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10 Biggest Citrus Growing Mistakes

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 others’ 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. Read this article about how to grow citrus in containers for cooler climates.


10 Biggest Citrus Growing Mistakes

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10 Biggest Citrus Growing Mistakes


Citrus Growing Mistake #1: Planting a tree without trying the fruit

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 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.

Local nurseries have citrus in stock but it may not be the best time to plant

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

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.


Dwarf varieties produce the same quality and size of fruit but yield about half as much fruit.

Dwarf varieties produce the same quality and size of fruit but yield about half as much fruit.


Semi-dwarf trees are usually 12-15 feet tall and wide.

Semi-dwarf trees are usually 12-15 feet tall and wide.


Standard-size trees are usually 20-25 feet tall and 16-18 feet wide, depending on the variety.

Standard-size trees are usually 20-25 feet tall and 16-18 feet wide, depending on the variety.


Citrus Growing Mistake #4: Planting the citrus tree too deeply

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.

Graft union of a citrus tree

Look at the trunk and you will see the graft.

top of root ball of a citrus tree

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

Citrus Growing Mistake #4: Planting the citrus tree too deeply

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

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. 

10 Biggest Citrus Growing Mistakes Citrus Growing Mistake #5: Amending the planting hole with rich soil or compost

Backfilling with compost and rich soil may create a smaller root system and a weaker tree. 

Backfilling with native soil stimulates the roots to spread and seek out nutrients in the surrounding soil.

Native soil encourages a larger root system that anchors and strengthens the tree.


Citrus Growing Mistake #6: Not watering deeply enough

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. 

10 Biggest Citrus Growing Mistakes

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. 

Use a soil probe to check watering depth on citrus

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. 

Use a soil probe to check watering depth on citrus

Use a soil probe to measure how deeply water penetrates.

Use a soil probe to check watering depth on citrus

The soil probe will penetrate through wet soil

10 Biggest Citrus Growing Mistakes Citrus Growing Mistake #6: Not watering deeply enough

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

Citrus Growing Mistake #7: Skirting and over-pruning citrus trees
Reasons not to skirt citrus

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. 

10 Biggest Citrus Growing Mistakes

Removing all these limbs is called “skirting”. Skirting trees is a common citrus growing mistake. 

  • Prune dead or crossing branches.
  • Do not prune in the summer; this exposes bark to sun damage. 
  • Cutting off new growth reduces the amount of fruit produced. 
10 Biggest Citrus Growing Mistakes

Prune suckers below the graft union, and sprouts (long, fast-growing shoots heading straight up).


Citrus Growing Mistake #8: Not fertilizing citrus trees

Citrus Growing Mistake #8: Not fertilizing citrus trees

Citrus are heavy feeders and need sufficient soil nutrients year-round.

10 Biggest Citrus Growing Mistakes

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.

Fruit Tree Fertilizer

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. 

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 #9: Exposing bark to sunlight

Citrus bark is easily sunburned. Avoid exposing bark by not skirting trees (see mistake #7), and protect exposed bark from direct sunlight.


10 Biggest Citrus Growing Mistakes

Use a breathable stretchable wrap made for trees.


Or paint with water-based paint made for citrus trees to protect the bark.


Citrus Growing Mistake #10: Not harvesting fruit

10 Biggest Citrus Growing Mistakes

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. 


More Citrus Information:

TYPES OF CITRUS TREES – VARIETIES OF CITRUS - Which type of citrus should I plant - #choosingcitrus #citrus

This article talks about 30 different varieties of citrus. Some oranges are best for juicing and others are best eaten fresh. Try to sample the type of fruit you are considering planting. 



How to grow citrus in Arizona #arizonacitrus #citrus

Looking for more information about how to grow citrus? This article shares even more information about how to grow citrus. 


Three tips for juicing oranges #juicing #orangejuice #oranges #citrus

Juicing oranges is simple with these tips. This article shares my 3 best tips for juicing oranges.


Visual planting guides for vegetables, herbs, fruits, flowers & vines.


If this post about citrus growing mistakes was helpful, please share it:

M H

Sunday 10th of March 2024

Uh-oh. Any advice to ensure our lemon tree continues to thrive if you make the mistake of heavy pruning and skirting (in March). Ours was overgrown and unkempt for many years.

Angela Judd

Sunday 10th of March 2024

March is the best time to prune. The tree will have time to recover and protect itself. I would cover any exposed trunk areas with paint or a tree wrap. It probably needed pruning if it was neglected. Proper watering and fertilizing will help the tree recover from neglect as well. Best of luck to you!

Helen

Saturday 7th of October 2023

This is a great, helpful article. The only thing I was left wondering is what kind of surface irrigation hoses should we use for our newly-planted citrus trees. We live near Florence, AZ.

Angela Judd

Sunday 8th of October 2023

Hi Helen, Deep watering is best. If you have flood irrigation that is ideal. Otherwise you can use bubblers or drip irrigation to water. Whichever method you use, run it long enough to water to a depth of 2-3 feet.

K. A. W.

Monday 26th of December 2022

Unfortunately the advice not to skirt orange trees is bad. There is a growing number of deadly/damaging fungi that produces spores that hang around the soil under and around the canopies of orange trees. The only way they can access the fruit is through spores transferring from the soil to the leaves, branches and directly onto the fruit. Who knows what else is lurking on the ground that can introduce invasive species to the tree. Low hanging fruit or even fruit touching the soil provides an expressway of unwanted "life" to take up residence in the tree that wouldn't be able to access it via the trunk such as ants which facilitate the breeding and feeding of the deadly Asian Citrus Psyllid carrying HLB that is a death sentence to citrus (why Florida was devastated). Ants make it possible for the ACP to attack the phloem producing honeydew and interfering with the flow of sap (sweetness) to the fruit which is what causes the terrible flavor in fruit while it's slowly dying (within approx. 3 years). There is plenty of reason to absolutely skirt preferably to 2 feet above the ground. The soil does not benefit from low hanging branches and fruit. That is done with good mulch. Low hanging fruit is also likely to be substandard in appearance and in flavor because it's nutrients and water comes from the core of the tree, not the ground. Too far to travel. The watering system can cause splashing of the water-laden soil which splashes the mold spores onto the tree parts. There is not much we can do to control rain splash, but at least we can help with the skirting. I have lived and observed and learned on our grove for 50 years. We are a Commercial Orange Grower in CA battling costly damage of fruit that is not noticed until after reaching the marketplace which is what happens with brown rot. Furthermore, spores causing blue and green mold, black mold and various other serious attacks on our fruit also gain access through touching the soil or water splash. Failing to skirt up to 2 feet is a significant cause of this. The fruit will appear aesthetically pleasing on the outside, but after harvest the rot that begins inside the fruit will make its way out and affect all the other fruit in the containers. Horrible loss all around. You can confirm this information just about anywhere citrus organization post information. The only argument among scientists and scholars to this is how high to skirt. Other arguments are pretty much gardeners who have a handful of trees. That's fine, but it is a serious duty to skirt, and if you see groves with low hanging fruit/branches, you can be sure they don't research enough to protect their trees. Skirting also relieves pressure on the supporting branches so they can support more of the quality fruit that grows from stronger branches. Oranges dangling from those long single scraggly strands of water sprout growths are using up vital nutrients and water for nothing good in return and should be removed. These are my conclusions based on my knowledge and experience to confirm it, but I am not recognized as an expert. I hope you find this to be a fascinating way to look at reasons for skirting. Thanks. Love those oranges to death!

Angela Judd

Monday 26th of December 2022

Thank you for taking the time to leave this very informative comment. I appreciate the additional insight. I was taught not to skirt trees in my Arizona master gardener courses through the University Extension Office. Your reasoning and experience make sense. Thanks for sharing.

Mark

Friday 30th of July 2021

I love citrus. And thanks for letting us know some mistakes when planting citrus. I want to plant it in my garden soon. Keep sharing more tips and advice like this.

Dee

Wednesday 7th of April 2021

Thank you so much! A citrus in container post would be great I have one more question related to your comment. Would the hottest months be June through August, or does September count too? Or maybe I should just ask which months you consider the hottest and coldest? And thank you for all this information you share. I love Arizona but it’s definitely different to garden here. So it’s nice to have a site where I can reference stuff that is actually applicable to our growing situation!!

Angela Judd

Thursday 8th of April 2021

You should probably add September to that as well, wishful thinking on my part not to add it. Best of luck to you!