Growing Citrus Trees

Citrus plants offer a wide array of juicy fruit, including oranges, lemons and grapefruits. You can grow your own right at home, even if you live in a colder climate. Here are some helpful tips for growing these tasty trees.

Freeze Protection

All citrus fruits are warm-weather plants that need protection from frost in cold-winter areas. If frost is predicted, move them inside if you live in a climate with prolonged cold temperatures and freezes. In milder climates further south, protect citrus trees from frost by using a floating row cover made from light landscape fabric. You can also use a bedsheet, piece of burlap or even newspaper. Provide some sort of support to prevent the covering from resting directly on the leaves, or they may freeze to the cover and become damaged in spite of your efforts. For small trees, an inverted tomato cage works well for support. For larger trees, use bamboo stakes. Use bricks to keep the wind from blowing away the covers.

Feeding Citrus Trees

Use a fertilizer formulated especially for citrus, as these plants have special requirements and prefer nitrogen and phosphorus. Follow the directions on the label exactly. If you live in a frost-prone area, fertilize after the last spring frost and stop fertilizing altogether by late summer. In rainy areas nutrients leach out of soil more quickly, so frequent smaller feedings are appropriate. Citrus plants may drop flowers if they’re getting excess nitrogen.

Citrus Tree Maintenance

Citrus trees require a rich, fast-draining soil. Keep the soil moist but not wet at all times. Use a three-inch layer of mulch to cover the soil surface to prevent moisture loss. If your plants have yellow leaves, check for scale insects, which look like bumps on the stems and scrape off easily with your fingernail. If you find scale, use an insecticidal soap for control.

Growing Citrus in Containers

If you’d like to grow citrus trees but live in an area where they won’t overwinter, why not grow them in pots? You can bring them indoors when it’s cold and move them outside during warmer temperatures. To grow a citrus plant in a pot, choose a dwarf variety. Place a layer of rich, fast-draining potting soil in the bottom of the pot. Set the tree in place, and check the top of the root ball for correct planting depth. The top of the root ball should be two to three inches below the rim of the pot. Fill the pot with potting soil, firming gently. Apply a light layer of soil on top of the root ball. Move the potted tree to a location in the warmest, sunniest part of the garden, and water well. At the threat of frost, move the pot to a warm, sunny location indoors.

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