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Caring for Citrus Trees

Caring for Citrus Trees


Citrus trees love our climate—this is Orange County, after all! Just about any variety of citrus tree, from sweet oranges to ultra-tart limes, can grace your landscape with beautiful scenery, sensational scents, and mouthwatering flavors. If you’re eager to grow your own citrus, this guide is all about learning how to care for these magnificent trees here in California!

Choosing the Right Citrus Tree

Depending on where in Southern California you live, some citrus trees will perform better on your property than others. For example, grapefruits, blood oranges, and Washington navel oranges perform better in hot inland landscapes while limes, lemons, and kumquats thrive along the coast. Watch below as David Rizzo explains this in more detail, along with his top-recommended citrus varieties.

How to Care for Citrus Trees in
California Landscapes


Citrus trees are gluttons for sunlight and nutrients! Plant your citrus tree in a location with 6-8 hours of direct sun exposure every day. To plant, dig a hole twice as wide and six inches deeper than your tree’s root ball, then backfill under and around the root ball with a mixture of 50% Malibu Compost and 50% native soil, ensuring the root ball ends up sitting level with the soil line. It’s very important that the mixture drains well, so if your native soil contains heavy clay, be sure to blend the compost in well to break up large clumps.


At the time of planting, form a basin around the tree that diverts water toward the roots and away from the trunk. Water your newly-planted citrus tree deeply and thoroughly by filling the basin, allowing it to drain, and filling it again until no bubbles are arising from the soil.. After this initial watering, you’ll want to allow the soil to dry out slightly before watering again. Proper watering frequency is one of the trickiest parts of learning how to care for citrus trees; in the California heat, it can be difficult to know how dry is too dry. In general, deep watering once or twice per week is ideal. Avoid using spray heads that can wet the trunk, which can invite disease, and instead place the hose directly on the soil and allow water to soak in slowly.


Citrus trees are heavy feeders and should be fertilized monthly from February to September. Fertilize citrus trees with a specially-formulated organic fertilizer blend that contains trace micronutrients like iron, zinc, and magnesium, such as Down to Earth Citrus Mix Fertilizer. Follow the instructions on the packaging for appropriate application instructions.

Protecting Your Citrus Tree

Pests, diseases, and even sun exposure can threaten your tree’s health. To keep your tree well-protected:

  • Prune away dead, dying, or diseased foliage as needed to prevent disease from spreading.
  • Inspect regularly for signs of insects, such as mealybugs, scale, and whitefly. Treat as-needed with a safe, natural pesticide like neem oil or insecticidal soap.
  • Guard your citrus tree against ants by applying Tanglefoot around the trunk to prevent them from reaching the canopy.
  • Prune citrus branches in the winter to prevent branches from touching the ground (an open invitation for insects!) and promote airflow through the canopy. If necessary, some light pruning can be done during the growing season, but only as necessary. Avoid over-pruning, as direct sun exposure can burn the trunk.


In June, it’s typical for citrus trees to drop quite a bit of young fruit. This is the tree’s way of choosing which fruits to continue to develop, as the tree doesn’t generally have enough resources to ripen them all. Different citrus varieties will ripen at various times throughout the year, but don’t begin harvesting unless you’ve had a taste! Citrus fruits often look riper than they are, and only a taste-test will reveal whether the sugars have sufficiently developed. Once you’re satisfied with the flavor of a few sample fruits plucked from different areas of the tree, you can grab your baskets and start picking! Most citrus fruits store very well on the tree, sometimes for months, making them very popular to grow at home.

How to Care for Citrus Trees in Containers

Here in California, we can also keep several dwarf and semi-dwarf citrus varieties, like Meyer lemons, in containers rather than growing them in the ground—but container growing does require some different know-how if you’re hoping for a great harvest!

If you plan to plant your citrus in a container, plant your new tree in a large container filled with our Cactus Mix. This quick-draining blend is nutrient-rich and perfectly suited for your tree straight out of the bag.

Watch as Kathleen offers some more advice for delicious container-grown citrus.

For more growing tips, and to browse our full collection of citrus and other fruit trees, visit our garden center in Newport Beach. We’re confident your new citrus tree will quickly become a beloved focal point in your landscape, and a frequent source of inspiration for your table!

Shop all citrus trees now online or visit us in-store for a larger selection!