Enjoying citrus fruits from your backyard is one of the greatest joys of home gardening. Citrus trees thrive in Pinal County and with a few tips, you can harvest an abundance of fruit.
Citrus varieties have different tolerance to cold and frost. Limes suffer below freezing, lemons can handle temperatures in the high 20s, oranges and grapefruit can tolerate mid-20s, and kumquats are hardy to 19 degrees.
Your yard may contain several microclimates — small pockets that may differ from the climate in other parts of the yard. For instance, an area next to a block wall is suitable for different plants than an area that’s completely shaded.
Choose your citrus variety based on your location and mature height. Standard trees will grow to 20 feet tall with a 20-foot canopy spaced 12 to 15 feet apart. Semi-dwarf varieties grow to 12 feet tall planted only 6 to 8 feet apart. True dwarf varieties are a good choice for containers.
Prune only for the four “Ds”: dead, dying, diseased or dysfunctional (crossing branches, branches on the ground or water sprouts). Allow citrus trees to grow in a shrubby shape rather than a lollipop shape.
Citrus trees should be planted in well-drained native soil and watered frequently. Don’t fertilize the first year as it can burn tender roots and the tree doesn’t need it. Remove all fruit during the first year so the tree can use its energy to build a healthy vascular system rather than bearing fruit.
Protect trees when frost and freezing temperatures are expected by draping loosely with woven cloth — never plastic. Allow the fabric to extend to ground level but don’t tie it up. Old-fashioned holiday lights that generate heat can be scattered on the ground without touching the trunk.
Fertilize properly after the first year using any quality citrus fertilizer. The University of Arizona offers a citrus fertilizer calculator online. Just enter the type of tree, size and percentage of nitrogen in the fertilizer and all the calculations are done. Keeping accurate records of your fertilizing schedule is helpful.
Proper watering is also vital to the success of producing juicy citrus. The University of Arizona also offers a great online publication on irrigating. Citrus should always be watered at ground level, not sprayed into the air. Deep and infrequent watering is best and should be done to a depth of 36 inches. Thirsty citrus have leaves curled upward like a cigar.
Enjoy growing your own citrus fruit and be the envy of your neighbors.
Maricopa resident Wende Gehrt is a Pinal County Master Gardener volunteer.
The November edition of InMaricopa Magazine is in Maricopa mailboxes and available online.