One of the benefits of living in the low desert of Arizona or other warm areas of the United States (such as Florida, California, and Texas) is the ability to grow citrus outdoors year-round. Learn how to grow citrus in Arizona and add a tree to your landscape.
The proper selection, planting, and care of a citrus tree can provide you with delicious fruit and a beautiful tree for years to come.
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Do you have questions about how to grow citrus in Arizona? Are you wondering…
- Where should I plant a citrus tree?
- Which size citrus tree is best?
- Which type of citrus tree should I plant?
- What time of year should I plant citrus in Arizona?
- How do I plant citrus trees in Arizona?
- What’s the best way to water citrus trees?
- Is it necessary to fertilize citrus?
- Do you need to prune citrus trees?
- How do I protect citrus trees from extremes in the weather?
- How can I tell if citrus fruit is ripe?
Click on a question to go right to the answer or keep reading for the answers to all of these questions in this post about how to grow citrus in Arizona.
1. Where should I plant a citrus tree?
Citrus trees are long-lived, and if planted in the correct location can become an asset to the property. Considerations for where to plant citrus trees include:
- Plant citrus where they can reach mature size without excessive pruning. Give them plenty of room to grow.
- Select a location away from all power lines.
- There should be plenty of clearance on all sides away from fences, buildings, and property lines.
- Avoid western exposures; late afternoon summer sun in Arizona is intense and can burn fruit and trees.
- Be aware of the microclimates in your yard, and avoid low spots which can be colder during frost events in the winter.
- Choose an area free of grass or remove grass before planting. The grass competes with the tree for water and nutrients.
2. Which size citrus tree is best?
Choose the correct size of citrus tree for the location and your needs. There are often 3 sizes of citrus trees within a variety of citrus.
- Standard trees can grow 20-25 feet tall and 16-18 feet wide.
- Semi-dwarf trees are about two-thirds the standard size and reach 12-15 feet tall and wide.
- Dwarf trees are grafted onto dwarfing rootstock and often reach 6-8 feet tall and wide.
Dwarf varieties produce the same type and flavor of fruit but about half as much as standard-size varieties. This may be more than enough fruit for the home garden. If more variety in types of citrus is desired, consider planting a few types of dwarf citrus trees rather than one standard-size tree.
3. Which type of citrus tree should I plant?
This answer is simple; select which type of citrus you want to eat. A properly cared for citrus tree lives for a long time, and over its lifetime will produce hundreds of pounds of fruit. Choose a type of citrus you like to eat and will use so the fruit does not go to waste.
If you visit a grower during citrus harvesting season, many will allow you to sample fruit right off the tree.
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.
Still can’t decide? This article may help you decide which type of citrus tree to plant.
4. What time of year should I plant citrus in Arizona?
The best time to plant citrus trees in the low desert of Arizona is in the spring after the danger of frost has passed (usually mid to late February). Citrus can be planted from this time through May. Do not plant citrus from June through September.
5. How do I plant citrus trees in Arizona?
Give your citrus tree the best chance for a long and healthy life by planting it correctly.
- Dig a hole 3 to 5 times wider than the diameter of the container of the citrus tree, but no deeper. Wide holes encourage the roots to grow outward through the soil and anchor the tree.
- Plant as deep as the root level of the pot. Be careful not to bury the graft union where the citrus tree is grafted onto the rootstock.
- Break up the root ball a bit on the bottom to encourage the roots to spread out.
- Backfill with native soil; it is unnecessary to amend the soil or use fertilizer when planting.
- Remove any stakes or wraps that are around the citrus trunk. Left in place, these can girdle the tree and kill it.
- If the bark is exposed to sunlight, paint it with a latex-based paint or wrap it with a flexible tree wrap for sun protection.
- Label your tree. This often-overlooked step is important, so don’t skip it! I use these labels from Amazon.
- Remove fruit from the tree before it matures during the first 2 years to encourage root and tree growth rather than fruit production.
6. What’s the best way to water citrus trees?
Effective watering is the most important part of caring for citrus trees. Many problems with citrus can be traced back to water issues (too much water, not enough water, inconsistent watering, etc.). A big part of learning how to grow citrus in Arizona is learning how to water citrus correctly.
Here are principles to keep in mind when watering citrus:
- Newly-planted citrus requires more frequent watering than mature citrus.
- Mature trees need more water as they get larger.
- Apply water to entire root zone and canopy of the tree plus a little further to encourage root growth beyond the canopy of the tree. Building a berm around the outside edge of the tree canopy is an effective way to water in this zone.
- Slow, deep applications of water are best. Water to a depth of 1 to 2 feet for newly-planted citrus, and to 3 feet for trees in the ground 3 years or more. (Use a soil probe to see how deep you are watering).
- Allow the top several inches of soil to dry out between waterings.
- The frequency of watering is dependent on several factors: the type of soil (clay holds moisture longer than sandy or rocky soils), sun exposure, rain, temperature, and wind conditions.
- The publication “Irrigating Citrus Trees” from the University of Arizona Extension Office has general guidelines for watering intervals.
7. Is it necessary to fertilize citrus?
The production of so much fruit comes at a cost…nitrogen (and other nutrients)! Mature citrus trees are heavy feeders and need regular doses of supplemental fertilizer. The correct feeding of citrus trees rewards you with delicious fruit and a healthy tree year after year. Tips to remember when fertilizing citrus are:
- Use an organic fertilizer formulated for citrus. Citrus trees benefit from the additional micronutrients and minerals in this type of fertilizer.
- Apply the correct amount of fertilizer depending on the age and size of the tree. Newly-planted citrus and citrus in the ground less than 2 years may not need additional fertilizer.
- Water citrus well after fertilizing. Nitrogen in fertilizer can be lost if not watered into the soil.
- Apply fertilizer at the drip line, where it can be taken up and used by the roots.
- Over-fertilizing can burn roots and damage fruit. It is possible to have too much of a good thing.
- Apply fertilizer at the correct time of year. The total amount of fertilizer needed for the year is often broken up into 3 feedings*:
Lemons and limes: apply ⅓ of fertilizer in January – February, ⅓ in March – April, and ⅓ in August – September.
Oranges, mandarins, and grapefruit: ⅓ of the recommended range of fertilizer in January – February, ⅓ in March – April, and ⅓ in May – June.
*According to the University of Arizona Extension Office. See this Citrus Fertilization Chart for application amount guidelines.
8. Do you need to prune citrus trees?
Unlike other types of fruit trees, citrus trees do not require pruning. Although many people prefer the “skirted” look of citrus trees with lower branches removed, it is best not to prune these branches from citrus trees. These branches naturally shade the trunk and bark from sunburn. When pruning citrus, here are a few things to keep in mind:
- Do not prune citrus during the summer.
- Prune in the spring after the danger of frost is past.
- Prune to remove dead branches and crossing limbs.
- Remove suckers and sprouts.
- Always remove suckers below the graft union.
9. How do I protect citrus trees from extremes in the weather?
The low desert of Arizona ranges from scorching triple-digit heat in the summer to freezing temperatures during the coldest periods of the year. Properly caring for and learning how to grow citrus in Arizona includes giving extra care to citrus during these extremes of weather.
- Maintain a regular watering schedule and water citrus correctly.
- Do not prune the lower branches of trees, allowing them to shade bark and soil naturally.
- Protect bark exposed to the sun by painting with water-based latex paint or tree wrap.
- Mulch trees to help maintain soil moisture and temperature. Keep mulch away from the trunk.
- If freezing temperatures are expected, irrigate citrus.
- Have frost cloth or burlap on hand to protect citrus if temperatures dip below 32℉.
- Drape citrus from the top all the way to the ground to trap radiating heat.
10. How can I tell if citrus fruit is ripe?
Taste is the best measure of when citrus is ripe. It is important to learn the approximate time when the type of citrus you are growing becomes ripe and then begin sampling the fruit.
The color isn’t always the best measure of when the fruit is ripe because the rind color is affected by temperature. Once citrus fruit is picked, it will not ripen anymore.
Leave citrus on the tree until ready to use. Many types of citrus keep on the tree for months. When fruit begins to soften and fall, remove the remaining fruit from the tree.