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!
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.
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.
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.
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!
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!
If 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.
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