Caring for Citrus

May 1, 2020

Can you grow citrus in SC? You bet! All citrus will grow here in South Carolina and do very well. The citrus that are most readily available are Meyer Lemons, Mexican Limes, and Satsuma Oranges.

Citrus need at least 4-6 hours of direct sun (although more is always better!). Additionally, they can be planted in the ground or in a container. In the ground the citrus will get much larger, around 12′ x 12′. They will also require less water planted in the ground. The one down side to ground planting is covering them in the winter. The size can make it hard to cover through a freeze, and most citrus are frost sensitive, especially limes.

Citrus potted in a container tend to say smaller, about 6′ x 6′. They do tend to need to be watered slightly more often – maybe twice a week depending on the temperature. Protecting potted plants from freeze is much easier. Cover them up, move up against your house or into a garage for best protection.

When selecting the right pot, most any pot will do so long as it has drainage holes. Be sure the new pot is twice the diameter of the original pot size so it has room to grow. This goes for re-potting citrus as well. Re-potting can be done any time through the growing season, just be mindful it may lose fruit or flowers in the transition.

When planting, make sure the top of the root ball is at (or slightly above) your exiting soil level then back fill with amended soil for the ground or potting soil in the container. We have a full planting guide on our website for reference.

When watering in the ground, water deeply and heavily just once or twice a week for the first year of the plants life. After a year it may not even need irrigation unless in a drought! As for citrus in pots, they may need once or twice a week waterings for life. Indicators for lack of water are drooping new or browning foliage. Yellowing leaves and young fruit and leaves falling off is a sign of too much water. The best way to tell if a plant needs water is to check the top 3 inches of the soil. If it’s dry, it needs water. If it is damp, it does not. Easy!

Citrus (along with most fruit producing plants) are heavy feeders. A full grown citrus tree may need a full 4lb bag of Citrus-tone every 3 months. A potted citrus needs fertilizer every month but only about a cup or two. Doing this will make sure the plant is healthy and will produce bountifully. Always make sure to read the label on the fertilizer for exact amounts according to your citrus’ size.

Just like other trees, pruning in the winter after fruit has been harvested is the best time to prune. However, it can be done in the summer as well after the summer crop is harvested. If you feel the need to prune through the growing season, just know you may lose some fruit.

Leaf miners can be a problem when it comes to citrus. They are a small insect that digs into the new foliage, curls it up and makes it look discolored and unsightly. Using an organic insecticide like Bon Neem or Capt. Jacks on the new undamaged foliage and removing damaged foliage will help prevent leaf miners.

Lack of fruit production can be an issue as well. This can be because of a couple of reasons. First check the watering. It could be getting too much water. Signs of this would be dropping of fruit and flowers. If this is the problem, let the plant stay on the drier side. Not feeding the plant can stop fruit production as well. If citrus is not fertilized, it will not have the energy to produce fruit even though it still gets new leaves. The last indicator to lack of fruit production is age. If your plant was grown from seed and not grafted, it will take 5 to 10 years to produce. A grafted plant (what we sell) is ready to fruit from day one and may have some fruit on it at purchase.

A few questions from Instagram…

Q: How long does it take to get your first fruit?
A: A grafted plant will produce from day one. Most fruit takes 6 to 7 months to ripen after flower. You could have fruit the first year of owning the plant.

Q: Could you provide some general info about leaves with a cloudy film that eventually fell off in the fall. What to do about that?
A: This is caused by leaf miners, one of the biggest pests of citrus. Keeping your plant on a spray regimen of an organic insecticide during the growing season will stop them from attacking new foliage, which is what they go after. They cause little to no harm to the tree, just make it unsightly!

Q: What extra care is involved in the winter?
A: Most all citrus will need to be protected below 35 degrees. Either bringing them into a garage or covering them with a frost cloth will help protect them. You can also put halogen lights under a large citrus tree covered with a tarp to generate heat. The same can be done with incandescent Christmas lights wrapped around the tree then covered with frost cloth or a bed sheet. Remember to remove coverings during the day if the temperatures rise. Some citrus can acclimate to our winters. Oranges and lemons after 5 or 6 years may not need protection unless snow or multiple days of freeze are coming. Limes never really acclimate. When in doubt, cover.

Q: Do you have to fertilize in order for citrus to produce?
A: No, but do you want one lemon or 50? An un-fertilized plant can still grow like crazy but may never produce or might drop fruit and flowers if it does not have enough nutrients to support them. Fertilize your plants!

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