There is nothing better than the smell of citrus blossoms in late winter and early spring. The popularity of citrus has increased as many homeowners are creating urban backyard orchards in Central Texas. Commercial citrus operations are typically found in the Lower Rio Grande Valley where the threat of hard freezes is lessened. In fact, Texas is ranked 3rd in US citrus production. You can have citrus in our area as long as you choose the right variety, put it in the right place, and pay a little attention to their care and maintenance requirements.
Most citrus are grafted onto a cold hardy trifoliate orange (Poncirus) rootstock. They usually bloom anywhere from late fall to early spring, and occasionally you will still have ripening fruit on the plant as it is blooming and setting fruit for the next year. ‘Carrizo’ rootstocks are a trifoliate orange rootstock cross which gives trees a little faster growth rate and also cause them to get a little taller. Occasionally you will find citrus grafted on a ‘flying dragon’ root stock, which is a dwarfing root stock. Plants grown on these root stocks will maintain a smaller size and are well suited to growing in containers.
Best Varieties –New varieties of citrus are being introduced into Texas markets that are touting to be more cold hardy than the old standbys. This is exciting news for Central Texas because it means we have a better chance at successfully raising citrus in our landscapes and in containers. If you want to be successful at growing citrus in our area, stick with cold hardy varieties or be prepared to grow in containers that are protected or moved indoors in the winter.
Oranges and Grapefruit- True oranges (not Satsuma oranges) and grapefruit are not cold tolerant in our Central Texas climate. There may be some varieties that have a greater cold resistance than others, but unless you have a warm microclimate to protect them from hard freezes, they will most likely not survive in the ground here.
Satsuma Oranges – Satsuma oranges are considered to be very cold tolerant and will take temperatures down to 25 degrees or lower. These happen to be my favorite and always seem to ripen early enough to avoid freezing weather. ‘Artic Frost Satsuma’and ‘Orange Frost Satsuma’ are new varieties bred to be more frost resistant, and may survive being planted in the ground in a protected location.
Lemons – The best lemon variety for our area is the ‘Meyer Lemon’. It is thought to not be a true lemon but actually a cross between a lemon and a satsuma orange. Meyer lemons differ from most citrus in that they continue to flower and fruit throughout the growing season, and may have fruit ripening at different times. You will see plants labeled ”Improved Meyer Lemon” as well, and this simply means that it is a Meyer Lemon that has been “cleaned” of any viruses the original Meyer Lemon may have had. Fruiting and culture are identical.
A new variety of citrus called ‘Lemon Drop’ is actually a cross between a lemon and a kumquat. The fruit are about the size of an egg and have a high oil content in the sweet, edible rind. Lemon Drop Citrus taste more like a lemon, with a sweet edible rind.
Mexican Limes- Mexican limes are great for our area. There is also a ‘Thornless Mexican Lime’ that does well here as well.
Pruning – Pruning is rarely necessary on fruit trees. Only prune your citrus trees to control tree size or to remove dead, diseased, or damaged wood.
Planting- Citrus trees prefer well drained slightly acidic soils but will tolerate a soil pH range of 6 to 8. They do well in a container as long as you protect the plant and more importantly, the roots, from freezing weather. Citrus need at least 4-6 hours of direct sun for the best fruit production and healthy growth.
If you want to grow your citrus in a pot, choose a quality potting soil, such as Happy Frog Potting Soil, or Fox Farm Strawberry Fields Potting Soil. When it is time to move your citrus to a larger pot, do not go more than 4”-6” larger each time you re-pot. Do not pick the tree up by the trunk to get it out of the pot. Turn the pot on its side and gently ease the root ball out of the pot. Handle it by the root ball only, and plant it at the exact same depth that it was planted in in the original pot. Never water your citrus with a saucer under the pot. When the top of the soil is dry 2”-3” down, water WELL! Let the water go through the pot over and over again. I prefer to plant my citrus in the plastic nursery pots, then “double pot” them into my decorative pot. This makes it much more manageable to move indoors in the winter.
If you decide to put your citrus in the ground, put it in a protected area such as the south or southeast side of your house to provide shelter from the cold Northwestern wind brought by cold fronts. The house will also provide a little bit of heat to keep it warmer during the winter, but be sure to plant it at least 4-6 feet away from the structure to allow for future growth.
When planting your citrus, amend the soil with The Ground Up Citrus and Fruit Tree compost and a good organic slow release fertilizer such as MicroLife Citrus and Fruit Tree Fertilizer to get it off to a good start. Do not fertilize your citrus tree again until you see new growth. Mulch your citrus with at least 2-3” of mulch to conserve moisture. Take special precautions that the mulch doesn’t touch the main trunk or you may end up with foot rot disease (a disease of the bark).
Care and Maintenance – Fertilize your citrus trees with a complete fertilizer. We recommend fertilizing in March with a slow release organic fertilizer such as MicroLife fertilizer. One application in March and another in September is generally enough to sustain good growth and fruit production.