Growing Citrus Yourself
How to Select Citrus Trees to Grow at Home
Before you just go out and buy any citrus tree to plant/grow at home, you might want to ask yourself the following questions:
What citrus do I use and like the most?
To what temperature extremes will the tree(s) be exposed?
How much space do I really have for a tree(s)?
What time of the year do I have a hard time finding the quality of citrus I like in my local market?
Citrus trees grow into three basic
Potted citrus trees – grow to 6’-7’ tall with a 4’-6’ limb diameter and can produce 80-160 pieces of fruit per year when mature.
Dwarf citrus trees – grow to 8’-9’ tall with a 7’-8’ limb diameter and can produce 500-600 pieces of fruit.
Full size citrus trees – grow to 20’-30’ tall with a limb diameter of the same 20’-30’ and can produce an 800 pieces of fruit.
Be careful in selecting a large enough back-yard setting based on the tree(s) sizes above. Plan for the future and take into consideration neighbors, fences, power lines, and other plants and trees. Select a spot that will allow the maximum sunlight to reach all parts of the tree.
Don't forget all the fruit you'll be harvesting!
After deciding on the trees...
what needs to be done next and when?
Planting in the ground during spring is best, between March to May before the weather is to hot but starting to warm.
Water immediately after planting and water frequently, but be careful NOT to over water-as the tree matures, water less frequently while increasing the amount.
A mature “full-size” citrus tree in the Central Valley of California will need about 75-100 gallons per day during the hottest days of summer.
Fertilizer is important but be careful not to over-fertilize. Young trees only require some compost while mature regular size trees will use about one pound of nitrogen per-tree, per-year.
Of course, we recommend organic fertilizer that you can make yourself by composting your own trimmings and vegetable plus fruit “leftovers”.
For pest control, if needed, usually a spray of hand dish soap, diluted in water (one ounce/gallon) will take care of any bad pest whilst preserving good insects.
Harvest when the flavor suits your taste buds and enjoy.
Citrus trees can be pruned anytime, but I recommend no cutting from October to February. This eliminates any potential damage due to a late freeze.
"A farmer is more like a veterinarian than a doctor. He must carefully observe the ‘patients’ he nourishes for signs of weakness, illness, and disease. He must calculate when and for what to test even if sees no symptoms."
This newly planted Navel orange tree has already begun to produce the delightfully scented orange blossoms. The tree has been planted in a well-drained soil and will receive full sun. Best to plant in the early spring after the danger of freeze but early enough to avoid high-temperatures of many areas suitable for citrus. This is also the best time to find the largest selection of healthy and vigorous young trees available in the nurseries.
Citrus tree nurseries bud citrus varieties onto selected rootstock/ A reputable nursery knows which varieties are best suited for each rootstock. The wholesale nurseries will grow the trees for one or two years. A good one-year old tree should have clean bark without any defects or wounds. Where the bud union is attached to the tree should be well-healed and at least six inches above the ground. Older trees can become root-bound and do not establish as quickly after planting.
This hillside residence has terraced the slope to accommodate planting and prevent erosion. The citrus trees planted here will make an attractive addition to the landscape while serving several functional purposes including providing the owners with a bountiful supply of citrus fruit. An integrated network of woody lateral roots with bunches of fibrous roots will develop deep into the soil allowing the planting to mature into strong and healthy trees.
These trees will mature, within a period of 4-5 years, into an evergreen ‘fence’ of privacy and protection. Commercial groves of oranges are usually planted 18-20 feet between trees to allow the maximum daily light exposure to all areas of the tree and to allow access for people and equipment to farm the grove. In private settings the trees can be much more easily ‘farmed’ and managed when planted closer to one another. The fruit produced becomes somewhat of a ‘bonus’.
Citrus can root very deeply and extensively under favorable environmental conditions with roots as deep as 18 feet. Root depth will range from 7 to 12 feet where trees are grown on raised beds and confined at depth by water or a hardpan layer. Lateral roots often extend well beyond the tree canopy. In fact, citrus roots have been detected up to 46 feet from the tree trunk in a rain fed 44 year old planting of oranges on a rootstock of rough lemon.
How much water and how that water is received by the trees are major influences of both what you see above the ground and the root system that develops underneath. Proper irrigation is probably the most important cultural practice to establish young trees. The highest concentration of the fibrous roots, those that uptake the water to the tree, develop under drip-irrigated systems within the volume of wetted soil around the emitters.
One of the biggest errors gardeners make in selecting citrus trees is gaging the size of the tree at maturity. In this photo, the tree has been planted too closely to the house behind it. Unless the tree is positioned so that the entire tree can receive sunlight for the maximum hours available, the tree will not thrive and will not produce fruit as expected. This will be especially noticeable in the areas of the shaded areas of the tree.
Not all neighbors may consider a citrus tree and the ensuing fruit hanging in their yard a treat, even if it is a delicious grapefruit! When planting consider the size the tree will reach at maturity. Also, plan on keeping the tree pruned so the branches will remain in the yard of the residence where they belong. Not being able to maintain all parts of the tree can also hamper proper nutritional care, pest management, and, not to mention harvesting of the fruit.
Pictured, Johnny Evans, a citrus cultural specialist and Nestor Carrizosa, an organic crop specialist, are in the field examining the quality & quantity of fruit in a citrus grove ready for harvest by Sunburst. These ‘average’ size mature citrus trees, even when kept to a manageable size, are 15-18 feet in height. Much of the fruit is hidden by the extensive canopy of branches and leaves that healthy trees produce.
Young trees often produce a few pieces of large fruit. At this early stage of the tree’s life, the 'tree' is being farmed as opposed to farming the ‘fruit’. Additional nutrients and nitrogen used in fertilizer will promote this growth of one, or a few, large pieces of fruit. As the tree matures and the amount of fertilizer and nutrients are decreased, the tree will begin bearing more fruit and the fruit will remain at the smaller, more desirable sizes and containing more juice & pulp.
The fundamental reason for planting citrus in containers is the ability to protect the tree; and for the most part, the most damaging element to citrus tree is freezing temperatures. The larger the container used the better and adequate drainage is crucial to growth of the tree. If the containers are placed on rollers, the tree can then be moved inside and grown in climates that otherwise could not be tolerated. This is the concept of the ‘Orangeries’ built in England.
In citrus groves grown for commercial production, depending on all the factors and all the variables, trees produce 300-800 pieces of fruit. For the individual, a plan needs to be in place to fully utilize all the fruit grown. Check out our blog for ideas to help you enjoy the fruit of your labor.