Citrus is easy to grow in warm climates, but it is important to avoid a few key citrus growing mistakes many home citrus growers make. Learn from other’s mistakes and enjoy better tasting citrus fruit for years to come.
The information in this blog post about citrus growing mistakes is for citrus planted in the ground in warm climates that can grow citrus outdoors year round. Look for an upcoming article about how to grow citrus in containers for cooler climates.
10 Biggest Citrus Growing Mistakes
Citrus Growing Mistake #1: Planting a tree without trying the fruit
There are dozens of varieties of citrus. Choose a type you will eat and enjoy – do a little research about the varieties you are considering.
Try to sample the fruit – this is another advantage of purchasing from a local grower, they often have mature varieties growing.
Does the fruit have seeds? Do you like the taste? Citrus trees are long-lived and produce hundreds of pounds of fruit. Make sure you like the fruit.
Citrus Growing Mistake #2: Planting at the wrong time of year
Citrus is frost-sensitive; plant it after danger of frost is passed. In hot climate areas (like the low desert of Arizona), don’t wait too long in the spring. Planting earlier in the spring allows roots to get established before the heat of the summer. Citrus roots grow and develop quickly in the spring.
In the low desert of Arizona, do not plant citrus from June through mid-September.
There is a second planting window in the fall but be aware newly-planted citrus is more susceptible to frost damage. Cover young citrus during frost events.
Be an informed consumer. Local retailers may have citrus in stock all year long, but do not purchase if it’s not the right time of year to plant citrus in your area.
Citrus Growing Mistake #3: Planting the wrong size for the space available
Allow enough space for trees to reach their mature size. Over-planting causes problems with restricted sunlight and airflow around trees.
Plant far enough away from buildings, fences, and property lines to allow the tree to reach maturity. It’s easy to make this citrus growing mistake; young citrus trees can look deceivingly small.
Dwarf varieties produce the same quality and size of fruit but yield about half as much fruit.
Citrus Growing Mistake #4: Planting the citrus tree too deeply
This is one of the most common citrus growing mistakes. Different citrus types are always grafted onto a root-stalk. Look at the trunk and you will see the graft. Do not bury the graft; instead plant at the level of the root ball (not necessarily the level they were in the nursery pot).
Before you purchase a tree, dig around the soil to ensure they didn’t put a smaller plant in a larger pot and fill it with soil. Roots should be close to the surface.
It’s best to plant trees with the root ball at the level of planting or a little bit higher. Dig a hole as deep (but not any deeper) as the root ball (but 3-5 times as wide). If a tree is planted too deeply, it can have problems for life: disease and pest issues, lower fruit production, and finally death.
Citrus Growing Mistake #5: Amending the planting hole with rich soil or compost
When you plant the citrus tree, backfill the planting hole with the same native soil that was removed. If you amend the soil with compost and rich soil, you are creating a small area for the roots to find everything they need.
Backfilling with compost and rich soil creates a smaller root system and a weaker tree.
Backfilling with native soil stimulates the roots to spread and seek out nutrients in surrounding soil. Native soil encourages a larger root system that anchors and strengthens the tree.
Citrus Growing Mistake #6: Not watering deeply enough
Problems with citrus can often be traced back to insufficient or improper watering. Watering correctly is the most important thing you can do for healthy trees.
Learn how to recognize when citrus trees need water, and water as needed.
Citrus leaves that droop or curl inward are a sign of insufficient water. Leaves that have plenty of water are usually flat or curled slightly downward.
Newly-planted and young citrus trees need watering more often.
Once established, citrus trees do best with slow, deep infrequent water that encourage the roots to go deeper to find the water.
Water to a depth of at least 18-24 inches and up to 3 feet for mature trees each time you water. Use a soil probe to determine how deeply the water penetrates.
Citrus roots need air as well as water. Allow the top several inches of soil to dry out before you water again. Overwatering leads to root rot.
The publication “Irrigating Citrus Trees” from the University of Arizona Extension Office has general guidelines for watering intervals.
Citrus Growing Mistake #7: Skirting and over-pruning citrus trees
Unlike deciduous fruit trees, citrus trees do not require pruning. Leaving the tree limbs near the ground helps maintain soil moisture and reduce soil temperature. Removing all these limbs is called “skirting”. Skirting trees is a common citrus growing mistake.
- Prune dead or crossing branches.
- Prune suckers below the graft union, and sprouts (long, fast growing shoots heading straight up).
- Do not prune in the summer; this exposes bark to sun damage.
- Cutting off new growth reduces the amount of fruit produced.
Citrus Growing Mistake #8: Not fertilizing citrus trees
Citrus are heavy feeders and need sufficient soil nutrients year-round. Leaf discoloration and pale citrus leaves are often caused by nutrient deficiencies – usually iron, magnesium, and nitrogen.
Use an organic fertilizer developed for citrus trees and apply it according to package directions throughout the year. Water well before and after applying fertilizer.
In the low desert of Arizona, our fertilizer application dates are typically Valentine’s Day, Memorial Day, and Labor Day.
Citrus Growing Mistake #9: Exposing bark to sunlight
Citrus Growing Mistake #10: Not harvesting fruit
Leaving overripe fruit on the tree invites insects, birds, and rodents to your tree.
Citrus harvests usually begin in late fall and carry over into spring. Sample fruit at the beginning of the harvest window for that type of tree to see if it is ripe. Citrus often remains ripe on the tree for several weeks. Enjoy it!
Once the fruit begins to soften and drop, get all the fruit off the tree. This is a simple citrus growing mistake to remedy. Clean-up any fallen fruit to discourage pests and rodents.