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My Citrus Tree - Care Information

by Miguel Mori
My Citrus Tree - Care Information

The follow information if from is a website to provide homeowners with valuable “trade secrets from the industry” that aid in growing citrus trees in containers, and in the backyard, to their fullest potential. The core mission of this site is to educate home owners and gardeners about the importance of plant nutrition and care, with an emphasis on battling citrus tree diseases like citrus greening and citrus canker.

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Planting a Citrus Tree

For Planting In Containers

     Containerized citrus trees can be planted throughout the year because you are transferring the tree and there is minimal shock involved. When replanting you will want to select a well draining soil as citrus trees do not like to have drowning roots for an extended amount of time. Wet roots can create issues of disease and leaf yellowing. Furthermore, container citrus trees can benefit from adding rocks or styrofoam peanuts in the bottom of the pot so that there is room for the water to retain to, and eventually leave the pot so that the roots stay dry. Always select a pot with holes and a caster that sits underneath the pot.

For Planting In Ground

     Pick a spot with 50% or more sun on well drained soil or soil mix. Preferably where it will have protection in winter from cold north and west winds. Avoid septic tanks and drain lines. Clear away any weeds and grass because you don’t want competition for the fertilizer and nutrients that you may apply.

Have water available and dig a hole larger than the container the citrus tree is in. Remove your tree from the container and shave away fiber roots from the side of the root ball (Important). You are most concerned with the roots that are growing in a circular direction around the edge of the root ball where the pot was. By loosening and trimming these roots you are allowing for roots to grow out into the new soil environment that you are placing the tree.

Place your citrus tree in the hole that you have keeping the top of the root ball at the same level as the existing ground level, no deeper (Important). Planting trees to low in the new hole will cause issues where the tree may not survive. Once the tree is placed in the hole and the crown of the root ball is at ground level go ahead and fill the hole 1/2 full with water. This will remove any air pockets and help the tree settle in where in wants to be.

Finally, fill the rest of the hole with the remaining soil to ground level, pack soil to remove air pockets. You can water again if you wish. This will help in removing any other air pockets that may have happened when finishing the soil fill in. 

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Watering a Citrus Tree

     Watering citrus trees can sometimes be tricky. However, keeping a feel for the moisture level in the soil is one of the best ways you can gauge whether or not to water. Scratch just under the surface of the soil… If it is moist you should be good to go. What happens in many cases is that too much water is surrounding the trees for an extended amount of time and the roots become weak. Water effects in either direction, too much or too little, are never seen right away. What you will see is an after effect that creates chlorotic leaves and many times leaf drop. Keeping a consistent watering schedule is best if you can.

Symptoms of water needs are curling leaves. Muted color and leaf drop. Think of the leaf drop as a way for the tree to sustain itself through drought. If it drops leaves there is nothing to care for and it can put its hydration to where it is needed… Staying alive and holding out for the next watering

Too much water means muddy soil and citrus trees hate wet feet. They desire the moist/damp setting. That is why it is always recommended to use a well draining soil in citrus containers with holes in the bottom. 

Help With Flowering and Fruit Set

     Flowering and fruit set is why we grow our beloved citrus trees. Either or the sweet aroma of citrus blossom or that great taste of fresh citrus that is hard to beat. When it comes to flowering and fruit set a healthy citrus tree is going to produce more. Optimization if the tree is done via fertilizing and care. Here are a few tips that may aid in ultimate results of flowering and fruit set.

Citrus trees flower and produce fruit in response to environmental stresses. Generally stress is considered bad, but in this case stress is natural and good. What is meant here is that a tree coming out of dormancy in the Spring is a good stress as the tree is doing what Mother Nature intended… Getting ready for a new year of growth and fruit production. Outside trees will be easy to produce flowering and fruit set as they are working in conjunction with the weather and seasons. Indoor citrus trees may need a little help and that is why it is always suggested to keep container citrus in a bright sunny place. The days and warmth are a good indicator to the citrus trees on what they should be doing.

Fertilizing right in the spring is always recommended as the tree is coming out of dormancy and going right into the growth and production stage. If your tree doesn’t have the food needed it will likely have a hard time producing. Another thing to consider for increasing bloom (which in the long run is fruit set) is added nutritional elements that citrus trees crave. Nutritional treatments right before bud set such as Calcium and Boron can aid the tree in getting what it needs at just the right time. Different micro-elements are needed by the tree for different things. Calcium and Boron are elements proven to aid the tree is flowering and fruit set. 

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Fertilizing a Citrus Tree

Use a fertilizer specifically for citrus plants, fruit or nut producing plants. These fertilizers have elements required for fruit production. It is also recommended to use foliar applied micronutrient nutritionals that citrus trees crave—they provide additional “vitamins” your trees will love. GrowScripts has a great nutritional that is based on what has been proven in the citrus industry. You can find more information about GrowScripts products for homeowners by visiting

Newly Transferred and Mature Citrus Trees

For the first three years of newly planted trees it is recommended to fertilize from late February thru the first of October about every 6 weeks to establish a larger, fuller canopy on your citrus tree. (Note: slow release fertilizers will be less often, follow label directions.) Spread fertilizers evenly under canopy. Granular fertilizers can burn tree roots and cause issues if used to heavily. It is recommended to use a slow release fertilizer high in nitrogen and potassium as that is what newly transplanted and established trees look for most. Citrus trees are heavy feeders and can benefit from 3-4 slow release feedings throughout the suggested fertilizing months above. Along with fertilizing with a product such as an 18-5-10 Control Release consider additional applications of Essential Micronutrient Nutritionals as their label directions suggest.


Balanced nutrition of plants should be a high priority management objective for every citrus grower. Plants require a balanced nutrition program formulated to provide specific needs for maintenance and for expected production performance. Properly nourished fruit trees or plants grow stronger, produce more consistently, have better disease resistance, and are more tolerant to stresses. Source: Plant Nutrients for Citrus Trees an IFAS published document #SL 200. First printed: January 2003. Reviewed February 2009. 

Fertilizing a Citrus Tree

It is always suggested to keep citrus trees at a height for easy harvesting. Overall size is up to you. Container trees are going to be smaller and pruning is done to shape and keep the tree in a visually presentable form.

For Container Citrus Trees

Pruning tree branches from container trees is a visual approach. Tree branches sometimes have a mind of their own and can run wild if you don’t help guide them where you might want them to be. A suggestion is to prune in a fashion that keeps the canopy of the tree in a consistent shape. Don’t worry if larger branches have to be removed… Just remove one and let growth fill in before removing another. Over the course of time you will be able to shape your tree just like you want.

Remove sprouts at the base of the tree. Sprouts, sprigs or suckers should generally be removed from the trunk of the tree. These generally happen below the union where a specific variety of citrus is placed on a rootstock at the nursery. Removing these sprigs assures that your tree stays the variety it was budded to be. In addition there is no need to grow something you don’t want. Most suckers are of a sour variety and not desirable. In some cases though, rooted cuttings are of the same variety and sprouts from the base are desirable when it comes to bushing citrus plants. 

For Large Dooryard Trees

You can trim and prune trees any time of the year. Heavy cutting back is best done in February right before the spring flush and bloom. When you do heavy trimming this time of year look to remove damaged and broken branches as they will not be able to hold fruit over the extended amount of time for ripening. You are better off to remove the branch and help the tree focus on sizing fruit that will hold and ripen on the tree.

Another thing to look for are crossing branches on the inside of the canopy. These crossing branches can be removed to allow for fruiting limbs to get the amount of ventilation and light needed for vigorous growth. Sparingly is the suggestion if you are concerned with removing to many branches. One here and there is the best bet.
Diseased branches should be removed as disease can spread to other parts of the tree if not removed. A good way to look at removing diseased branches is that you are taking a preventative approach to helping your tree live healthy.

Skirting a tree is common. What this means is that you are trimming the bottom branches to create a specific height from the ground. It also removes branches that may break due to weakness under heavy load, and keeps your fruit off the ground and away from critters. 

Citrus & Cold Weather

When the cold season is among us we want to be ready for frost and freezing. Have frost covers and blankets ready just in case and be sure to keep an eye on the weather. NPK Feeding is complete for the year as we do not want to encourage any new growth as it is the most sensitive to cold. Watering will be your primary focus as you want to make sure the soil doesn’t dry out.

In case of frost or freeze warnings

• Plants can be covered with winter frost blanket, found at your local garden center, or regular blankets.
• Soil can be banked up to bottom limbs prior to winter in December and removed March 1st.
• Plants in containers should be brought indoors. 

Plants effected by a freeze

• Some leaf drop can be expected. This should be temporary.
• Never prune trees until new growth starts back in late spring (April). At that time all cuts should be made at least 1/2″ below damaged wood. 

If a grafted Plant

• Any sprouts below the graft are rootstock sprouts and should be removed. Severely cut back plants will produce following the next bloom cycle.

Plants on their own root

• Even if plants are frozen back to soil level, any growth at all will be the same variety and produce after the next bloom cycle.

Citrus Tree Leaf Drop
(I moved my citrus tree)

Citrus tree leaf drop can be caused by many things. In container citrus there is a common theme that runs through what we hear… There are many variables that can come into play with this statement, but things can be ruled out when yo become a detective. What is commonly heard is:

1. The leaves on my citrus tree are falling off;
2. My lemon trees leaves are curling and dropping;
3. My orange tree leaves are yellowing and falling off.

Answering these questions can be a hard thing to do right out of the gate.

Generally the above statements in the timeframe of when we hear them allows conclusions to be made. Most generally this time of year (COLD WEATHER) is when we hear about leaf drop the most and that is what this writing is focused on for the most part. Citrus trees are a little temperamental so relocating them can sometimes be a trigger for leaves to be falling off the tree. They “shed” in a sense because they are comfortable in a happy environment where the temperature was consistent. By moving the tree, the environment has changed and the tree is unsure of what to do; thus a defense mechanism is enacted and the tree starts shedding… 

What should you do when your citrus tree is moved and the leaves start falling?

First off try to transition the tree from an outdoor space of full sun into a shade spot for a few days or weeks. Then transition the tree to the indoor space where you have lots of sunlight for the tree to get.
Secondly, make sure to water differently that what you did while your little friend was outside. Remember the environment has changed and that could effect how often the tree needs/or doesn’t need watered. Just be sure to keep the soil moist to the touch which is the way citrus trees like it.
Third. Hang in there as citrus trees are resilient little buggers. If you have green branches, the chances are that things will come back to normal in the new environment. Knowing this you can view the tree loosing its leaves just like a common cold in humans and know that your citrus tree will pull through with a little TLC. 


Water. Keep soil moist to the touch. Spoon water your citrus a little every day or every other day. Your environment will help you determine the real way to water and keep the soil moist. Sometimes a soaking of the roots will help get water back into soil that has dried out severely…

Fertilize. Yep, you heard right. Fertilizing the tree may help as well. Knowing that your tree is protected and indoors we could say that feeding the tree can provide new growth and deliver leaves that replace the that have fallen off. A good fertilizer such as the GrowScripts “Green” fertilizer which lasts 6-8 months is the way to go when fertilizing. Slow release is what we want to focus on though. So get a good slow release fertilizer on the base of the tree.

Micronutrients. Vitamins for the tree are the best way to explain this. Commercial growers use foliar micronutrients as a part of the growing regimen every day. We want you to do the same thing and apply a good foliar feeding of micronutrients to the leaves of the tree. You can do this on a weekly basis, monthly basis, or as needed… But in the case of no leaves, or a few leaves on the tree you can spray the trunk, branches and even the soil to get some good stuff to the tree for an aid in rebounding. Be sure to get micronutrients that can be diluted in water and applied with a hand sprayer or pump bottle which you can find at many retailers without question.

The micronutrients mentioned are a combination of minor elements citrus trees crave. Head over to to learn more. Here is a link directly to the product suggested: 

Consider giving a memory that will grow for years to come.  For more assistance visit the Green Gifts page for a collection of ideas, email us at or call (905)468-7863.

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