My orange trees are blossoming now and the scent is heavenly!
Got citrus? Southern California is premiere citrus growing territory. Even if you don’t have a yard, you can grow citrus in pots. Now that the chance of frost is past, it’s a great time to plant citrus. They are beautiful evergreen trees with the bonus of providing great fruit. Choose oranges, lemons, limes, mandarins, or kumquats, all do well in our area. Grapefruit require a lot of heat to ripen, so unless you live in an area with long, hot summers, choose other citrus. For containers, get dwarf varieties. Here are simple tips for citrus tree care:
Five Steps for Caring for Citrus Trees
Choose a site in full sun. Dig a hole the same depth as the root ball and twice as wide. Loosen roots and place in hole with top of root ball about 1″ above the soil level. Back fill with native soil. Construct a watering basin about a foot from the trunk and water well.
If planting in a container, choose a large container such as a half wine barrel (all containers need to have drain holes). I like to use potting mix and cactus mix in equal portions as a planting mix.
Often I see citrus trees that look spindly with yellowing leaves. Odds are they are not being fertilized. The main nutrient citrus needs is nitrogen. Choose a fertilizer labeled ‘citrus food’ or look for one that is higher in nitrogen (fertilizers are labeled with 3 numbers such as 8-5-3, the first number is the percentage of nitrogen, the second phosphorous, the third potassium). Fertilize in February before the tree blossoms, then again in May, and a third time in June or July. Always follow fertilizer package instructions for the amount to apply.
Citrus trees need to be watered regularly. In summer, they need 4-6″ of water per month, apply one fourth of the water about once a week. Drip irrigation is best with 2 to 4 emitters per tree. For trees in containers, water 2-3 times a week until you see water draining out of the bottom of the container.
4. Pest Control
Citrus leaf miner is a moth which lays eggs on the leaf. It is the larvae which damages the leaf by tunneling and feeding on the leaf. Then they roll the leaf around themselves and pupate. Although the damage to the leaves is unsightly, the leaves are still producing food for the tree so leave them on the plant. There are pheromone traps that can be hung elsewhere in the garden to attract the moths away from the citrus tree.
Ants encourage other insects like aphids, scale, and whitefly. Therefore, by controlling ants, you control a lot of other insect problems. Control ants by using ant stakes or applying a sticky substance called Tanglefoot to the trunk of the tree. First wrap duct tape or fabric around the trunk of the tree and spread Tanglefoot on the tape or fabric. The ants will get stuck in the sticky substance. For more information on other pest and disease issues of citrus, visit the University of California’s Integrated Pest Management website.
5. Training, Pruning, Thinning
Citrus trees do not need much training or pruning. You can prune lightly to shape the tree. The best time is before blossoming or after fruit set. Citrus trees set more fruit than will mature. When the fruit are pea sized, many will drop off, this is normal. Later fruit drop may occur when the fruit is golf ball sized if there are adverse weather conditions like extreme heat or lack of water. Citrus takes months to mature and does not ripen off the tree. Pick a sample fruit and taste to see if it is ripe enough to pick others. Citrus stores well on the tree, so pick what you need and leave the rest until you need it. Once it starts falling off the tree, it’s time to pick the rest.
For photos and descriptions of citrus varieties to try see the University of California’s ‘Selected Citrus Varieties for the Home Gardener’.