Growing Citrus

Easy to grow and tasty to eat, citrus are the most popular backyard fruit 

Growing Citrus

Juicy, tart and sweet, citrus fruit are a garden favourite and kitchen staple. Image: Getty Images 

There’s nothing like the scent of citrus blossoms wafting through the garden. Add glossy green foliage and the taste of fresh organically grown fruit and you’ve got the complete backyard package.

Citrus are high in vitamin C and are ready for picking in winter when colds and flu are rife. The delicious fruit will hold on the tree in good condition for many weeks.

In the garden, citrus may be left to grow naturally into small feature trees, clipped for use as a hedge or espaliered against a wall. 

Most citrus trees are happy to be grown in large pots, especially the newer dwarf varieties. 

They only reach about half the size of ordinary trees, but the fruit they produce is exactly the same. 

Choose from mandarin, lemon, grapefruit, lime and orange. 

Pick a variety 

Lemon 

An Aussie garden staple with more grown in yards than commercially.

LISBON produces a heavy crop of thin-skinned highly acidic fruit in midwinter to early spring. 

EUREKA bears large acidic fruit with thick skins year round, with the heaviest crop in winter.

MEYER is for cold climates with less bitter fruit than other lemons. 

how to grow citrus, handyman magazine,
An Aussie garden staple with more grown in yards than commercially. Image: Thinkstock 

Orange 

A beautiful small tree, especially when covered in ripening fruit. 

WASHINGTON NAVEL is the most popular orange and produces sweet, seedless fruit in midwinter. 

LANE LATE NAVEL has identical fruit to ‘Washington Navel’ and ripens in late winter and early spring. 

VALENCIA fruit hangs on the tree from midwinter until late spring. 

orange, growing citrus, handyman magazine,
A beautiful small tree, especially when covered in ripening fruit. Image: Thinkstock 
 

Mandarin 

A hit with children, they peel easily and are ideal for lunch boxes. 

IMPERIAL is one of Australia’s favourites. The tasty fruit has few seeds, is easy to peel and ripens over autumn and winter. 

EMPEROR has puffy skin that makes it particularly easy to peel. The fruit ripens in midwinter after ‘Imperial’ has finished. 

mandarin, handyman magazine,
A hit with children, they peel easily and are ideal for lunch boxes. Image: Thinkstock 
 

Grapefruit 

Both sweet and sour in flavour, those grown at home are more succulent than shop-bought fruit.

MARSH is a yellow-skinned fruit with a nearly seedless pale flesh that has a sweet but tangy taste. It ripens over winter and early spring.

RIO RED has a sweeter flavour than other grapefruit and red flesh. It ripens in winter and spring. 

grapefruit, handyman magazine,
Both sweet and sour in flavour, those grown at home are more succulent than shop-bought fruit
 

Lime 

Weight for weight, limes have one and a half times the acid of a lemon.

TAHITIAN LIME reaches about three metres high and bears thin-skinned, green fruit in late autumn to winter, and often during summer as well. 

KAFFIR LIME  fruit is knobbly and the flesh is not eaten, but the leaves are essential in Asian cooking and the zest is also used in recipes. 

lime, handyman magazine,
Weight for weight, limes have one and a half times the acid of a lemon. Image: Thinkstock 
 

Native citrus 

These culinary delights are loved by many top Australian chefs. 

FINGER LIME contains a mass of juicy, citrus pearls with a strong lime flavour. Use to garnish chicken or squeeze over fresh oysters. 

DESERT LIME  fruit usually appear in summer and are small, tangy and thin-skinned. Use it to make a zesty lime pickle or mayonnaise.  

native citrus, growing citrus, handyman magazine,
These culinary delights are loved by many top Australian chefs.  Image: Thinkstock 


How to grow 

Citrus trees like a sunny location with shelter from wind and most prefer a frost-free climate.

PLANT in free-draining soil, digging in lots of compost before planting. Position the tree in the hole so the soil level is the same as in the pot. Water in with a solution of Seasol to help prevent transplant shock.

WATER newly planted trees twice weekly for six weeks until established, then water thoroughly every week, especially while the fruit is ripening. 

MULCH with sugar cane, lucerne hay or pea straw. Leave at least a hand’s span clear around the trunk when applying mulch to prevent collar rot. 

FEED with a complete citrus food, cow manure, or blood and bone applied under the mulch in early spring, early summer and again in early autumn. 

Always apply fertiliser to damp soil and water it in. The roots of citrus trees spread to the outer perimeter of the branches, so feed and water there. Don’t feed newly planted citrus for at least six weeks or until new growth reveals the roots have established. 

PRUNE half the developing fruit on young trees in their first and second years to prevent the tree exhausting itself. Citrus don’t need annual pruning for fruit production, but can be clipped into any desired shape. 

Fertilising DIY 

The old wives’ tale about the benefits of urinating on the soil around your lemon tree probably came about because in the old days of outdoor plumbing, the toilet was usually located at the bottom of the backyard near the lemon tree. 

There is truth in the tale as urine contains urea, which is a fertiliser. But it should be diluted by at least half with water to prevent burning the tree. A citrus fertiliser not only works better but is easier to apply in front of the neighbours.

Pests and diseases 

Bronze orange bug 

SPOT IT Small green nymphs and brown or black adults 25mm long suck on stalks, causing fruit to fall. 

Control Spray nymphs in winter with insecticide. Drop adults in a bucket of boiling water and detergent by hand, wearing gloves and goggles as they squirt a smelly chemical. 

bronze orange bug, citrus pests and dieases, handyman magazine,
Orange bugs suck on stalks causing fruit to fall. Image: Getty images 
 

Citrus leaf miner 

SPOT IT These small silvery moths are difficult to see. They lay their eggs on new growth and the larvae tunnel into the leaf. Look for
silver trails on new foliage, and curling and distortion of leaves.   

CONTROL Remove the infected leaves or spray with white oil.  

citrus leaf miner, handyman magazine,
Control citrus lead miner by removing infected leaves or spraying with white oil. Image: Rob Horton

Citrus gall wasp 

SPOT IT Small black wasps lay groups of eggs in young soft twigs in early spring. As the larvae of the wasp develop the plant is stimulated to produce extra cells, causing galls on branches. 

CONTROL Remove and dispose of the infected branches, preferably by burning. Do this before the end of winter or the wasps will emerge and lay eggs in new shoots.

citrus gall wasp, handyman magazine,
Small black wasps lay groups of eggs in young soft twigs in early spring. Image: Rob Horton

Collar rot 

SPOT IT A fungal root disease that attacks the trunk just above soil level, identified by yellowing foliage and a damaged area on the lower trunk. If untreated the rot spreads around the trunk and can eventually ringbark the tree. 

CONTROL Scrape the bark back to healthy growth. Keep the area around the trunk free from weeds and other plants. Do not over-water. 

collar rot, handyman magazine, growing citrus,
If untreated the rot spreads around the trunk and can eventually ringbark the tree

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Growing Citrus

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