Citrus trees are excellent choices for home landscaping. They are able to handle lots of sun in the summer; they provide shade and privacy as they grow to maturity. In addition, they provide fragrance to the yard and edible fruits for the household to enjoy. Proper fertilization, watering, and pruning, will ensure citrus trees live a long, healthy, and productive life.
Fertilization is important for any plant, and citrus is no exception. Citrus trees are notoriously “heavy feeders”, so “feeding” them on a regular basis will help promote strong, healthy growth and large, flavorful fruits. Healthier trees are also more resistant to diseases and environmental damage. The landmark dates for fertilizing citrus trees are Valentine’s Day, Memorial Day, and Labor Day. Depending on the fertilizer you choose, one application around each landmark date may be enough. Some fertilizers may call for repeat applications, so it is important to read the manufacturer’s instructions. Lightly scratch the appropriate amount of fertilizer into the soil at the drip line, which is the line created by water dripping off the leaves at the edges of the tree. Once the fertilizer has been scratched into the surface, water the tree(s) thoroughly. Deciding between a synthetic or organic fertilizer will be up to you, but in warmer climates an organic fertilizer would be preferable (at least when temperatures are reliably over 100°F), as synthetic fertilizers tend to form more salts when temperatures are high.
Watering Citrus Trees
Watering citrus is something that everyone knows to do, but not everyone knows how to do properly. Citrus needs to be in a soil that drains well, they do not like their roots to be in stagnant water or soggy soil. Water should be applied slowly, so that the water stays where you want it instead of running over the surface, and over a period of at least several hours. This will ensure that the soil around the tree is soaked several feet below the surface, which will encourage deep rooting. As the soil near the surface dries out, the tree will send roots farther down in search of soil that is still moist. Deeper roots will give the tree more stability when it is windy. You will need to increase the duration of watering as the tree grows. Frequency of watering changes with the season: watering less often when weather is cooler and up to 2-4 times per week in the summer (depending on the intensity of the summer heat). Citrus in containers may require water at least once daily during hot summer months, but may only need water a few times a week in cooler months.
Pruning Citrus Trees
Pruning citrus is not necessary. Citrus trees tend to do better growing like large shrubs. This makes them fairly low maintenance plants, which may be a relief since most citrus has thorns. Having branches with leaves all the way down to the ground not only increases the amount of fruit a tree can produce, but protects the trunk from harmful UV radiation during the hot summer months. Some people may like a more manicured look to their trees and want to prune them. It is important to protect any portion of the trunk that may be exposed to direct sunlight in the summer, as the UV radiation may damage the trunk and even kill the tree. Tree wrap, tree trunk paint, or a shade structure, are all excellent solutions. Avoid pruning in the summer, even if the sun has damaged some leaves. Removing the damaged leaves will expose more tender foliage to the damaging sun. It is better to provide shade with shade cloth or something similar until the summer has passed, then remove the dead branches and damaged leaves when it is cooler.
Citrus trees are a wonderful and tasty investment. They increase the enjoyment of outdoor spaces by providing shade and privacy. This knowledge will help protect that investment and ensure great returns of fresh, delicious fruit for years to come.
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