Growing your own citrus is a great way to ensure you have fresh fruit at home. Lemons, limes, and oranges are used in many recipes, from cooking to baking and even cocktails. But there’s more to growing citrus trees than just planting them in the ground. Having a solid understanding of what conditions the plant needs and when you should plant it are major steps in growing a healthy, fruit-bearing citrus tree.
When is the Best Time to Plant Citrus?
Most master gardeners recommend planting citrus trees in the fall for the best results. Planting trees at this time allows the tree to develop a deep root system over the winter. You’ll just want to ensure that the ground is not frozen and temperatures are not within the freezing range.
The best thing about some citrus varieties is their hearty nature, even in less-than-perfect climates. Meyer lemon trees are a good example, which can handle temperatures as low as 20 degrees Fahrenheit. If you live in a warmer area, planting citrus can be a nice tropical addition to your garden. But even in cooler regions, you’ll simply want to plant them in pots and move them indoors when the weather turns cold. During this cooler time, the plant will also need to be watered less frequently as it will be dormant.
How Do I Choose Outdoor Planting Or Container?
You’ll want to research your growing zone before deciding whether to plant your citrus trees outdoors or in moveable containers like pots. Most citrus varieties can’t handle conditions lower than 28 degrees Fahrenheit, so the average temperature in your planting zone is one thing to consider.
When considering USDA Hardiness Zones, anyone north of Zone 8 should plant citrus trees in pots to avoid permanent frost damage. Those living within Zone 8 are typically safe to plant citrus in the ground if the plants are on the south or southeast side of a building for protection. Anyone living in Zone 9 or above can plant citrus trees in the ground without any worry or added protection.
Cold Weather Care
No matter where your citrus trees are planted, if you live in a cooler zone with the potential of freezing, you’ll want to take precautions with your plants. Anytime a freeze is possible, move your potted citrus indoors for protection from the elements.
When you have outdoor citrus and are expecting a freeze, you’ll want to take added steps to protect the plant. You can cover the tree with a sheet or blanket for an easy fix. However, this must only stay on the plant if the temperature is under 36 degrees F.
If you’re expecting multple cold nights in a row, consider building a miniature greenhouse with PVC pipe to surround the tree and then cover it with blankets or plastic. Just make sure the covering doesn’t touch the leaves. With either method, colder temperatures will often cause the tree to drop leaves, but this isn’t typically a concern.
With any of these plants, whether in pots or in the ground, it’s best to choose a sunny location for them to reside. As they are naturally tropical plants, they’ll require ample amounts of sunlight to grow strong and bear fruit. So don’t even consider a partial-shade area; these plants need abundant full sunlight all day.
Soil should be prepped before you consider planting the citrus tree. You’ll want looser soil for the young plant to develop a deep and strong root system quickly. This area of dedicated soil, whether in the ground or in pots, should be at least 1.5 to 2 times the size of the pot your tree came in. This hole will also allow the roots to spread and the tree to grow stronger.
In addition, consider adding a decent amount of organic material into the soil to help feed the plant, about a bucket per tree. This material can be well-rotted animal manure, garden compost, or even topsoil from a local greenhouse. Mix this into the soil you’re planting in for an additional boost in growth for the tree.
This soil should also be well-drained. Any soggy soil isn’t good for the tree’s roots and can cause rot before the tree even has a chance. While citrus plants need moisture, they don’t enjoy being water-logged.
Citrus Tree Care
You’ll want to continue caring for your citrus plant for the best results, especially in its younger years. There are typically just a few steps that need to be taken to keep your citrus tree in the best condition; watering, fertilization, pruning, disease protection, and harvesting.
Watering isn’t complicated for citrus trees, and outdoor plants often receive lots of natural watering from rain showers. Depending on the rainfall in your area, the citrus should be watered once weekly or bi-weekly. Getting a watering schedule down will help keep the plant healthy and happy. If you’re unsure when they need water, check the soil. If the first two inches are dry, it’s time to water.
Fertilizing is also important after the initial fertilization of their soil upon planting. It’s recommended to fertilize every four to six weeks from about February to August with products that are slightly nitrogen-rich in a blend.
The trees will require pruning to maintain shape and help them grow stronger. You can do this by clipping long branches and removing those growing toward the tree instead of away from it. Doing so maintains adequate airflow for growth.
Monitor the leaves on your citrus tree for any pests or diseases. Citrus cankers, root mites, and root rot are the most common for these plants. You’ll want to remove the diseased or damaged areas and use an approved fungicide to help the issue.
The final step in caring for your citrus tree is the best part, harvesting fruit. Although most varieties are ripe when they’re true to the color of the fruit or just slightly green, you’ll want to research depending on the citrus you plant. Most varieties will bear fruit only a few years after planting, so you’ll have fresh citrus in no time.
Sourcing High-Quality Citrus Trees
Citrus trees are a great addition to any garden or interior plant collection and can bring life to your home and bear fruit for your family. However, ensuring you plant and care for your new citrus tree correctly is only half the battle.
You’ll also want to ensure you’re starting with a healthy plant like navel orange trees, lemon trees, or lime trees. If you’re shopping around for lemon trees for sale or other citrus trees for sale, consider checking out Yarden.com. They have the selection of high-quality citrus trees you’re looking for so you can begin growing citrus at home.