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The Neighborhood Gardener –
Growing Citrus in Your Backyard

Oranges are Florida’s most famous fruit and backyard citrus is one of the many benefits of living in the sunshine state. Citrus trees can be fun to grow and very rewarding. Citrus was first introduced to Florida in the 16th century by Spanish explorers. It quickly spread throughout the state and today citrus is one of Florida’s largest industries. South and Central Florida are the best places to plant these trees, but certain cold-hardy cultivars can be be grown in North Florida with the proper care.

It is very important to only purchase certified nursery plants from nurseries registered with the state. Learn more about how homeowners play a part in slowing the spread of citrus disease at the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services website.

When deciding where to plant your trees remember to provide adequate space. Most citrus trees grow between 10-20 feet tall, while grapefruit trees grow a little larger.  Citrus trees can accent your landscape as a focal point and to provide shade. Citrus trees also produce attractive foliage and fragrant flowers. One tree satisfies most gardeners, but many citrus trees can be planted if desired. There are hundreds of varieties to choose from, do your research and make sure you are choosing the right tree for the resources you have available.

All citrus varieties need lots of sun. Make sure you pick a spot where the tree will receive full sun to provide healthy fruit. Citrus trees do not require organic soil and prefer to be grown in sandy soils with good drainage. Trees should be planted at least 25 feet apart and 25 feet away from houses and septic tanks.

Dig a hole large enough to place the rootball in, but no deeper. Place the tree in the ground at the same level or slightly higher, than it was in the container, then replace soil around the rootball and water it thoroughly. Watering is the key element when planting young citrus trees. Water every day for the first few weeks then taper off and water every other day, then every third day. After you citrus tree is established, water as-needed and keep soil moist.

Fertilizing is also important in the growing stages; most garden shops in Florida carry a citrus fertilizer that supply the nutrients needed for healthy growth. Fertilize your young tree four to six weeks after planting with a ½ pound of fertilizer and then use a pound of fertilizer six to eight weeks later; continue to increase the amount of fertilizer with each feeding and by year three you should be feeding 4 pounds of fertilizer per application.  After your tree has grown into an adult you can switch to a mature fertilizer and only fertilize three times a year with 8 pounds per application every four months. 

Weeds should always be monitored and removed beneath the citrus tree canopies. Weeds compete for water and nutrients and can harbor pests. Even when pests are present, pest control is rarely needed; citrus trees are fairly pest- resistant.

Harvest fruit when completely ripe; citrus does not ripen off the tree. Ripe fruits can stay ripe on the tree for up to three months. Don’t eat citrus after it has fallen on the ground, it might have already started to deteriorate.

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