Growing Citrus

We typically receive a very large order of citrus trees in mid March, followed by a slightly smaller summer and fall orders.
Our selection usually includes those listed below.  Our number is (512) 288-6113; please call for current availability.

Citrus are susceptible to freeze damage and vary in terms of cold hardiness.  Cold hardiness should be viewed as the ability to handle SHORT periods of time exposed to *temperatures below 32°.

Satsuma — upper-mid teens

  • Brown Select
  • Miho
  • Owari
  • Seto

Mandarin — mid to low 20°s

  • Honey
  • Kishu
  • Ponkan

Orange — upper 20°s

  • Blood Orange
  • Cara Cara
  • Navel Orange
  • Valencia

Tangerine — upper 20°s

  • Orlando
  • Algerian

Grapefruit — upper 20°s

  • Bloomsweet
  • Ruby Red
  • Rio Red

Lemon — mid 20°-32°

  • Frost Eureka
  • Improved Meyer
  • Lisbon
  • Variegated Pink
  • Ujukitsu

Lime — above 32°

  • Key
  • Mexican
  • Persian
  • Thai

* The temperature is important, also take wind chill into account when taking steps to prevent damage.  Containerized citrus can be brought indoors or into a garage when low temperatures threaten.  If a greenhouse or a bright, south-facing window is available, they may be kept indoors all winter.

Remove fruits & flowers on new citrus purchases for the first two years!

  • For the health of the plant:  Removing any flowers/fruits encourages the development of vigorous roots and strong limbs by redirecting energy away from the flowers and fruit.  Being patient allows for a larger, sturdier plant, which will more easily bear the weight of a robust harvest!
  • For the health of your family and the environment:  All commercially grown citrus in sold in Texas is required by state mandate to be treated with neonicotinioid pesticides to control citrus greening disease.  After two years the pesticides should no longer be present, and the flowers will pose no threat to bees and other pollinators.  If the tree has been cared for organically since purchase from us it will now produce organic fruit.

Site Location

Planting on the south side of your house protects the tree from the freezing north winds, and can provide the brightest sunlight.  Avoid valleys or low areas where cold air collects, and where soil may remain too wet during rainy spells.  Outdoor citrus should be mulched to a depth of 3″, and must be covered with heavyweight row cover (frost cloth) during mild freezes.  For further protection during harder freezes, drape the citrus with outdoor incandescent Christmas lights before thoroughly covering it.  As an extra precaution foam pipe insulation can be wrapped around the trunk to ensure that some of the grafted portion will survive.  Water the tree before a freeze.

The dwarf varieties can be grown almost indefinitely in a container.  Standard varieties will eventually need to be transplanted either into the ground or a very large container. 

Most of the citrus sold at The Natural Gardener are on a grafted rootstock.  The rootstock is chosen to keep the tree small (dwarf), and to improve cold hardiness or adaptability to our soil.  During a freeze, it is not unusual for a tree to freeze back so far that no “live” parts appear to exist above the soil level.  Later in the spring, new shoots may appear from BELOW the graft/ground level.  This growth is from the rootstock, NOT from the tree originally purchased.  If there is no growth above the graft, the tree is no longer the type of citrus originally planted.  At this point, it would be better to remove the plant and start with a new one.

Fertilizing

Citrus are very heavy feeders and nitrogen is the primary nutrient citrus require.  Use a high nitrogen fertilizer but do not use typical bloom fertilizers as they are usually high in phosphorus which is not beneficial to citrus. Fertilize during the growing season.  An annual application of a mineral supplement to supply iron is beneficial.

Pruning & Production

Citrus do not require significant pruning.  During early tree development, it is important to remove suckers from the base of the tree. These shoots are likely to be the rootstock variety, will not produce desirable fruit, and will interfere with tree development if not removed.  Mature citrus trees do not require pruning of the canopy for production or tree health except when substantial injury occurs following disease or freeze damage.  Citrus do not require fruit thinning.   Typical citrus trees go through three distinct periods of fruit drop.   First, is the drop of about 70-80% of the flowers during and immediately following bloom.  The second drop occurs a couple of weeks later, involving small fruit of pea-size to marble-size.  The third drop occurs in late May, involving larger fruit, almost golf ball in size.  Young citrus trees can be alternate-bearing.  This means the tree may have one year of very good production, followed by zero production the next year.  This is normal in young trees.  As they mature, they will become more consistent and begin bearing every year. 

Finally, one of the hardest parts about growing citrus is waiting for the fruit to ripen.  Ripening times vary among varieties and from year to year, but expect citrus fruit to ripen in the fall through winter.  Color is not a good indicator of ripeness.  Once picked, the fruit will NOT ripen off of the tree, so consider “sampling” some fruit to check for proper ripeness/sweetness before harvesting the entire tree.

If your citrus gets eaten by a strange caterpillar that looks a bit like bird poop – don’t kill it! It’s a giant swallowtail butterfly! If there are any other pest issues, put a sample in a plastic bag and bring it to our diagnosticians.

Giant Swallowtail Butterfly
Giant Swallowtail Caterpillar
Citrus blooms also attract other swallowtail species.