of actual nitrogen just before watering two to four times a year. Fertilize mature trees with 2 to 3 pounds of nitrogen each year, scattering the fertilizer over the root area and then watering the soil. In addition, giving your tree a balanced citrus food may correct mineral deficiencies in the soil and promote growth.
- Weeding and mulching. To reduce competition for moisture and nutrients, be sure to keep the area around your tree weeded at least four feet away. You’d also do well to mulch around fruit trees because doing so helps minimize weeds, and has the added benefit of helping the soil to retain moisture.
- Pest control. Citrus trees can be sensitive to chemicals, so it’s best to go with natural pest control options.
Growing Citrus in Pots
Whether you grow your citrus tree in a container outdoors in the summer and indoors in the winter or indoors year-round, the plant needs the same well-draining soil as a plant in the ground, and the container needs numerous drainage holes.
Potting soil (particularly formulated for succulent plants) works fine for container plants. Raise the container off the ground to encourage air circulation around the soil. You should water the plant more frequently than you would an in-ground plant, and feed it regularly with a specially formulated fertilizer for citrus trees in pots (Citrus.com has Soil and Care Kits that are very helpful – just follow the package instructions). And as with in-ground plants, keep the soil of your potted citrus tree partially dried out between watering.
How Long Does it Take for Citrus Trees to Bear Fruit?
If you’re growing your first citrus tree, you’re naturally eager to know when you can expect homegrown fruit!
How soon you can expect fruit will depend somewhat on the type of citrus tree you have and how old it is, but in general, citrus begin bearing fruit within two to three years of transplanting into the garden. Trees grown from seed require seven years or more before producing flowers and fruit.