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Citrus Tree Care in Southern California

by | Jul 18, 2023 | Gardening | 0 comments

Citrus makes a beautiful tree with fragrant flowers that appear over a period of several months. Most citrus will grow in Southern California; however, Anawalt Garden Center recommends those varieties that show mature fruit faster, tolerate cold weather better, and adapt to most types of soil.

Meyer Lemon

  • Thick-skinned citrus fruit
  • Very juicy and less acidic than standard lemons
  • Bears fruit at an early age

Ripe lemons hanging on a tree.

Persian Lime

  • Small, tropical thorny shrub with excellent, seedless fruit
  • Fruit is small and green to yellow-green in color

Ruby Red Grapefruit

  • Sweetest, least tart of all grapefruit
  • Fruit grow to regular size
  • Red blush of skin with pinkish flesh

Sweet Kumquat

  • Bright orange fruit, oval-shaped and one inch long
  • Sweet, edible rind. Tart flesh
  • Excellent for eating fresh or for marmalade or jelly

Satsuma Orange

  • Sweet delicate flavor, few seeds, and medium to large fruit
  • Easy to peel
  • Fruit ripens early, normally by October, far ahead of cold weather
  • Grows six to eight feet tall and six to eight feet tall wide

Navel Orange

  • Sweet, seedless fruit
  • Best eating orange
  • Thick-skinned but easy to peel
  • Fruit ripens from December to May

Valencia Orange

  • Vigorously growing tree
  • Thin-skinned fruit
  • Known as the juice orange

 

Calamondin Orange

  • Small, tropical, evergreen citrus tree
  • Noted for its relative hardiness, ornamental form, and foliage
  • Small, juicy, acidic fruit with deep orange skin

Louisiana Sweet Orange

  • Juicy citrus with medium size, flavorful fruit
  • Medium skin

Tangerine

  • Medium size fruit with good flavor
  • Upright growing tree with erect branches

Oranges growing on a tree.

Tangelo

  • Cross between an orange and tangerine
  • Slightly larger than the tangerine
  • Very easy to peel

Root Stock

These citrus plants are budded on trifoliate orange rootstock. Trifoliate rootstock tends to go dormant during the winter, which pulls much of the sap from it, enabling the tree to withstand lower temperatures.

Watering Citrus

Citrus need moist soil, but should never be left in freestanding water. Citrus trees should be watered thoroughly, but not too often.

Soil, Mulching & Fertilizing

Citrus fruit will grow in any well-drained garden soil, from sand to clay, though these extremes are less desirable than a medium loam. In poorly drained soils, plant your citrus trees above soil level or in raised beds. Slope the soil gradually away from the trunk.

Since citrus roots can grow near the surface, mulch will help them retain moisture and keep them cool. Use 2 to 3 inches of mulch.

When planting new trees, use a root stimulator at the recommended dilution rate. We suggest that you apply a root stimulator every four to six weeks during the first year after planting.

Your first feeding will be in February with a citrus fertilizer containing zinc, then again in April or May. In September, use fertilizer with less nitrogen, such as 6-12-12. Normally, citrus extends beyond the drop line of the tree, so fertilize from the drop line out to a distance of two to three feet.

Insects & Disease

White flies often infest citrus trees. A monthly spraying of insecticide, beginning in March through September, will usually control these pests.

Dormant oil controls scale or sooty mold. Use dormant oil only by itself, as it will burn the leaves when combined with insecticides. Add a spreader sticker to any spray solution to increase its effectiveness.

Pruning

Commercial trees may carry branches right to the ground. Production is heaviest on lower branches, but you can prune trees to the shape you desire. If sprouts develop from below the bud union, they should be clipped while succulent because they will heal faster than woody branches.

Special Note

All citrus trees are vulnerable to freezing and should be protected during severe cold spells.

FAQ: Caring for Citrus Trees

Q: What’s the best time of year to plant citrus trees in Southern California?

A: The ideal time to plant citrus trees is in the early spring, after the last chance of frost, to give your tree a full growing season.

Q: How often should I water my citrus trees?

A: Citrus trees need deep watering once or twice a week. Adjust your watering schedule according to the season. Trees need more water during dry, hot months, and less during the cooler months.

Q: Do citrus trees require a specific type of soil?

A: Citrus trees thrive in well-draining, slightly acidic soil. Amending your soil with compost can improve soil health and drainage.

Q: When and how should I fertilize citrus trees?

A: Fertilize citrus trees three times a year — spring, summer, and fall — with a balanced, slow-release citrus fertilizer to ensure they receive the necessary nutrients.

Q: How much sun do citrus trees need?

A: Citrus trees require full sun, which means at least 6-8 hours of direct sunlight each day, for optimal growth and fruit production.

Q: What are the common pests that affect citrus trees in this region, and how can I control them?

A: Common pests include aphids, spider mites, and citrus leafminers. Control them with horticultural oils or insecticidal soaps, and by promoting beneficial insects.

Q: When is the best time to prune citrus trees, and what’s the proper way to do it?

A: The best time to prune is in the spring, after the last frost. Remove dead or diseased branches and thin out the canopy to allow light and air to reach the inner branches.

Q: How do I protect my citrus trees from frost during the winter months?

A: Cover them with frost cloth or blankets, using string lights for warmth, and watering the ground around the trees to increase humidity.

Q: Why are my citrus tree’s leaves turning yellow, and what can I do about it?

A: Yellow leaves may indicate overwatering, nutrient deficiency, or a pest problem. Adjust your watering schedule, ensure proper fertilization, or inspect for pests.

Q: Can I grow citrus trees in containers, and if so, what should I consider?

A: Yes. Choose a large, well-draining pot and use a potting mix specifically formulated for citrus or other fruit trees.