Az Citrus

It seems like half of the homes in Phoenix have at least one citrus tree in the yard, and most of the homeowners have questions about their trees. The focus of this site is on growing citrus in the Phoenix, AZ, USA area, but it will generally apply to growing citrus in any desert area.

The good news is that citrus trees are just big old weeds. If you pick the right tree, water it, and give it a little fertilizer, then you will get all the fruit you can eat.

What kinds of citrus grow here?
Where to buy citrus trees?
How to plant citrus trees?
How to water citrus trees?
How and when to fertilize citrus?
How to prune citrus trees?
Helpful citrus links
Try CHCID site

Citrus selection

Most citrus will grow here. The most commonly grown varieties are eating oranges (navels), juice oranges, tangerines, and grapefruit. Lemons and limes aren't far behind, but are more frost sensitive. There are some citrus types, like blood oranges and some tangerines, that like a cooler climate and are seldom grown here. But even they can be grown here.

If your timing is right, the Arizona Cooperative Extension citrus day is the best deal going. This is a one day event held in the spring, that includes a citrus tasting. The Cooperative Extension brings in 30 or more types of citrus from their own trees grown in Arizona. You get to see them and taste them.
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Where to buy citrus trees

First choice is a nursery that emphasizes citrus. They will have a bigger selection than other retailers. Greenfield’s and Whitfill are two local nurseries with good reputations for citrus.

There is nothing wrong with the trees from home improvement stores either. They are good quality trees that will do well in this area.

Starting a citrus tree from the seeds of a fruit you like may be fun, but it won't result in a high quality tree.
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Planting citrus

Citrus can be planted year round, but the best 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 means 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 key point on the depth of the hole is that you want the soil level on the trunk of the tree to be the same or slightly lower as it is in the container. Having the soil level end up higher on the tree trunk is a disease risk.

The tree in the container needs to be reasonably damp so the root ball will hold together on its own. Remove the tree from the container and place it in the hole. Now stick the end of your garden hose down in the hole. Next put the dirt back in the hole.

Turn the hose on slowly and wait for the hole to fill with water. Probably some of the dirt will cave in as air pockets in the soil are forced out by the water. Add more soil as needed to fill the hole completely.

There are various chemical products available to minimize transplant shock. They aren't necessary, but use them if you like.
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Watering citrus

Citrus trees do best if they are heavily watered, and then given time to dry out between waterings. How frequently to water varies a lot depending on your local soil. Trees in 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.

You need to check your individual soil for moisture content before determining your personal water schedule. If the top few inches have thoroughly dried out, then its time to water again. Try digging down a few inches or inserting one of those soil moisture meters, or inserting a screwdriver in the soil to test for moisture.

If you like the sound of the screwdriver test, then you are probably a guy. Unfortunately only women who bake have the right skills to use this test. It is very similar to sticking a straw in a cake to see if its done baking. The idea is the screwdriver will come out of the ground clean if the soil is dry. If the soil is still damp then some soil will stick to the screwdriver.

Watering your trees for a few minutes every few days is not acceptable. It causes salt build up in the soil and is an ideal environment for root rot diseases.
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Fertilizing citrus

Citrus should be fertilized in February, May, and early October. The best fertilizer to use is one that says it is for fruit and nut trees right on the bag. You'll have to read the instructions on the bag to determine how much to use, because they are all different. Typically its the amount you can hold in a closed hand for a small tree, up to 2 cups for a large tree.

You can take the same total amount of fertilizer recommended for three applications and split it up into nine applications for every month from February to October. Nine light regular applications promotes better tree growth, expecially for young trees.

Do not fertilize after October. It encourages the tree to start new tender growth during the winter when there is danger of frost.
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Pruning citrus

Pruning citrus is completely unnecessary. The 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 the trees for appearance then make sure your pruning doesn't leave the trunk or major branches exposed to direct sunlight. Citrus tree trunks will sunburn. That's why you see the trunks of citrus trees painted white. The white paint acts as sun tan lotion for trunks that are directly exposed to the sun.
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