Every Australian backyard needs a lemon tree, but don’t stop there. Imagine a hedge or privacy screen of all your favourite citrus; lemons, oranges, mandarins, grapefruit, limes and tangelos, or if space is tight, you could grow dwarf varieties in pots or have several types grafted onto one tree. When you choose a range of early and late maturing varieties, it’s possible to enjoy home-grown citrus over a very long period. Whatever you choose, you simply can’t go wrong with any citrus. They are all incredibly productive and ornamentally beautiful and make a valuable contribution to any garden.
By
Phil Dudman

6 Sep 2012 - 3:24 PM  UPDATED 6 Jul 2017 - 11:40 AM

At a glance

Ease of Culture: Easy
Best Climate: Suitable for most areas depending on variety
When to plant: Spring and autumn most areas plus winter in tropics and subtropics
Height: 1.5m (dwarf) - 5m
Pollination: Self-fertile
First harvest: 3 years
Prune: As needed
pH: 6-7

 

Climate

• Citrus will grow in all parts of Australia except areas that experience severe frost
• Oranges and grapefruit are more frost tolerant than lemons and limes.

 

Position

• Citrus need maximum sun exposure to grow and set fruit – at least 6 hours direct sun per day or more
• Avoid positions that are exposed to strong wind, which can stress trees and disrupt pollination and fruit set

 

Soil

• Citrus trees prefer deep, well-drained, sandy loam soils.
• They will not tolerate poorly drained soils, which can cause devastating root rot disease
• Improve heavy soils by incorporating large amounts of compost and a few buckets of gypsum into a planting area at least 2m wide. Mound the soil to approximately 30-40cm deep in the centre to improve the drainage.
• The preferred pH is 6-7.5. If your soil is acid, add lime when preparing the soil to bring it up to the preferred pH.

 

Choosing stock

• Trees can be grown from seed, but will take 7+ years to produce a crop, and may not grow true to type.
• For most reliable results, buy grafted trees of well-known varieties grafted onto hardy rootstock.
• Most selections are available as 'dwarf’ varieties, grafted on dwarf root stock. These are ideal for small spaces and container growing.

 

Planting

• The best time to plant young citrus trees is in spring when the risk of severe frost has passed.
• Advanced potted stock can be planted in spring, summer and autumn, but care needs to be taken to avoid root disturbance and to water regularly.
• Dig the planting hole twice the width of the container
• Do not put any fertiliser in the planting hole. This can burn sensitive roots.
• Remove tree from container, lightly tease roots and free up or cut any large roots that spiralled in the pot
• Place rootball in planting hole and position it with the top of the rootball at the same level as the top of the planting mound
• Backfill and gently press soil around the rootball and form a well around the tree to make watering easier.
• Water the tree in well and then cover the soil with a 10cm layer of mulch to conserve moisture, but keep it away from the trunk.

 

Watering

• In the first year, water trees at least once or twice a week, depending on the weather conditions.
• Once established, water trees deeply every two to three weeks, more in hot dry weather. Lack of adequate moisture, particularly in hot weather can lead to sudden fruit drop.
• Container grown trees may need soaking every day in hot weather, less often in cooler conditions.

 

Fertilising

• Citrus are heavy feeders. Apply a well-balanced organic citrus food according to directions in July, November and February
• Spread the fertiliser evenly around the tree, in the area from the trunk to one metre beyond the canopy and water it in well.

 

Pruning

• In general, citrus do not require special pruning to fruit well.
• Regular pruning is required to remove dead and diseased wood as well as wood affected by pests like borer and gall wasp (see below).
• Prune to keep plants to preferred size after harvest. Don’t give plants an all over haircut or you will sacrifice next season’s crop. Just remove up to 20% of the canopy each year, staring with the longest growth.

 

Harvesting

• Grafted citrus start to produce crops after two-three years.
• Fruit are ready to harvest when they have developed full colour and flavour.
• Fruit can be left on the tree for some time, but will deteriorate if left on for too long after their peak.
• Fruit that has been removed carefully without damage will store in the fridge for several weeks