Growing citrus plants
Lemons and other citrus plants are staples in Aussie backyards. Follow our tips to squeeze the best harvest out of your trees.
Bunnings magazine. April 2019
Zest for life
Citrus trees are relatively simple to grow, either in pots or in the ground, and will reward you with lemons, limes, oranges, mandarins, cumquats or grapefruit in just a couple of years. They do need a little space, but there are dwarf forms available if your outdoor space is on the squeezy side.
The key ingredients
Climate: Citrus will flourish in most areas, depending on the variety. “Most grow well in temperate and subtropical climates but in very cold climates, stick to lemons, mandarins, cumquats or the traditional ‘Wheeny’ grapefruit,” says Krystal Turnbullof Lifestyle Concepts Landscaping. Other varieties won’t tolerate the cold well, although it’s worth trying Tahitian or makrut lime if you can create the right microclimate. Grow your citrus trees in pots so they can be easily moved into a protected spot.
Soil: Good drainage is a must. If your soil is heavy clay or poorly drained, take the time to improve with compost, well-rotted manure and a gypsum such as Richgro Natural Gypsum Clay Breaker. However, if your soil is too hard to work with, consider planting in pots or building a raised garden bed.
Location: Choose a spot that receives at least six hours of daily sun and is protected from winds and heavy frosts.
Planting time: Autumn is an ideal time for planting citrus. The soil is still warm, but the air is cooler so your tree is less likely to suffer from transplant shock. In most parts of Australia citrus can also be planted all year round, but may need protection.
“Before planting, break up the area and fork in blood and bone, well-rotted manure and compost,” says Krystal. The addition of organic matter will give your tree a good start. Once the soil is ready, dig the planting hole to the same depth as the pot, remove the tree from the pot, position in the hole and backfill. “The original soil surface should still be visible after planting,” adds Krystal. Water in well with a diluted seaweed solution such as Eco-Organic Garden Eco-Seaweed, then add a 5-7cm layer of organic mulch, keeping it away from the trunk.
Tender loving care
Citrus plants are relatively low maintenance, but a little effort will result in maximum reward. Water deeply at least once or twice a week, depending on the weather. If grown in pots, water more regularly as pots often dry out faster. If you’re unsure, insert your index finger to the second knuckle to feel the soil. If it’s dry, water, but if it’s moist, leave watering for a few days.
“Citrus are heavy feeders and will need regular feeding throughout the year,” says Krystal. Look for a complete fertiliser such as Richgro Black Marvel Premium Fruit & Citrus Food to provide all the nutrients the tree needs. “Feed every six weeks during the growing season and then every eight weeks thereafter,” says Heath Okely of Richgro. “Keeping the plant well fed and healthy will fight off any pests naturally.”
For the first two years, remove flowers and any small fruit. “The idea is for the plant to direct energy into strong healthy growth, which means it will bear better in the future,” says Krystal. Prune in winter or after fruiting to remove dead and diseased wood.
Keep an eye out for pests, especially in the warmer months. “Treat sap-sucking insects like aphids and whitefly with Richgro Beat-A-Bug Naturally Based Insect Spray,” says Heath. These pests cause sooty mould to build up on stems and leaves, but if you control the pests, the mould will eventually wash away.
The citrus gall wasp lays its eggs in soft new growth, and if left unchecked, can result in ugly swellings all over the tree. Hang a wasp trap like the Go Natural Insect Trap to prevent attacks, and prune off affected twigs. Citrus leafminer causes squiggly silvery lines on deformed leaves. Remove affected growth and spray foliage with an oil-based product such as Yates Nature’s Way Citrus & Ornamental Spray. This can also be used to treat scale insects, which manifest as brown, black or pink bumps along leaves and stems.
Top five fresh picks
Get planting with our choice of the best citrus varieties
1. Dwarf Valencia Seedless (Citrus sinensis):
A seedless orange – need we say more? Fruits well and the plant only grows to 1-2m tall. The fruit is also a great juicing variety, so you’ll have your own batch of morning OJ.
2. Finger lime (Microcitrus australasica):
Unlike traditional citrus, finger limes are packed with ‘pearls’ (vesicles) that literally pop in your mouth! Available in different coloured varieties, all with slightly different flavours.
3. Lemonade (Citrus limon x reticulata):
A lemonade is a hybrid citrus, which looks rather like a lemon, but is much sweeter to the taste, and can be sliced and enjoyed like an orange.
4. Eureka lemon (Citrus limon):
Tried and true, Eureka is loved for its flavour and minimal seeds. It loves a north-facing sunny spot and is available in dwarf form, growing to around 2m tall and wide.
5. Tahitian lime (Citrus latifolia):
The classic lime is ready to be picked when the skin is smooth, light green and has a little give when squeezed. The fruit is perfect for use in Asian dishes.
Photo credit: Getty Images, Alamy, Gabrielle Bryden, GAP Photos & Friedrich Strauss