Main Squeeze: Growing Citrus Trees
Pucker up! Grow fresh citrus fruits in your backyard with these tips.
Ever dreamed of squeezing lemon or orange juice grown from a tree in your backyard? Dream no more! While citrus trees and bushes do require certain conditions and some special care, growing them is not necessarily the lengthy, failure-fraught process you might assume.
Here are some tips for growing your own citrus plants:
Buy Healthy, Well-Developed Plants
As with any kind of tree or bush, the healthier the plant you buy, the better it will do. Look for a strong young tree with an established root system. If you will be planting your tree in a container, look for a dwarf variety.
Location, Location, Location
Citrus trees love sunlight and warmth, so a south-facing bed is best. A spot next to your house or garage can provide added protection and warmth, but don’t get too close: your citrus plant will need a good 6-8 feet of space between it and a structure or driveway, sidewalk, sewer lines or septic system. Don’t place your citrus tree next to a taller tree: it needs to stand tall in the sun without competition! If your climate includes frosts and freezing temperatures, a container is best so you can bring your tree indoors during the winter.
Choose Your Soil
Well-draining soil is essential to a citrus tree’s health. No soggy roots! If your soil isn’t ideal, you can plant a citrus tree or bush in a raised bed to allow more drainage and control over the soil conditions. If planting in a container, choose a well-draining soil and make sure your container has plenty of drainage holes.
If you will be planting your citrus tree or bush in the ground, dig a hole that’s about 50% wider than the tree’s root ball. Before planting, rinse or shake some of the soil off of the tree’s roots: this will allow its roots to establish more quickly in its new home. When you’ve filled the hole in with potting soil, the top of the mound should be slightly higher than the lawn to allow for water run-off.
If you’ll be growing your tree in a container, consider plastic, wood or resin pots as they will be easier to move later than heavy clay pots. A 12 – 16” container is best for a first potting of a typical young citrus tree. Later, when the tree’s roots have grown, you can move it to a 20” container. Lay pea gravel at the bottom of the pot, place your tree, then fill in the pot with a well-draining potting soil. When the weather starts to get colder, start bringing your tree inside for a couple of hours a day, increasing over several weeks until the tree is living indoors full-time. Place it by a sunny window away from drafts. When risk of frost has passed, help your citrus plant adjust to the change in lighting by slowly exposing the plant to more and more sunlight, until it can tolerate a full 8-hour day of sun.
Immediately after planting your citrus tree, you’ll want to water well a few days a week, but then you can begin to cut back until you’re watering only when soil is dry. Keep in mind that your citrus tree will not require as much water during colder months.
Now watch and wait! It may take a few years for your young tree to bear fruit, but when you’re squeezing your own homegrown lime into a drink or slicing up a fresh-off-the-tree orange, the wait will be well worth it.