Care, nurture of Arizona citrus


By Betty Beeman[quote_box_right]TIPS FOR APRIL
Plant basil, black-eyed peas, sweet corn, popcorn, cucumbers, eggplant, jicama, melons, okra, peppers, pumpkins, squash, sunflowers and tomato transplants.[/quote_box_right]

Due to the number of calls regarding citrus, I have decided to try and answer some of your questions relating to selection, planting, fertilizing, pruning and watering.

Betty Beeman
Betty Beeman

Citrus can be planted year-around but the best months are March, April and October. The smaller the tree, the easier it is to plant and the less risk you will have of transplant shock problems. Small trees mean 15 gallon containers or smaller.

Dig a hole twice the diameter of your container and the same depth. Digging down lower to soften the soil is not recommended. The ideal depth of the hole is where the soil level on the trunk is the same or slightly lower as it is in the container. Having the soil level higher on the tree trunk is a disease risk.

Citrus do best if they are heavily watered and then given time to dry out between watering. Frequency varies, depending on your local soil. Rocky or sandy soil will need to be watered more often than those in soil that has a lot of clay. Typically, trees will need to be watered every one to two weeks in the summer and every three to four weeks in the winter.

The most common problems such as leaf curl, leaf discoloration, root rot and split fruit are usually related to overwatering. Before determining your personal watering schedule, try digging down a few inches, inserting a soil moisture meter or inserting a screwdriver in the soil to test for moisture.

Watering your trees for a few minutes every few days is not acceptable. It causes salt buildup in the soil and is an ideal environment for root diseases. It is best to water at the canopy edge and one foot beyond. This is where the roots’ growing tips are absorbing water and nutrients. Use slow deep applications of water to help leach or push salt build-up below the root zone to the bottom of the wet soil. Ideally water needs to soak down at least two feet into the soil.

Citrus should be fertilized in February, May and early October. Newly planted trees usually do not need fertilizer for the first year. The best fertilizer is one that says it is for citrus trees right on the bag. Read and follow the instructions. It is best not to fertilize after October because it encourages the tree to start new growth during the winter when there is danger of frost.

Pruning citrus is completely unnecessary. Trees will grow best if they aren’t pruned and are allowed to grow as big bushes with branches almost to the ground. If you want to trim trees for appearance or remove broken branches, make sure your pruning doesn’t leave the trunk or major branches exposed to direct sunlight.

Citrus will sunburn. That’s why you see trunks of citrus trees painted white. The white paint acts as sun protection for trunks that are directly exposed to the sun. You may have to set up a shade cloth to protect new trees from the heat the first year.

Keep in mind that a new tree isn’t producing fruit during the first few years. If it does, you should remove most fruit from young, newly planted trees to encourage root development. If your older tree drops some fruit, don’t worry, it’s adjusting to heat and dry wind this time of year.

Reach out to a local Master Gardner
520-374-6263 M–F 9 a.m.-noon

This column appears in the April issue of InMaricopa.