A citrus tree is one of the most rewarding fruit trees you can grow. Whether you choose lemon, lime, orange, cumquat, mandarin or grapefruit, they can all produce copious amounts of fruit for you to flavour dishes or enjoy straight from the tree. Most grow into a medium-sized tree (between 4-6 m tall) but if you don’t have the space or you want to grow in pots, look for dwarf compact forms that typically grow between 1.5-2m tall. These trees may be smaller, but they still produce as well as their larger counterparts.
Below is a simple guide which gives you all the information you need to grow your own citrus at home.
Growing Citrus: Sunlight
Citrus need between six-to-eight hours of full sun. Without this, they will not grow nor fruit well, so make sure they receive plenty of sunshine.
Growing Citrus: Soil and Potting Mix
Ensure you have soil that is well-draining before planting citrus trees in the garden. If the soil is hard to dig or takes a while to drain when watered, it is likely to be made up of clay. Clay holds onto moisture and while some clay in soils is good, too much of it will eventually lead to issues with root rot. Improve the soil by digging in gypsum and organic matter, like compost and aged manure. If it is too difficult to dig, consider growing in raised garden beds or pots.
When growing in pots, choose a pot at least 400mm wide and fill with a premium quality potting mix. Now is not the time to skimp on potting mix, especially when the difference between a regular and premium quality mix is a few dollars.
Growing Citrus: Planting
To plant a citrus tree, dig a hole twice the width and to the same depth as the existing container. Remove the plant from the pot, gently tickle the rootball to loosen the roots and position in the centre of the hole. Backfill with soil or potting mix, ensuring the soil level is not higher than the previous container. Fill in the well with diluted seaweed; this will help reduce transplant shock and promote stronger root growth.
Growing Citrus: Water
Water citrus regularly during the summer months and when they are flowering and fruiting. Ensure it is a good deep watering as opposed to a fine spray.
Growing Citrus: Fertiliser
Feed citrus well with a complete fertiliser in spring, summer and autumn. I prefer organic-based pellets as they feed the tree and also nourish the soil. You can use whatever format you prefer (liquid, soluble, prills or pellets), but just make sure you follow the manufacturer’s instructions on how and when to apply.
Growing Citrus: Maintenance
Remove any small fruit within the first two years of growth. I know you’re eager to harvest, but by removing the fruit, this will allow the energy to go into growing a strong healthy tree. This is better in the long run as it will allow the tree to flourish for years to come.
Growing Citrus: Pests
Unfortunately, insect pests are part-and-parcel of keeping citrus. Scale, aphids, mites and mealybugs love citrus trees. If you spot them, spray with a suitable organic insecticide. Repeat sprays may be necessary for severe infestations.
Interesting citrus varieties for you to grow:
Calamondin or calamansi: a cross between a mandarin and cumquat, so it’s ideal if you love sour tastes.
Finger lime: a native Australian lime, with finger-shaped fruit filled with tiny pearls of juicy goodness.
Buddha’s hand: while the fruit is inedible, the zest imparts a sweet-tangy flavour to your cooking. Plus, its shape is a real statement piece.
Yuzu: With a taste like a zingy mix of mandarin, orange, and grapefruit its juice is often used in sauces or to flavour mixers.