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Citrus Trees - all you need to know

Meyer lemon treeIntroduction: Citrus trees are easy to grow and require very little maintenance. However there are a few simple rules and one or two tricks that will help you to produce lots of healthy fruit

Planting: Follow these simple steps when planting and you are well on the way to opening your own fruit stall. Remember the very best time to plant is in late Autumn or during Winter.

  • Plant citrus in a sunny sheltered and frost free position in well drained soil. If you can plant in front of a wall or fence all the better.

  • Dig a hole that is twice as big as the root ball that is on the tree that you are planting – bigger is better (deeper and larger than the root ball).

  • Take the soil that you have extracted and mix it with half a bag of compost.

  • Shovel some of this back into the hole to the depth that you will be planting your tree in.

  • Place 4 tablespoons of Yates Magamp slow release fertiliser in the hole and mix very lightly with the soil – this will feed the tree for two years!

  • Place the tree in the hole after carefully removing the plastic or extracting it from the pot – try very hard NOT to disturb the roots.

  • Add or take away soil until the top of the root ball is at ground level.

  • Fill in with your pre-mixed soil / compost and lightly compact using a wooden stake or stick – try and avoid the root ball – compact around it.

  • Add enough House & Garden TRANSFORM to a depth of 25mm and out to the drip line and lightly dig in. (TRANSFORM is the miracle mix that will transform your garden – a mixture of worm castings and compost)

  • As hard as this may be, remove any developed fruit on the tree so that all the growth will now go into next season’s fruit. (if the fruit is almost ripe then you could wait a couple of weeks but the sooner you do it the better)

  • Spread some pea straw around the tree to act as a mulch – keep it away from the trunk

You have now completed the most important step in ensuring your tree is going to be healthy.

Watering: Citrus trees require slow deep watering especially in the first three years. This is best done by placing the end of the hose by the tree and have a trickle of water soak into the roots for 2 or 3 hours. During hot dry weather this should be done on a regular basis.

When the tree is more mature it may have a combination of flowers, immature fruit and mature fruit on the tree at any one time – if you do not keep the tree well watered it will extract the juice from the mature fruit to help it cope with the hot dry weather. So if you want very juicy fruit keep up the water.

Feeding: Citrus trees are greedy little critters and need feeding at the start of the following seasons – Spring (September), Summer (December) and Autumn (March). Use a specialised citrus food such as Yates Thrive granular citrus food. Also in September top dress the soil with TRANSFORM because this not only helps to retain moisture but will speed up microbe activity.

There are a number of tried and tested remedies that experienced gardeners apply to citrus such as applying sheep pellets around the tree in Spring and lightly dig in. Urine is an old favourite because of the nitrogen but some households may be too “PC” for this as it involves the male members of the family urinating around the tree – for goodness sake tell them to keep it off the leaves and fruit!! Tea leaves every now and then and believe it or not some rusty items like nails dug into the soil around the plant. I will leave you to choose.

Feeding IS very important – remember the healthier the plant the better it will resist disease and pests. It will or should also mean more fruit.

Pruning: Generally speaking it should not be necessary to prune except to remove dead or damaged wood. Cutting back branches can result in extra growth of smaller branches which will only congest the tree and provide no benefit. If you must prune and or the tree is becoming too big then cut back the entire branch to the trunk of the tree.

Containers: There are dwarf citrus available for containers but you can grow the normal varieties as well. Container growing is becoming very popular as it provides a way of growing a wider range of citrus and the ability to place the containers in the best spot and if necessary move them around to maximise the sun. There are a few different rules applicable for container growing.

  • Choose a container that will allow for growth over several years – the bigger the better. Best of all is terracotta because it provides good drainage and not only does it “breath” but the soil will be warmer which suits. Use potting mix as well as compost and soil.

  • Plant in much the same way as if you are planting in soil but make sure you finish off with some TRANSFORM because one of the many benefits to the plant is that it will help the soil to retain moisture. It is very important to add a mulch such as pea straw.

  • Watering is the biggest issue for containers - because the soil will dry out quicker you need to water more frequently. Again have the hose trickle water on to the citrus over a long time.

  • Other than that follow the same steps as you would as if the tree was planted in ground

Troubleshooting and maintenance: As with many trees and shrubs prevention is the best cure. One of the best ways to keep your tree healthy is to spray with a winter oil and copper mixture each year in May or June. This will kill any insect eggs lurking about on the branches or the foliage.

It will not hurt to cover your citrus with a frost cloth over the harshest winter months.
Citrus can be prone to mealy bug or scale – spray with Yates Confidor at the first sign.
I am a great fan of an organic spray called Ocean Organics. There is a version for foliage and if you apply this regularly in Spring and Summer it will not only keep the bugs away but it will feed the foliage with rich nutrients.

I have listed below the most common problems associated with citrus trees and the suggested solutions. If you have any other problems talk to the staff at your garden centre.

  • Yellow leaves – usually indicates poor drainage – if you planted it in the right spot and in the right soil this should not occur. You may need to replant it following the guidelines previously given.

  • Brown leaves – tree is exposed to cold winds. I am sure you would change colour if you were continuously exposed to cold winds. Either shift to a sunny sheltered spot or erect a wind break.

  • Tree shedding leaves – this could be caused by cold winds – see above. Could also be poor drainage – see above or soil too dry – water more. It could also be a combination of  these problems.

  • The tree is shedding fruit – this is quite common and it tends to happen in summer. The tree is compensating for something – either it is too dry or it needs feeding. Could also be happening if the tree is not healthy. It is compensating so it will cope better under the prevailing conditions.

Summary: Before purchasing, spend some time determining the best variety for your area and conditions.

Follow the guidelines as outlined above. Regular care will reward you greatly. Happy gardening.

Marigold Botanicus – House & Garden Church Corner – Ph. 03 3411022

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