How To Grow Citrus Trees

Cultivate sunshine in your garden!

KumquatKumquats, such as this one, are some of the hardiest citrus, tolerating temperatures as low as 20 degrees F.

Citrus trees, with their vibrant foliage and sun-kissed fruits, bring a slice of Mediterranean beauty to any garden. Whether you're a seasoned green thumb or just starting your gardening journey, cultivating these trees can be a rewarding and enjoyable experience. With a little care and attention, you can bring forth the zesty bounty of lemons, oranges, limes, or grapefruits right in your backyard. Here's your comprehensive guide to growing citrus trees, tailored for gardeners of all abilities.

Choosing the Right Variety

When starting your citrus journey, select tree varieties that suit your climate. Different types thrive in varying conditions. For instance, Meyer lemons and Satsuma mandarins are more cold-hardy, making them perfect for cooler regions, while Key limes favor warmer, subtropical climates. Consider your local weather patterns and choose accordingly.

Type of Citrus Botanical Name Temperature at Which Frost Damage Occurs
Lime Citrus aurantiifolia 32° F
Lemon Citrus limona 28° F
Grapefruit Citrus paradisi 26° F
Pomelo Citrus maxima 24° F
Tangelo Citrus paradisi x reticulata 24° F
Orange Citrus nobilis 24° F
Mandarin Citrus reticulata 22° F
Meyer Lemon Citrus limon 'Improved Meyer' 22° F
Kumquat Fortunella margarita 20° F

Do you garden in a climate "too chilly" for citrus? Consider growing a dwarf variety in a container that can be wheeled inside during the winter, and moved back outside during the warmer months.

Related Article: Growing Citrus In Planters 


Spring is typically the best time to plant citrus trees. Select a spot with well-draining soil and ample sunlight, preferably at least 6-8 hours daily. Before planting, ensure the soil pH falls between 6.0 and 7.5. If needed, amend the soil with organic matter like compost or compost-based mix. Dig a hole twice as wide as the tree's root ball and at the same depth. Gently loosen the roots before planting, then place the tree in the hole, backfilling it with soil. Water thoroughly and mulch around the base to retain moisture and deter weeds.

Watering and Feeding

Grapefruit on treeRuby Red grapefruit ripening on the tree. Photo by Angela Judd

Proper watering is crucial, especially during the tree's initial years. Water deeply but infrequently, allowing the soil to dry out slightly between watering sessions. During hotter months, increase watering frequency, but beware of overwatering, which can lead to root rot. A drip irrigation system or soaker hose can ensure enough water is getting directly to the roots, and isn't being lost to evaporation.

Feeding your citrus tree is essential for healthy growth and fruit production. Apply a balanced fertilizer specifically formulated for citrus trees according to the package instructions. Feed your tree in late winter and late spring (January to March, depending on your grow zone) to support blooming and fruit development.

Pruning and Maintenance

Regular pruning helps shape the tree, encourages airflow, and eliminates dead or diseased branches. Perform light pruning throughout the year to maintain the tree's structure. Major pruning should be done in late winter to early spring before new growth emerges.

Pest and Disease Management

Keep an eye out for pests such as aphids, scale insects, and citrus leaf miners. Insecticidal soaps or horticultural oils can help control minor infestations. Additionally, regularly inspect your trees for signs of diseases like citrus canker or greening. Promptly remove affected areas to prevent further spread and consider consulting a professional if needed.

Protection from Frost

Citrus trees can be sensitive to frost. When temperatures drop, especially for young trees, consider using frost cloths or blankets to shield them from freezing conditions. Watering the soil before a freeze can also provide some insulation to the roots.


Ripe lemonsRipe lemons ready for harvest. Photo by Angela Judd

The joy of growing citrus culminates in the harvest. The harvesting period for various citrus types can vary significantly, ranging from a brief 2 months for some to several months for others. It's crucial to pick the fruit within the designated harvesting window for each citrus variety. It's worth noting that the color of the rind doesn't always indicate ripeness; instead, it is influenced by the weather, not necessarily reflecting the fruit's readiness. To determine if citrus is ready for consumption, the best method is to sample one or two fruits at a time until you find the desired taste. The longer citrus fruits stay on the tree, the sweeter they become. During ripening, the acid content decreases while the sugar content increases. Once harvested, the fruit will not continue to ripen. Unpicked fruit, once past its prime, may either soften, harden on the vine, or fall off altogether.

So, roll up your sleeves, dig into the earth, and let the zestful world of citrus cultivation bring sunshine to your garden and home!

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Last updated: 02/26/2024