Citrus Tree Growing Guide

What are the optimal environmental conditions for growing citrus? Whether you like a sweet, sour, or bitter taste, citrus fruit has it all. When you think citrus oranges, lemons, limes, or maybe even grapefruits probably all come to mind; however, there are many varieties of citrus trees that produce more than these rudimentary fruits. The fruits at hand are actually modified berries, called hesperidia, and vary in shape, size, color, and of course, taste.

How to Grow Your Own

Learning how to grow your own is a simple and productive way to enjoy the fruit! According to Mr. Austin Andrews, avid citrus farmer and founder of Sporty Citrus, the optimal environmental conditions for growing your citrus are warm locations with high humidity, lots of sunshine, few extreme weather swings, and clear ground underneath the tree. Mr. Andrews recommends that you plant your citrus trees “later in spring when actively growing, but not in the heat of the summer when the trees would be susceptible to disease and pests.”

Austin Andrews and one of his Citrus Trees
Choosing Your Tree

A broad overview of the process, Mr. Andrews says, looks a lot like this: “Choose a healthy tree, look for the tag to confirm certification details.  All you will need to do is a little trimming:  prune down branches to help direct the plant’s energy towards making fruit (make sure when you prune, you seal your cuts with tar or a prune seal); clean the area underneath the tree so that tree does not compete with grass or weeds; fertilize with a citrus fertilizer (such as Sta-Green Citrus and Avocado Food), and, once you see blooms, use Epsom salt to help grow and keep the tree healthy.” The first step after planting should be to place pine bark underneath the tree and lay it flat.  Mr. Andrews recommends pine bark over pine straw because it will decompose and contribute to soil organic matter and will eliminate most bugs and snakes pine straw can promote.

When initially acclimating your citrus tree, it is important to consider the amount of sunlight you are exposing the plant to. It will shock the trees if they are exposed to direct sunlight during the first week. The ideal location for this week would be a spot outside of your house with indirect sunlight that provides a one-to-two-hour window of sunlight for the tree. After the first week, you can move your citrus to its final location, a spot with 8 hours of sunlight a day.

Citrus trees require a rich, fast-draining soil. It is important to keep them moist without overwatering. Cover the soil surface with a three-inch layer of mulch to prevent moisture loss.

They are also non-resistant to freezes. To ensure the survival of your tree, especially during cold months, it is best to move the plants inside if possible. An alternative would be to cover the trees with a light landscape fabric or thin bed sheet. 

Feeding Your Trees

When it comes to feeding your trees, you must use a citrus specific fertilizer. These plants have special requirements and generally need heavier amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus. Citrus plants may drop flowers if they are getting excess nitrogen. According to Mr. Andrews, it is best to fertilize typically twice a year with a citrus fertilizer – starting when you see new growth. He urges, “make sure to fertilize around the perimeter in the drip line and fertilize again around June and after if needed.”  To be sure to know exactly how much and what mix of elements your plants need you should take a lab-based soil test.

The best place to purchase citrus trees is either a reputable store or local nursery. You do not need to purchase both male and female plants, because bees will naturally pollinate them.

When picking your fruit, Mr. Andrews recommends you clip the fruit off the tree rather than yank it. This helps the tree and the fruit, as without the ripped peel, the fruit will last longer! Remember, citrus plants are not like other fruit trees, you should leave the fruit on the trees to fully ripen. Therefore, don’t pick immediately!

If you want to read more and learn about planting guides, check out our blueberry planting guide here.