The Q&A Archives: Planting citrus

Question: Is January the right time to plant a tangerine tree?
I live in Hemet, CA.
Thank you in advance for your prompt reply.
E. Ruben Alagona.

Answer: Now is a great time to plant your new tree. Winter weather is less stressful than the heat of summer, so if you've already purchased your tree, go ahead and plant it.

If the plant is growing in a container, gently invert the plant and container to remove the soil ball intact. Squeezing the sides of the plastic pot can help to loosen the soil and roots. After removing the plant, take note of the abundant fibrous root system. Straighten out any circling roots before planting. Cut off and remove any broken roots. Amend your planting hole as described above. Do not add fertilizer to the soil as you're backfilling your hole; however, you can apply some to the soil surface after planting. Be sure to tamp soil lightly as you go and water plant thoroughly after planting to eliminate air pockets. Finally, you should stake the tree until well-established, tying the trunk lightly to a stake while leaving room for the trunk to expand. Green plant tie is a good choice for tying trees to stakes.

Consistency is the key with citrus watering! As with so many plants, citrus trees require soil that is moist but never soggy. How often to water will vary with soil porosity, tree size, and temperature. Allowing the top of the soil to dry slightly is OK.

A wilted tree that perks up within 24 hours after watering indicates the roots got too dry. Adjust watering schedule accordingly. A tree with yellow or cupped leaves, or leaves that don't look perky AFTER watering can indicate excessive watering and soggy roots. Water less frequently.

Citrus prefer less frequent, deep waterings to frequent, shallow sprinklings. Creating a watering basin around the tree can aid in deep watering. As the tree grows, be sure to expand the basin as needed to keep it as wide as the spread of the branches. Deeper watering promotes deeper root growth and strengthens your tree. Generally, once-a-week watering works well for in-ground plantings. Be sure to adjust based on weather conditions.

Since citrus trees are heavy nitrogen feeders, make sure there is more nitrogen (N) than phosphorous (P) or potassium (K) in the fertilizer you purchase. Use at least a 2-1-1 ratio. Also important are trace minerals like iron, zinc, and manganese, so make sure those are included as well. Many all-purpose products will work. We prefer slow release fertilizers in the granular form rather than fertilizer stakes. Follow rates on the package carefully as fertilizers come in different strengths, release rates, and application schedules. I use a specially formulated Citrus Fertilizer according to label directions on my citrus trees.

Best wishes with your new tree!

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