Your Easy Guide to Growing Citrus

Citrus are the crown jewels of Kiwi backyards, offering fragrant blooms and fruit that burst with nutrition and flavour. While growing citrus trees requires a bit of patience — it’s often a few years before they start fruiting regularly — the joy of harvesting your own home-grown fruit makes the wait worthwhile.
 

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lemon
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Ideal Planting Conditions

Citrus trees thrive in warm, sunny locations, sheltered from cold winds. Choose a north-facing site with fertile, well-drained soil as citrus don’t like having 'wet feet'. 

Growing Citrus in Colder climates
Although citrus prefers warmer climates, with the right site selection, they can also flourish in cooler regions. If you live in these areas, growing citrus in pots is a practical solution. Trees can be easily moved to sheltered porches or locations during cold snaps or frosts. 

Whenever frost is forecast in your area, protect trees with frost cloth overnight removing the covers in the morning.

Prime Planting Time

Plant citrus in spring, autumn, or winter, (avoiding frosts) so roots have time to settle before spring. You can also relocate existing trees during this time.

Selecting the Right Variety

Choose varieties suited to your region, especially if you live in cooler areas as citrus are sensitive to frosts. Popular citrus types include lemons, tangelos, oranges, mandarins, grapefruit, and limes. There are also lemonades, kumquats, ugli fruit and finger limes to choose from.

Lemons
• Lisbon is a true lemon – with its strong flavour. Ideal for cooking.
• Lemon Zen Ben – improved form of Lisbon, a smaller tree with very heavy cropping.
• Meyer Lemon – sweet and slightly floral taste, popular due to their reliable fruiting and hardiness.

Oranges
• Best navel orange types: Carter, Parent, Washington. 
• Best seedless orange: Harwood Late.
 

Tangelos
Seminole – a popular mandarin-grapefruit hybrid.

Mandarins
Satsuma types (easy peel), Kawano, Miho, Siliverhill, Clementine.

Limes
• Tahitian Lime – most common lime variety 
• Bearss Lime – well-suited to New Zealand's climate.
• Kaffir Lime – Leaves used for cooking. 
• Australian Finger Lime – gaining popularity for its unique appearance and flavour.

Grapefruit
Cutler's Red, Golden Special, Morrison Seedless, Wheeny.

Fruiting & Extending The Season

Not all citrus fruit at the same time – but the bulk of them fruit in winter. However, by choosing varieties known for their extended fruiting periods, you can enjoy a longer harvest.

For example:

  • Mandarins: Encore ripens in November, December, and January. 
  • Clementine: Crops July, August.
  • Tangelos: Tangelo Seminole ripens in November.
  • Oranges: Harwood Late crops from August through to January/February. The fruit also stays on the tree without becoming dry. 
  • Lemon: Produces fruit almost all year round.
     

Top tip: In the first year or so, remove young fruit to let the tree focus on building a strong structure, ensuring healthier growth and future fruiting. 

 

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Planting Citrus In the Garden
  1. Soak the root ball in Garden Time Seafeed for 10-15 minutes pre-planting to reduce transplant shock. 
  2. Dig a hole twice as wide and as deep as the container the tree came in.
  3. Add a combination of Garden Time Compost and Daltons Premium Garden Mix to the hole and mix it well.
  4. At this point, you can also add in Garden Time Chicken and Sheep Pellets and a couple of Premium Planter Tabs for slow-release nutrients.
  5. Create a mound at the bottom in the middle where the tree’s root ball will sit.
  6. Place the tree in the hole, replace the soil around the root ball and pat it to make it compact and firm.
  7. The ideal position is when the tree sits in the ground, and the base of its stem is slightly higher than ground level. This prevents water from pooling around the trunk and causing rots.
  8. Thoroughly water after planting and add layer of Daltons Premium Mulch & Grow to control weeds and retain moisture. 
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Planting Citrus in Containers

Citrus grows successfully in pots and containers, so if you are short on space this is a great option. 

Remember, potted citrus requires more frequent watering, especially in the heat of summer. Feed your container citrus using the Feeding and Watering Guide below. Always use good quality mixes, to give consistent nutrients and drainage.

Citrus Varieties for Containers: Meyer Lemon, Clementine or Encore Mandarin and Bearrs Lime are ideal as they all have a small compact form. 

  1. Choose a large container with drainage holes in the bottom so excess water can escape.
  2. Soak the tree’s root ball in Garden Time Seafeed for about 10-15 minutes before planting. 
  3. Partially fill your container with Garden Time Fruit & Citrus Mix.
  4. Place the tree in the container and adjust the mix under the plant until it is at the desired height.
  5. Fill the rest of the container to approximately 2cm from the top, gently tapping to ensure the mix distributes throughout the roots.  
  6. Apply a layer of Daltons Premium Mulch & Grow on top to protect the soil and keep moisture from evaporating.

 

 
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Feeding and Watering

Healthy trees are less prone to pests and diseases so regular feeding and care is important.
 

Fertilising Citrus

Citrus trees are known as 'heavy feeders' and need regular applications of citrus-specific fertiliser. Apply it around the ‘drip line’ of the branches, dig it in lightly and water well so nutrients are washed down to the tree's roots. 

February to mid-April: Feed with Garden Time Fruit & Citrus Fertiliser or Daltons Premium Fruit & Citrus Fertiliser every 4-6 weeks.
April to September: Do not fertilise during winter. 
October to Christmas: Recommence feeding every 4-6 weeks.
 

Watering Citrus

Water your tree consistently, especially in the summer, and apply spread a generous layer of mulch around its base to lock in moisture, nourish the soil, and keep weeds at bay.
Lack of water and nutrients can stress your tree, resulting in poor growth and fruit production, fruit with hard skins, or the shedding of leaves and forming fruit (fruit drop).

 

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lime tree
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Sooty mould
Pests and Diseases

Citrus trees are susceptible to diseases like Citrus Melanose and "Citrus Verrucosis (commonly called Citrus Scab), Once symptoms appear, it's often too late for treatment, so prevention is key! A consistent spraying routine with copper oxychloride is recommended to protect against these and other fungal diseases. Also regularly check for signs of black sooty mould on your trees – see below. 

Scale and Sooty Mould

Scale insects suck the sap out of leaves and produce a sticky sweet substance called honeydew. This dew attracts the growth of the black sooty mould which covers much of the leaves, reducing the plant's ability to photosynthesise, which in turn affects its growth and fruit production. The key to treating this problem is to get rid of the insects:

  1. Spray the insects with an oil-based spray such as Neem Oil or Conqueror Oil – good coverage is very important, especially on the undersides of the leaves where the insects typically reside. 
  2. Once the insects are dead there is no more ‘food’ for the sooty mould to grow on so it will begin to disappear. 
  3. If you want to speed up the process, remove the sooty mould with a high-pressure hose – lemon tree leaves are robust enough to withstand this.
General Maintenance

Pruning: Light pruning to shape the tree and remove any dead or diseased branches can improve air circulation and fruit access. 

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Learn more about citrus with our Q&A section below.
CITRUS Q&AS