Springtime in Arizona – does it get any better? Baseball comes to town, there is plenty of outside patio dining, and it is a great time to plant citrus.
Whether you are an urban homesteader or beginning gardener, adding a citrus tree to your yard will benefit you and the environment–from the abundance of vitamin C to helping clean the air, citrus trees will beautify your space. Below are some steps to help you get started.
Pick Your Tree: Pick a variety that suits your taste. Oranges, grapefruit, tangerines, and lemons all grow well in the low desert of Arizona. If you want to add variety, experiment with citrus budding, a process in which you add one citrus variety (the scion) to the existing citrus tree (the rootstock). For example, it is possible to bud (also called graft) an orange tree branch on to a grapefruit tree and have that tree produce both fruits.
Watering and Fertilizing: Irrigate and fertilize citrus trees. Because you are growing this tree for its fruit output, it is important to water citrus more frequently than desert-adapted trees. Citrus trees that do not receive enough water tend to produce smaller fruit, and its leaves curl inward. To determine how much to irrigate a tree, consider the tree’s size (bigger trees need more water), age, site’s soil type (typical clay soils need long, infrequent irrigation events), and citrus variety (some types need more water than others). You can also estimate water use based on canopy size. Use a soil probe and try to water to a depth of three feet every time you irrigate.
For the best fruit production, fertilize your citrus trees three times a year–around Valentine’s Day, Memorial Day, and Labor Day. A fertilizer chart can be found at our website (see below).
Pruning: Prune only when necessary. Pruning sometimes becomes necessary to remove sprouts and weak, crossing, or dead branches. If you must, prune between February and April. For best fruit production, allow branches to hang low, toward the ground, and try to maintain a shrub-like appearance for the tree to prevent sunburn. Citrus bark burns easily–hence the white paint often seen on citrus tree trunks.
Winter Protection: Prevent freeze and frost damage by selecting proper varieties for your site. If a freeze is coming, maintain soil moisture with irrigation, provide additional heat, and cover the tree to protect citrus from the cold. If you experience cold damage, wait to prune the tree until the last danger of frost has passed (typically late February or early March).
Experiencing problems with an existing citrus tree? Check out this illustrative citrus diagnostic guide:
Got a gardening question? Contact the Maricopa County Master Gardener hotline at (602) 827-8200 x301.
Haley Paul is an Assistant in Extension in Urban Agriculture at the University of Arizona Cooperative Extension (UACE) in Maricopa County, a unit within the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Find your local Cooperative Extension office at extension.arizona.edu., firstname.lastname@example.org, @haleyepaul