FAQ’s: Growing Citrus

By Darren Sheriff | November 9, 2016
Image by Darren Sheriff
by Darren Sheriff
November 9, 2016

Darren Sheriff is a Certified Professional Nurseryman, a Charleston County Master Gardener and author of the Best Selling Book, “How To Grow Citrus Practically Anywhere“.  You can connect with him via his website,  http://thecitrusguy.blogspot.com, follow him on Facebook or contact him via e-mail at TheCitrusGuy@netzero.com. He will answer any of your questions regarding citrus or any other type of fruit. Darren is the founder of the Lowcountry Fruit Growers Society as well as their current president. He is also the current president of the Coastal Carolina Camellia Society.

When I go out and do lectures or work at a Master Gardener sponsored activity, or even on a daily basis, I get a lot of the same questions. Don’t get me wrong, I have no problem with this, sometimes it actually gets kind of funny. People don’t realize that I just had somebody ten minutes ago ask me the exact same question. Questions are how we learn after all.

Here is a list of some of the more frequently asked ones.

Q: How often should I water?

A: This is a good one that can have many answers. On average, according to many other sources, Citrus require about one inch of water per week. With that being said, I HATE that sentence. Here is some food for thought, if you have a very sandy soil, how long do you think that water will last? 30 minutes, maybe?

If you have a soil that is predominantly clay, that water will last you until Christmas. If you have your Citrus in the ground, it will not need to be watered as often as one in a container. Again, it will depend on your soil type, but also when was the last rainfall, how old is the tree, what kind of weather conditions there have been, etc. Sunny and hot will need more water than cloudy and cool. All of these conditions will apply to in ground or containers. Something else to take into account with containers, a black pot will get very hot and the moisture will evaporate very quickly. The soil temperature can easily reach 120 degrees in full sun. My suggestion, give your plant the finger. Stick it into the soil and see how damp it is. And just what were you thinking? If it is dry up to your first knuckle, or about an inch down, give it a good drink.

Finger Soil

Q: What should I feed my Citrus?

A: I like getting this question. It means that they are at least willing to feed it. It is amazing how many people will come to me with a plant that has yellow leaves and when questioned about feeding it, they never have.  I recommend a product called Citrus-Tone, made by Espoma. Fantastic stuff and it is organic. If you can’t find the Citrus-Tone, the next best thing to use is a water soluble fertilizer made for acid loving plants, like Camellias and Azaleas. I beg of you, Please don’t use the fertilizer stakes. The short version of why? They basically just sit there and don’t move throughout the root zone. They can also burn the roots. You stick it into the ground, possibly right on top of some of the delicate roots and burn the crude out of them. Another product I don’t like is the Citrus fertilizer that looks like fish gravel. I am sure you have seen/used it. I just don’t think it works very well.

Q: Can I repot or transplant my Citrus now?

A: Yes! There really is no time frame for repotting, if you are growing them in containers. Now, if you are planting it in the ground, you might want to wait until spring. I have transplanted in the middle of summer, with it full of fruit, and I saw no ill effects. Just make sure you give it lots of water, so, unless you are sure you can keep it watered, I would wait until spring. When repotting into a container, there is a LOT of discussion as to what size pot to go up to. I, for one, usually go at least two sizes up. There are many people that say you should only go one size, there are also others that go from a one-gallon to a thirty-gallon. The choice is yours. I go up about two sizes because I have so many trees; it buys me a little time in between repots.

Citrus Seedling

Q: All the little fruits keep falling off?

A: This can be caused by a number of reasons. If it has actually produced fruit in the past, then one of the reasons could be lack of bee activity. If the flowers do not get pollinated, they will not produce fruit. Irregular watering can also be another culprit. Fertilizers or lack of certain minerals can cause fruit drop. I had a client just the other day with this problem. She actually had three things going against her. The watering, lack of bees and she was only giving the tree Fish Emulsion. Normally, I would say great on the fish emulsion, but not as an “only” fertilizer. It needs a little more than just Nitrogen. Phosphorus, Potassium and numerous so-called “Micro-nutrients” all play a vital role in fruit development. Lastly, there is a phenomenon called “June Drop”, the tree will naturally shed all the fruit it cannot bear in a single season. They are smarter than we are. Now, if it drops ALL of the fruit, then refer back to the first of this answer.

Fruit Falling Off

Q: Do I have Citrus Greening Disease?

A: This one usually requires a visual inspection. Even then, I am not a qualified professional to give you a 100% yes or no answer. What I can tell you is this, look at the yellow leaf. If there is a mirror image of the coloring, in other words, if the left side of the leaf looks like the right side, it is probably a nutritional problem. If there is a single branch that suddenly bolts out and turns yellow or if the leaf has irregular patterns of blotching, call your local extension agent. They will know who to call for your area. Another way to tell is, if the fruit is irregular in shape or is very bitter after having been sweet before, you might have a problem. citrus_greening

Q: Where did you get all of your trees?

A: Everywhere and anywhere. I have scoured the Internet. I have friends all over the world that I have traded seeds with. There are many websites that have some very cool Citrus trees for sale and there are even a few that just sell the seeds. You REALLY need to be careful though. There are many places that have quarantines in place and you DO NOT want to receive plants from these places. Florida is the first place that comes to mind. The best thing to do is look locally. If you must go out of your area, check the website- http://saveourcitrus.org first and see if the place you are looking at is under quarantine.

More Yard 011

Q: I have a Meyer Lemon that…..?

A: I have to try not to chuckle when somebody starts a question with this. I am not a fan of Meyer Lemons and it seems that everybody and anybody that grows Citrus has one of these things. I am just not fond of the taste, though I do have one as part of my collection. In case you are wondering, a Meyer Lemon is a cross between a sweet Orange and a Lemon, hence it being known as a sweet lemon. Give me Eureka or Lisbon lemons any day. The whole Meyer Lemon thing really became somewhat of an inside joke with my wife, my mother and I after I became a Master Gardener, being known as “The Citrus Guy”. It just seemed to be that every other question that I was asked whenever I was out answering questions or somebody would stop me in the store was about a Meyer Lemon. Don’t get me wrong; if you enjoy the taste, it is a great tree to have. It is just not my cup of lemonade.

Hopefully, this has answered any questions that you didn’t know to ask or just haven’t gotten around to asking. I enjoy answering anything that you may want to know about Citrus. But please, don’t get offended if you start the question with….I have this Meyer Lemon….and I start to chuckle!

Happy Growing!



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