Sunday, June 13, 2010

FAQ's: Citrus

When I go out and do lectures or work at a Master Gardener sponsored activity, or even on a daily basis, I get a lot of the same questions. Don't get me wrong, I have no problem with this, sometimes it actually gets funny. People don't realize that I just had somebody ten minutes ago ask me the exact same question. Here are some of the more frequently asked ones.
Q: How often should I water?
A: This is a good one that can have many answers. On average, Citrus require about one inch of water per week. Now, if you have your Citrus in the ground, it may not need to be watered as often as one in a container. It will depend on your soil type, when was the last rainfall, how old is the tree, what kind of weather conditions there has been. Sunny and hot will need more water than cloudy and cool. All of these conditions will also fall into the container category. Something else to take into account with containers, a black pot will get very hot and the moisture will evaporate very quickly. The soil temperature can reach 120 degrees in full sun. My suggestion, give your plant the finger. Stick it into the soil. What were you thinking? If it is dry up to your first knuckle, or about an inch down, give it a good drink.
Q: What should I feed my Citrus?
I like getting this question. It means that at least they are willing to feed it. It is amazing how many people will come to me with a plant that has yellow leaves and when questioned about feeding it, they never have.
I recommend a product called Citrus-Tone, made by Espoma. Fantastic stuff and it is organic. If you can't find the Citrus-Tone, the next best thing to use is a water soluable fertilizer made for acid loving plants, like Camellias and Azaleas. Please don't use the fertilizer stakes. The short version of why? They basically just sit there and don't move throughout the root zone. They can also burn the roots. You stick it into the ground, possibly right on top of some of the delicate roots and burn the crude out of them. Another product I don't like is the Citrus fertilizer that looks like fish gravel. I am sure you have seen/used it. I just don't think it works very well.
Q: Can I repot my Citrus now?
Yes! There really is no time frame for this, if you are growing in containers. Now, if you are planting it in the ground, definitely wait until Spring. I have transplanted in the middle of Summer, with it full of fruit, and no ill effects. Just make sure you give it lots of water. There is LOTS of discussion as to what size pot to go up to. I, for one, usually go at least two sizes up. There are many people that say you should only go one size, there are others that go from a one gallon to a thirty gallon. The choice is yours. I go two sizes because I have so many trees, it buys me a little time in between repots.
Q: All the little fruits keep falling off?
This can be caused by a number of reasons. Age of the tree is first on the hit parade. If the tree is only a couple of years old, it may just not be mature enough. If the tree is not getting enough sun it may not produce. If it has actually produced fruit in the past, then one of the reasons could be lack of bee activity. If the flowers do not get pollinated, they will not produce fruit. Irregular watering can also be another culprit. Fertilizers or lack of certain minerals can cause fruit drop. I had a client just the other day with this problem. She actually had three things going against her. The watering, lack of bees and she was only giving the tree Fish Emulsion. Normally, I would say great on the fish emulsion, but not as an "only" fertilizer. It needs a little more than just Nitrogen. Phosphorus, Potassium and numerous so called "Micro-nutrients" all play a vital role in fruit development There is also a phenomenon called "June Drop", the tree will naturally shed all the fruit it can not bear in a single season. They are smarter than we are. If it drops ALL the fruit then see the first of this answer.
Q: Do I have Citrus Greening Disease?
This one usually requires a visual inspection. Even then, I am not a qualified professional to give you a 100% yes or no answer. What I can tell you is, look at the yellow leaf. If there is a mirror image of the coloring, in other words, if the left side of the leaf looks like the right side, it is probably a nutritional problem. If there is a single branch that suddenly bolts out and turns yellow or if the leaf has irregular patterns of blotching, call your local extension agent. They will know who to call for your area. Another way to tell is, if the fruit is irregular in shape or is very bitter after having been sweet before, you might have a problem.
Q: Where did you get all your trees from?
Everywhere and anywhere. I have scoured the internet. I have friends all over the world that I have traded seeds with. There are many websites that have some very cool Citrus trees for sale and there are even a few that just sell the seeds. You REALLY need to be careful though. There are many places that have a quarantine in place and you DO NOT want to receive plants from these places. Florida is the first place that comes to mind. Also, Georgia, parts of Texas, Louisiana, Charleston and Beaufort counties in South Carolina. Internationally, I would stay away from Brazil, and Asia.
Q: I have a Meyer Lemon that.....?
I have to try not to chuckle when somebody starts a question with this. I am not a fan of Meyer Lemons and it seems that everybody and anybody that grows Citrus has one of these things. Believe it or not, I don't. I am just not fond of the taste. In case you are wondering, a Meyer Lemon is a cross between a sweet Orange and a Lemon, hence it being known as a sweet lemon. Give me Eureka or Lisbon lemons any day. It really became an inside joke with me, my wife and my mother after I became a Master Gardener known as "The Citrus Guy". It just seemed to be every other question asked whenever I was out answering questions or somebody would stop me in the store. Don't get me wrong, if you enjoy the taste, it is a great tree to have. It is just not my cup of lemonade.
Hopefully, this has answered any questions that you didn't know to ask or just haven't gotten around to asking. I enjoy answering anything that you may want to know about Citrus. But please, don't get offended if you start the question with....My Meyer Lemon....and I start to chuckle!
Happy Growing!


  1. Hahahaha - Hi Darren,
    I DO have a dwarf meyer lemon tree growing in a container - but, I will never start my questions with, "My Meyer Lemon" - I have been forewarned!
    It is about 2-3 years old, I guess. It came in a 5 gallon container when I bought it at my local nursery about 3 months ago (I live in Southern California), but I have since then re-potted it twice in a large 2o gallon container. It seems to be doing OK, even giving new shoots and blooms. At first, many of the little green fruits turned black, some dropped. But the remaining ones seem to be getting bigger. But since my last re-potting about 1 month ago (I re-potted twice because the first time I evidently planted in the wrong type of soil) the outer edges of the leaves are turning yellow. I did feed it with citrus food at the time of re-planting, and am now waiting to see if the yellowing will subside. It gave me a scare though to read your blog all about the citrus greening disease - the yellowing looks suspiciously close to it - but I am hoping all it needs is a bit of iron. I will keep my eyes on it. Please don't chuckle :) Marie

  2. Hi Darren .... I was wondering about how long a citrus tree lives and if this would be different in a container than in the ground. If you had a citrus in a 30 gallon container for several years would you need to refresh the soil periodicly?
    thanks Frank.

  3. Hello Frank,
    While there are records of a Sour Orange tree being planted back in the 1200's that is still alive. It was planted by by Saint Dominic in the court of the Catholic Dominican Convent of Saint Sabina in Rome. A well placed, taken care of tree can live 60-100 years.
    In a container, they too can live for many, many years.
    Yes, even in a 30 gallon pot, the soil would need to be refreshed every couple of years. Probably every 18-24 months. It would also be a good idea to do a little root pruning and trimming of the head. I would say no more than a third of each. If you do one, make sure you do the other or the tree will suffer.
    The best time to do it would be early Spring, just as the tree is breaking dormancy.
    Hope this helps.