When life gives you lemons – 8 tips you need to know about growing citrus

With citrus being the fruit of the month, I thought it would be a good time to address some issues around what these plants do and don’t like and what feeding they require.

The citrus family is large! Oranges, lemons, limes, kaffir lime, tangelos, mandarins, satsumas, lemonades, blood orange, bitter orange, grapefruit, pink grapefruit, clementine, buddah’s hand, finger lime, kumquat and ugly fruit – to name a few…

The citrus variety you can grow depends on your climate.

At this time of year citrus are hungry, as they are trying to burst forth with new growth, new flowers and still ripen fruit. All this energy takes a lot of food.

Citrus tip #1

Citrus are heavy feeders and I feed mine solid fertiliser 4 times a year and liquid fertiliser in the interim. When citrus are hungry their leaves turn yellow or could even drop off the tree completely.

Citrus tip #2

Citrus roots are surface feeders, so I find they benefit from a good mulch around the tree, especially in preparation for the hot summer that will arrive in no time. This will also help keep moisture in the soil and prevent weeds and long grass growing around the trunk.

Most diseases I find on my travels occur from weed-eaters hitting the trunks of fruit trees. Sometimes these go unseen and disease enters these vulnerable points. By mulching around the base of the tree this can prevent the ol’ whipper snipper getting too close and doing damage. I have even seen draincoil around the base of the tree as protection.

Citrus tip #3

In your citrus’ first few years of growth, it is best to keep the fruit to a minimum. In year one, I recommend removing the fruit, and in year two and three, only leaving a couple on the tree. I know it can sometimes feel heartbreaking to remove these first exciting fruits! However, in the long run it will benefit the tree as it will take the strain off the branches while they become stronger and also enable the roots to develop, which in turn will hold a good crop on your trees for many years to come.

Citrus tip #4

When buying a citrus to take home, make sure you look thoroughly at the trunk to see if any ants are crawling up and down. If this is the case, follow the ants’ path and that will usually lead you to the pests or disease, like sugar-secreting insects including scale and white fly. In most parts of the country whitefly isn’t present at the moment, but scale will be.

Citrus tip #5

Also before buying a citrus tree, check the bag or the pot the citrus are in to make sure they are not root bound. A good healthy amount of roots should be present in the soil, however if they are root bound and the bag is jammed packed with roots, this means they will be suffering in the bag and will dry out quickly as there is not much soil to hold the moisture. Remember big is not always best.

Citrus tip #6

When planting a citrus, I tend to put a good layer of stones or rocks in the bottom of the hole as citrus hate wet feet. Where I live, the soil is heavy and mainly clay so this helps the water to drain away from the roots. Citrus love water but don’t like to sit in it – a bit like us really! Put a good quality compost layer on top of the stones and place the citrus on top, making sure that the roots sit under the soil line.

Citrus tip #7

Citrus love a good companion. When underplanted with borage and petunias, this helps deter pests and disease. Planting fennel, dill and yarrow near your citrus will attract beneficial bugs such as lacewings and ladybugs, which will feed on aphids and greenfly.

Lemon balm, parsley and tansy also attract beneficial bugs which prey on caterpillars. Sometimes it pays to think big picture when planning your planting to help yourself later on. If you plant beneficial plants you are more likely to have healthy citrus and the bad bugs will go elsewhere to the garden next door where they are not deterred!

Citrus tip #8

If your trees have a magnesium deficiency you can apply Epsom salts. Dilute approximately 1 tablespoon of Epsom salts to 3 litres of water and apply to the soil around your plant, especially the drip line of the tree and this should green up the leaves in no time.

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Citrus leaves indicating magnesium deficiency

Have a good look at your citrus today and happy gardening!

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