Urban Food Garden

Planting Citrus Trees

Citrus trees (lemons, oranges, grapefruit etc..) require more care to plant than most other fruit trees as they are a little more sensitive to environmental conditions.   On this page are some pointers to help you plant them.

    Though they can handle reasonably heavy frosts in the Winter.

    They do not do well in poorly drained boggy soil.

    The best place to plant a citrus tree is in a sunny but sheltered spot, such as on the North side of a house (South side in the Northern hemisphere).  Having large shrubs or small trees either side will also help shelter it from the wind. 
When to plant

Citrus trees are generally planted out in Spring after the threat of the last heavy frost has passed. But try not to leave it too late in the season as any young tree has difficulties establishing itself in hot weather.

  1. Dig a hole around 80 cm wide and 40 cm deep, and flood with water.  Remove the tree from it’s pot, tease the roots out at the tree’s base and soak it in a bucket of water.

  2. Loosen the soil at the bottom of the hole with a fork and partially fill it with a mixture of excavated soil and compost.  Sand can also be added, especially if the soil is heavy.  A shovelful of animal manure can also be added.
    Place the tree in the partially filled hole so that the top of the pot bound section sits slightly above ground level.  Add more soil, compost and sand to form a mound around the exposed base of the tree.
  1. Cover the mound around the tree with a thin layer of sand and the rest of the ground with mulch.
    If there are any flowers or fruit on the tree than remove them, at this early stage growth is the priority, fruit will only slow that growth down.  Firmly stake the tree and give the mound a good soaking of water.
  2. If the soil you are planting into is of a heavy clay or the area is prone to water logging then build the mound higher so the base sits almost entirely above the ground.  Conversely, if the soil is sandy and drains easily then plant directly into the ground without a mound.

Water the tree regularly for at least six weeks after planting. Applications of liquid manure will also help.  Citrus trees are shallow rooted, so try not to cultivate the ground under the tree and don’t plant any ground cover near it.

Citrus respond well to fertilisers high in nitrogen, such as chicken manure and Urea, as well as sulphate of potash. 

Australian soils are notoriously deficient in  magnesium, a lack of it can cause stunted growth and yellowing of leaves.  To counter this it is a good idea to dose your citrus trees a couple of times a year with Epsom salts.  To do this dissolve two tablespoons of Epsom salts into a 10 litre watering can and water in around the base.

Extra care

If your area is marginal for citrus then consider protecting your young trees with a temporary plastic covered frame to give your citrus tree extra protection for the first couple of years. This is especially worthwhile doing if you have heavy frosts in Winter or your trees are exposed to high winds. Once a Citrus tree is mature it can withstand much tougher conditions and the frame can be removed.

Young Washington Navel orange tree protected with a temporary plastic covered frame. Once the tree is big enough to withstand heavy winter frosts the cover will be removed.