Citrus Essentials

By National Gardening Association Editors


  • In the citrus belt, trees can be planted any time of year. Spring is the best time to plant container-grown trees from a nursery outside.
  • Standard-size orange and grape fruit trees grow 18 to 22 feet tail; dwarf varieties grow 8 to 12 feet tall. Dwarf varieties are suitable for growing outdoors or in containers.
  • Most citrus trees begin to bear at 3 to 6 years.
  • Pollination is generally accomplished by insects and sometimes by the wind. Indoor gardeners can hand-pollinate. Most citrus varieties are self-fertile so you need only one tree.


  • Citrus will grow in most soils that are moist but well drained. Avoid salty soils.
  • Choose a site protected from wind, with maximum sun exposure.


  • Set standard-size trees 12 to 25 feet apart, set dwarfs 6 to 10 feet apart. (Distance will depend on type and variety.) Set standard-size oranges 20 feet apart, standard-size grapefruit 25 feet apart. Limes and lemons require less space.
  • Plant the trees no deeper than they grew in the nursery container.


  • Water the entire root area deeply about once a week.
  • Prune any time of the year. When the trees are young, prune over vigorous growth. Prune mature trees to remove dead, broken, and diseased branches.
  • Give mature trees 1 to 1 1/2 pounds of nitrogen a year. Apply in four portions throughout the year, or just once 6 to 8 weeks before bloom.
  • See our article Fruit Pests and Diseases for controls of common citrus pests such as aphids, scale, red spider mites, and gummosis.


  • Although some varieties ripen their fruit all at once, many others ripen fruit over a period of several months (fall through winter). Taste is the best indicator of ripeness.
  • Clip ripe fruit off with pruning shears.

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