Citrus Care for Southwestern Summer

Citrus are easy to care for. Unlike some fruit trees who are drama queens, citrus is more of a “leave-me-alone-to-get-the-job-done kind of fruit tree. There are only three things you need to do as a citrus owner, and one of them is a don’t!

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Allow the plant to shade it’s trunk. Young trees might take time to grow to mature form like seen in the next photo.

Number One Citrus Care

Don’t prune citrus. All citrus trees have a naturally globe shape. They NEED to shade their trunk and thus you need to let them naturally form their glossy green globe.
If you prune this shape, sunlight hits the trunk of the tree, and then the trouble starts. Minor problems include fruit drop and poor fruit quality. Major problems include splitting or cracking bark, sap oozing out, gumosis, limb death, and even death of the entire tree. Avoid pruning citrus if at all possible. If you must, do so in fall or early winter, never in summer.

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Mature citrus form a naturally globular form. Be sure to plant them where they have room to grow.

That said, interior pruning to eliminate crossing branches or sucker growth needs to be done. If such pruning causes the trunk to be exposed to sunlight, paint the exposed area with “Go Natural Citrus Paint” a gray paint specifically created for the task. (This paint can also be used on other thin barked fruit trees such as peaches.)

Number Two Citrus Care

Do fertilize. A well balanced citrus fertilizer should be used. Generally this is one high in nitrate and phosphate, such as ammonium phosphate (16-20-0). Fertilizer only needs to be applied to established trees three times per year. St. Patrick’s Day, Memorial Day, and Labor Day. If you missed the Memorial Day fertilizer, you can do it now, but don’t apply full strength. Citrus can take the heat, but they are surviving the heat not thriving in it. Full fertilizer now can put too much stress on the plant.

Apply fertilizer correctly – at least six inches away from the trunk, and extending outward to several feet beyond the branch ends. The feeder roots that take up the fertilizer are below the branch ends and further out. If your tree has a tree well and it is not that large, time to make it bigger.

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Fertilizer offers the “vitamins” a plant needs to grow ample fruit.

Water fertilizer into the soil so it does not burn the roots. Better yet, dissolve fertilizer in water before applying.

Number Three Citrus Care

Water Correctly. Citrus prefers a deep watering, then allow the soil to dry out! Soils that are kept wet can kill the tree. Water too often, and you get poor fruit quality, and even problems with flowering. In moderate, loamy soils, water once a month October through March (or not at all if more than half an inch of rain falls that month). After March, increase irrigation frequency to every three weeks, and then every two or three weeks in the summer. This guideline depends on soil type.  More about watering here.

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Avoid over watering your citrus. Allow soil to dry so the roots can breathe.

Winter Care

Depending on variety, you may also need to protect your citrus from frost. Lucky for the Darwinistic gardeners reading this – a number of types of citrus are hardy to 10 degrees F. Well worth consideration if you want to travel in winter and not worry!

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“Ten-degree tangerine” is ideal for areas of the Southwest that freeze.

There you have it. Put away the pruning tools, fertilize only three times a year, and water only every so often. Citrus can be so easy to grow!

Soule-Jacqueline-writerIf you want to learn more about growing citrus, my book “Southwest Fruit and Vegetable Gardening,” written for Arizona, Nevada and New Mexico (Cool Springs Press) will help.
Note – this is an Amazon link – if you click on it and buy my book I get a few pennies.

© Article are copyright by Jacqueline A. Soule. All rights reserved. Republishing an entire blog post or article is prohibited without permission. I receive many requests to reprint my work. My policy is that you may use a short excerpt but you must give proper credit to the author, and must include a link back to the original post on our site. Photos may not be used.

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