A sweet endeavor: Here’s everything you need to know about growing your own citrus trees.
By Leslie Locklear
Citrus fruits are some of the most popular varieties of fruit that are currently available on the market, with a good number of them being used for various purposes ranging from food to even herbal medicine.
Oranges and lemons, for instance, are best known for their vitamin-rich juices, while key limes are often used for desserts such as pies and cobblers. Other citrus fruits, meanwhile, are best known for being the basis for traditional remedies such as the citron, which is commonly used in Ayurvedic medicine.
Because of this, many have made the decision to plant their own citrus trees in their gardens, both for culinary and medical purposes.
If you’re looking to start growing your own citrus trees, here’s what you need to know.
What are citrus trees?
Native to subtropical and tropical regions of Asia, Island Southeast Asia, Oceania and northeastern Australia, citrus fruits – specifically the citron and its many cultivars – were first mentioned in ancient Chinese and Sanskrit writings, where they were hailed as potent anti-inflammatory fruits.
From there, the practice of cultivating citrus trees spread to the Mediterranean, courtesy of Alexander the Great and his army of botanists who took seeds from the prized trees during their campaigns in Asia.
This was followed by the appearance of other citrus varieties in the West: lemons were brought to Rome by merchants around the 1st century AD, while the Moors or Muslims brought oranges, limes and grapefruits to the Mediterranean, during their expansion in the 10th century.
Citrus fruits, in particular the sour orange, the sweet orange, citron, lemon, lime, and pomelo, were brought to the Americas by Christopher Columbus, who brought their seeds with him during his voyage. These eventually became well established in the American colonies in Saint Augustine, Florida and in coastal South Carolina by about 1565.
Citrus production, however, only started to thrive in Florida in the late 1700s, when the first commercial shipments were made. AIt was also around this time that citrus crops were introduced to California, although commercial production from the golden state would only commence after several decades.
According to the Department of Agriculture, California currently accounts for 51 percent of the total citrus harvests in the United States, followed by Florida whose crops totaled 44 percent, and Texas and Arizona who produced the remaining five percent.
How many citrus tree varieties are there?
According to experts, there are five commercially important citrus crops:
- Sweet orange – One of the most well-known citrus fruits, sweet oranges consists of four cultivars: the common orange, the blood orange, the navel orange and the acidless orange.
- Tangerine – Native to Southeast Asia, the tangerine group includes cultivars such as tangerines, mandarins and satsumas, not to mention a large number of hybrids.
- Grapefruit – This popular is not a true species but rather, is a naturally occurring hybrid between pomelo and sweet orange that was introduced into Florida in 1809. Despite this, however, it has since been granted species status, mainly because of its economic importance.
- Lemon – The most ubiquitous citrus fruit after the orange, lemons have several cultivars, such as sweet lemons, rough lemons and Volkamer lemons.
- Lime – Aside from being an important component in both Mexican and Vietnamese cuisines, the lime is also known for its healing properties. Some of the varieties in this group are Persian limes, finger limes and sweet limes.
How does one take care of citrus trees?
Citrus trees are evergreen plants that originate from tropical and subtropical regions, this means that one has to replicate the environmental conditions in those areas in order to successfully grow the plants.
Here are some tips, as noted by the Farmers’ Almanac:
Getting the seedlings
Citrus plants can be planted in two ways. One is by germinating seeds from the fruits you just ate or used. This can be done by soaking the seeds overnight in water and then planting them half an inch deep in moist potting soil. Cover the pot with a plastic bag or wrap and let it sit in a warm and sunny spot for a few weeks until the seeds start to grow.
The second method is by getting established seedlings from organic greenhouses. This option, while more expensive, has one advantage: it takes the guesswork out of germinating seeds from scratch.
When you already have seedlings, you can proceed with the planting.
Planting your citrus trees
As citrus trees prefer a generally warm climate, it is best if you plant your citrus seedlings in a sunny area protected from the wind.
If you live in the citrus belt – the area stretching from southern California to Florida – you can plant citrus trees at any time. If, however, you live outside of that area, or if you plan on planting your citrus trees in containers, spring would be the best time for you to do so.
Here are other tips you should know:
- Give your plants plenty of space relative to their size. Standard-size citrus trees, for instance, should be spaced 12 to 25 feet apart, while dwarf citrus varieties should be separated by a distance of 6 to 10 feet.
- Plant your citrus trees in well-draining soil. If the soil is not well-draining, plant the trees on a slight mound to prevent waterlogging. If you are planning to plant your citrus trees in containers, make sure you put enough holes in the bottom in order to make it easier for excess water to flow through.
- A few weeks after planting, and for the first few years before it reaches fruit-bearing age, feed your citrus trees with organic compost to ensure healthy growth.
- While citrus trees are able to tolerate light shade, they will be healthier and more productive when they are grown under full sun. keep this in mind when planting them in containers.
When can I harvest fruits from my citrus trees?
The majority of the citrus varieties that are on the market right now are self-fertile, which means that only really need one tree even if your goal is to produce fruits for personal use and consumption.
Citrus trees usually begin bearing fruit once they are between three and six years old; however, the exact timing will still depend on several factors, such as the following:
- The type of citrus
- The exact cultivar
- The climate and the environment that they are in
- The general health of the plant and its care
In addition, flowering is not a seasonal event for citrus fruits. Instead, it occurs whenever the weather is warm and the plants experience regular rainfall.
Don’t get too excited once you see fruits developing on your trees’ branches, however – depending on the climate, citrus fruits may take 6 to 8 months to ripen.
Aside from that, here are other things to consider once your citrus trees reach fruit-bearing age:
- Citrus fruits will not ripen once they are picked off the trees. This means that one should refrain from picking the fruits too early.
- When in doubt, pick a fruit from the tree and taste it: their flavor is still the best indicator for ripeness.
- Once you have harvested enough ripe fruits from your citrus trees, make sure you store them at cool temperatures in order to maximize their shelf life.
Citrus fruits are some of the most potent functional foods you can have in your pantry. Not only are they delicious additions to many beloved recipes, but their impressive nutrient content also makes them incredibly valuable as natural remedies. This means that having your citrus trees can guarantee a steady supply of health-supporting fruits for you and your family.
Learn more about planting your own crops and maintaining your gardens at GreenLivingNews.com.