Citrus are desirable plants in any Kiwi backyard. Whether it is the common lemon or the classic lime, growing crops for your culinary needs is easy. Every yard should have at least one citrus. They are evergreen, easy to care for and come in an array of forms, sizes and flavours. Follow our handy hints and tips and you will be well on your way to growing citrus successfully and transferring your fruit from plot to plate in no time.
Where to grow
Citrus are easy to grow. A sunny position out of strong winds is needed for a bountiful supply of fruit.
Aside from needing full sun, citrus need well-draining soil, so when you are planting incorporate plenty of compost. If you have clay soil, also add sand into the mixture. All citrus have shallow root systems and hate root disturbance, so it’s essential that they get plenty of water in the warmer months and a layer of mulch to keep the roots moist. Water is also what makes the fruit juicy, so if your fruit is dry on the inside this is likely an under-watering problem.
Planting citrus in pots is a great idea. Not only do they look attractive, but they are easy to move indoors during winter. ‘Oderings Shrub & Tub’ mix is perfect for potted citrus.
Regular watering is very important, especially when young trees are establishing themselves and when trees are producing fruit. During hot, dry months a good soak every couple of days or even daily watering for a potted plant may be required. A layer of mulch like ‘Tui Mulch & Feed’ or sphagnum moss will help to retain water for the delicate surface roots. If you find your fruit dropping off the trees or the flesh is very dry and lacking juice, increasing your watering will remedy these problems.
Citrus require only a light prune to shape the tree and remove any internal crisscrossing branches, thus allowing plenty of sunlight and air into the internal structure of the tree. Cut out any dead or diseased wood. Between March and September is the best time to prune your citrus as this avoids lemon tree borer. Watch out for suckers, growth that comes from the roots or low on the trunk, below the graft. Such sprouts will suck life from your tree. Take care when removing them, as they often have spikes.
Citrus are gross feeders and require regular fertilising. ‘Oderings Citrus & Fruit Tree Fertiliser’ or ‘Yates Thrive Citrus Liquid Plant Food’ is just what they need. Feed citrus at least twice a year with granular fertiliser and every two weeks during the fruiting season with the liquid food to ensure a bumper crop. Follow the same guidelines with potted citrus, but substitute ‘Oderings Total Replenish’ for the ‘Oderings Citrus & Fruit Tree Fertiliser’.
If the leaves are yellowing, this is probably a magnesium deficiency. Feed the plant with Epsom salt or ‘Yates Magnesium Chelate’; either of these products will enable your plants to start taking up other nutrients again.
Before fruiting, an application of ‘Yates Flower & Fruit Booster Liquid Potash’ will help with flowering and fruiting and will sweeten the fruit. This product is rich in potassium and is like liquid gold for fruiting plants.
Check the fruit regularly for maturity because they will change from immature to mature and over-mature while still on the tree. These changes are slow and will happen over months. Fruit keep much longer on the tree but will not continue to ripen after being picked, so harvest wisely. The only way to tell if your fruit is ready is to taste it.
Most citrus will not tolerate temperatures below –2°C, but there are a few options to protect your citrus during winter. Frost cloth is the cheapest but lasts only one or two seasons. It needs to be removed daily as it does not let the sunlight through. Mikroclima is more durable, lasting at least 10 seasons, and you do not need to remove it daily. A double thickness of either product fully protects against frost. Vaporgard is a spray that helps to protect plants up to –3°C, but it should be reapplied every two to three weeks.
To ensure healthy citrus plants, implement a good spray program. By spraying at the right times, you should be able to keep pests and diseases like scale, aphids, mites, mealy bugs and verrucosis at bay. Always follow the instructions on the back of the bottles and wear appropriate safety gear. In June spray with spraying oil, in August with copper, and in October spraying oil again. Follow this spray program every year to beat the bugs and diseases.
Planting in Pots
Container growing can be an easy way to grow citrus if you have limited space. It’s also a great way to grow the more frost tender varieties of citrus like limes, as you can move them under the eaves in winter and back out into the sunlight once frosts have passed. Make sure you have a pot that is the right size and one that is easy to move if you need to. For dwarf citrus varieties, the pot should be a minimum of 60cm wide and high. The bigger the pot, the larger the plant can get and the less watering you will need to do. Make sure your pot has good drainage.
How to get the best start to a new citrus plant
It is always exciting when buying new citrus that already has fruit hanging from the branches. Unfortunately, it is best to remove these fruits and any flowers to stop your plant from fruiting further. Repeat this in year two. In the third year, pick off half the fruit and flowers, and in the fourth year let it flower and fruit normally. This process allows the plant to put all its energy into becoming bigger and healthier. This means better crops, so it is well worth the sacrifices made in the earlier years.
For information on citrus varieties read our article here