Citrus Care

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Part of living in a warm southern climate is being able to enjoy growing winter fruits that our northern friends envy this time of year. Citrus was thought to have been introduced to Arizona in the 1700’s and has long been established as one of Arizona’s 5 C’s (along with copper, cattle, cotton and climate). There are many varieties available in our area, all which have their own ripening season, frost sensitivities and enjoyment factor. Here are a few more facts to help you make the most of your citrus:

  • Some varieties of citrus perform in warm, humid climates, while other varieties such as grapefruit, lemons, mandarins and Valencia oranges prefer long hot summers like in our Southwestern deserts.
  • Nearly all commercially grown citrus are grafted. Cocktail trees are common in backyards, which include 2-3 different grafts, providing an assortment of fruits on one tree.
  • Citrus prefer well-drained soils since some rootstocks are susceptible to a common root rot, Phytophthora which can develop in poorly drained soils.
  • It is recommended for citrus to be fertilized a minimum of 3 times per year: Feb., May and Aug. Monitor weather conditions closely to fine-tune the application timing.
  • Some varieties are alternate bearing: trees produce fruit every other year or heavy one year, light the following year.
  • Citrus require ample water, especially during the heat of summer. Mature trees should be watered every 7-10 days in the summer to the depth of 3 feet in the soil, with the water moving out beyond the tree canopy.
  • Allow tree limbs to grow low towards the ground. Elevating the branches can open up the trunk and limbs to sunburn, which can permanently damage the tree. Prune minimally to remove crossing branches or leggy growth, best done just prior to bloom or right after fruit set in the spring.
  • Citrus trees purge leaves in the winter, often seen by yellow, older leaves dropping from limbs.
  • Citrus will drop a percentage of fruit in June, known as ‘June Drop’, which can help the trees to produce fewer, larger fruits next winter.  An early heat spell in the spring can also cause fruit to drop, impacting next year’s crop.
  • Many citrus varieties should be protected when temperatures drop below freezing. Protecting young trees and varieties such as lemons and limes by covering the entire tree to the ground and applying water prior to expected freezing temperatures to help warm the surrounding area.

Citrus can be very rewarding trees to grow in your yard or community. With a little TLC and knowledge of what to expect from your tree variety, they can provide you with decades of fruit to share with friends and neighbors.