Growing your own fruit trees is one of the most exciting and rewarding of all home gardening pursuits. Proper planting will ensure that your Navel Orange, Key Lime, or Ruby Red Grapefruit tree has the solid foundation it needs to provide you with bountiful harvests of fruit to enjoy and share. Follow our guide to give your fruit tree a foundation that will help it thrive for years to come.

Planting Fruit Trees in the Ground

Follow the six easy steps below to give your new fruit tree the most successful start possible. These planting tips work for any type of fruit tree, so you can follow the same procedure for planting lemon, lime, orange, mandarin, or even kumquat trees. If you live in the suggested USDA Climate Zone for your particular fruit varieties, you can plant your new trees in the ground and expect strong growth, heavy blooms, and bountiful fruit harvests.

1. Unpack Your New Fruit Tree

When your new fruit tree arrives, carefully cut open the box, gently remove the tree, and discard or recycle all packaging materials. It is normal for trees to shed leaves during the shipping process, and they will regrow. Place the potted tree in a bright location and leave it in the pot it was shipped in for now. Only move the tree by holding the container, and do not lift by the trunk or limbs.

2. Water Your Fruit Tree

After you have carefully unpacked your new tree, place it in a location where the pot can freely drain, and give it a good watering. Fill the pot, allow it to drain fully, and repeat this process four times. If the outdoor temperature is above 40º F, water the tree outside. If you are in a colder area, water indoors by placing the tree in a shower or bathtub so the pot can drain.

3. Choose the Location to Plant

Once you have watered your new fruit tree, put it in a resting spot where it can become acclimated to light again. Do not immediately place the new tree in direct sunlight. Allow it to enjoy a shaded spot such as under a patio roof, or in a shady garden spot for a few days. Use this time to select the best location to plant the new tree. Choose a spot where the soil drains well, that gets as much direct sunlight per day as possible, and that allows about ten or twelve feet of growing room on all sides. Be sure the spot is far enough away from buildings, walls, and other plants.

4. Prepare the Hole

Now that you have selected the perfect spot, move the new tree to the exact spot where you will plant it, and let it remain there for two or three days to adjust to the light of the area. When you are ready to plant, dig a hole that is about one foot deeper and wider than the rootball on all sides. Backfill the hole so that the planted tree’s rootball is even with the surface of the ground once planted. Gently remove the tree from the pot, and place the rootball in the prepared hole. You may have to add or remove some soil to be sure the surface of the rootball is level with the surface of the ground.

5. Backfill Hole to Finish Planting

Refill the hole around the tree’s rootball with soil and organic material such as composted chicken or cow manure, organic garden compost, or raked leaves and grass clippings. You can also add bagged potting soil. If the soil is very dense and rich, add perlite or coarse sand to help drainage. Once you have filled the hole halfway, water the tree well to remove any air pockets. Once this water has drained, continue to fill the hole with soil and organic material until the hole is filled to the surface. Once the hole is filled, use soil to build a six inch high berm that surrounds the tree in a circle that is three feet from the tree’s trunk. This will help hold water for the roots while the tree is becoming established.

6. Mulch Your New Fruit Tree

Mulch can help a new tree by preventing weeds, retaining soil moisture, and preventing erosion. Mulch the tree within the raised berm circle bed you created in the previous step. For mulch you can use grass clippings, leaves, or shredded tree bark mulch available in bags at home supply or garden shops. Cover the ground with mulch that is about three inches deep, but do not stack mulch directly upon the tree trunk. Be sure to leave a six inch circle of bare ground around the tree trunk base to prevent root and trunk rot.

Planting Citrus Trees In Pots / Containers

Step One: Choosing Your Citrus Tree

A citrus tree can provide amazing and nutritious fruit that you can simply pick, peel, and eat. This enticing idea often leads people to wonder if citrus can be grown in a pot or container. The answer is yes. However, some larger or standard sized citrus varieties can be challenging to grow for long periods in containers due to their eventual size and vigorous root growth. Dwarf varieties typically grow to a mature height of about twelve feet tall, and are far better suited to the container life. Some dwarf varieties include Dwarf Persian Lime, Dwarf Improved Meyer Lemon, and Dwarf Moro Blood Orange. Calamondin Oranges and Kumquats are also great specimens of citrus to grow in a pot at home. Dwarf citrus can be pruned to even smaller stature if necessary. Choose the best tree for you, and then follow these remaining steps to successfully grow your own containerized citrus trees.

Step Two: Choosing The Pot For Your Citrus Tree

New, young citrus trees come in small, but often deep, nursery pots. When you are selecting a pot to move your new tree into, choose one that is slightly larger than the pot the tree came in. All new pots that you use to grow citrus must have adequate holes in the bottom for drainage. A basic starting point for most new container grown citrus is a three-gallon sized pot. Three-gallon pots are usually about nine inches in diameter, and ten inches tall. A new tree can typically live in this size pot for up to two years. At two years, and when roots appear at the drainage holes, move the tree up to a six or seven gallon pot. As long as the next container is at least two inches bigger by depth and circumference, it will be fine. Re-pot your tree in this manner every two years until you reach a container size of about twenty gallons. Plastic nursery pots are durable and light, while clay or fiberglass pots can be more attractive, but heavier to move.

Step Three: Potting Your Citrus Tree

When you are ready to pot your tree, place enough well draining soil in the bottom of the pot to position the surface of the new tree’s root ball about two inches below the pot rim. Remove the original pot and inspect the root ball. Cut away any obviously dead roots or roots that have grown into extreme coils within the pot. If the roots are densely packed, loosen them by gently prying them apart. There is no need to fully untangle the roots. Simply loosen them a bit if needed. Begin to fill the pot with soil and fully cover the root system. Stop at the halfway point, water the soil in, and then continue to fill the container the rest of the way. Fill the soil up to a point where the surface of the tree’s previously potted root ball is at the level of the new soil. Leave about two inches of space between the top of the soil and the pot rim. This will allow you to water the tree properly. Do not bury the root ball deeply, or stack soil over the trunk base. Water the newly potted citrus tree well and let it drain.

Step Four: Watering Your Potted Citrus Tree

When you are ready to pot your tree, place enough well draining soil in the bottom of the pot to position the surface of the new tree’s root ball about two inches below the pot rim. Remove the original pot and inspect the root ball. Cut away any obviously dead roots or roots that have grown into extreme coils within the pot. If the roots are densely packed, loosen them by gently prying them apart. There is no need to fully untangle the roots. Simply loosen them a bit if needed. Begin to fill the pot with soil and fully cover the root system. Stop at the halfway point, water the soil in, and then continue to fill the container the rest of the way. Fill the soil up to a point where the surface of the tree’s previously potted root ball is at the level of the new soil. Leave about two inches of space between the top of the soil and the pot rim. This will allow you to water the tree properly. Do not bury the root ball deeply, or stack soil over the trunk base. Water the newly potted citrus tree well and let it drain.

Acclimation of Citrus Trees

Citrus trees all thrive in bright sunlight, it is best to gradually acclimate a new tree before planting. The same is true for positioning a newly potted citrus tree. When you receive your citrus tree water it well and place it in a shady or sheltered spot for three days. A fully shaded spot under a tree in your yard or on a covered porch are both good choices. After three days in the shade, move your citrus tree to a location where it will receive an hour or two of morning sun. You may need to re-position the tree in the shade if the midday sun is harsh in this location. Allow your new citrus tree to enjoy the morning sun in this manner for one week. At this point your citrus tree will be ready to handle direct sunlight with ease. Move your citrus tree to the location in which you plan to plant it. Help the tree to become familiar with this location by leaving it there in the pot for an additional week. Throughout this process be sure to keep the tree watered and securely upright. Your citrus tree is now ready to plant. If you are growing your citrus tree in a container, you are ready to proceed to care and maintenance.

Selecting the Best Location

Choosing a Citrus Tree Location

One of the most important factors for healthy citrus is the growing location. Soil, sunlight, surroundings, and space combine to affect the health and growth of your citrus tree. Cross-pollination is also a concern for some varieties, and therefore, plays a role in the location of those particular citrus trees.

Soil Matters

Citrus trees do best in a location with fertile, well-drained soil. If your soil has a high percentage of clay, add sand to increase drainage. If your soil is very sandy, add peat to retain nutrients and moisture. Citrus trees do not like wet feet so avoid locations that remain damp or soggy, such as low spots or continually flooded ditch banks. Proper drainage is essential for healthy citrus trees. It is also important that the soil surface is free of weeds or grass. A very light mulch to control weeds may be used, but avoid thick, heavy mulches or saturated compost under your citrus tree (especially upon or around the tree’s trunk).

Sunlight

Citrus trees love locations in full, all-day Sun. But six to eight hours of direct sunlight will make your citrus trees happy and healthy. Consider the amount of light the final planting location will receive, and remember that light angles and shadows change with the seasons. Choose a spot with the most Sun and your citrus trees will thank you with delicious fruit.

Surroundings And Space

Always be aware of the surroundings when picking out a location to plant a citrus tree. Things to consider are overhead utility lines, fixed structures such as buildings or decks, and areas of travel like paths and walkways. It’s easy to forget the space needed for full-grown citrus when you are planting a young tree. Be mindful of the size your mature citrus tree will attain. Plan ahead so that the tree’s location offers plenty of room for growth.

An Eye On The Future

Once you find your citrus tree location has worked well and your tree has provided you with, for example, delicious blood oranges, you may want to add a key lime tree or a tangerine. Plan for 18 to 25 feet between standard size citrus trees, and 10 to 12 feet between dwarf varieties. Remember, the time to plan for additional trees is when you are selecting the location for the first.

Soil Preparation

Soil Preparation To Grow Citrus Trees

Learning how to grow an orange begins before you ever bring home a bag of citrus tree fertilizer. Soil preparation is the process of adding nutrients and loosening compacted soil after you dig but before you place your citrus tree. There are several key points to know to ensure that your soil is ready to help your Kaffir lime or lemon tree perform.

How To Prepare Soil For Citrus Planting

You recall from the previous section that the hole you dig should be large enough to accommodate the root ball with space to grow. But if the soil surrounding the tree is tightly compacted, you will need to loosen that soil as well. Break the surface and top layers of soil up with a shovel and turn any compacted areas to loosen them down to a depth of at least a foot or two.

Soil Types

Clay soils are made of very small particles that feel slick and sticky when wet. Clay soils hold moisture well, but resist watering when they become dry. Once saturated, clay soils are slow to drain. For citrus, clay soils should be loosened and amended with coarse material such as sand or rough compost to facilitate better drainage. Loam soil is a blend of sand, silt, and organic matter. Sandy loam soil that drains well is ideal for growing citrus trees. The goal is to achieve a balance and move your native soil in the direction of a sand to silt loam that is rich in organic matter, retains moisture to a degree, but also drains well enough to never remain soggy. On the other end of the spectrum from clay soils are the sandy soil types. Sandy soil is coarse, tends to be loose, and will not form a ball when squeezed. These soils drain exceedingly well, but will require the addition of ample organic material such as peat, manure, or leaves to achieve a soil rich enough to capture nutrients and retain effective moisture levels.

How To Add Initial Soil Nutrients For Citrus

Once your hole is dug and the surrounding ground loosened, you can add organic material to your pile of topsoil. Mix in composted cow manure, garden compost, or peat moss to increase the soil volume by one third. Baled sphagnum peat moss and granular peat are both suitable. Shredded leaves or grass clippings from your yard are also viable soil amendments. Both will add organic nutrients and loosen the soil. Avoid adding stronger fertilizers at planting time.

More Planting Advice

Planting Citrus Trees

Properly planting a citrus tree provides the foundation for successful growth and fruit production. Once your lemon tree, Persian lime, or clementine orange is established it will give you years of enjoyment, but it needs a solid start. Care and attention when planting is the best investment you can make in your tree’s future.

Before You Dig

Citrus fruit trees produce more and better fruit when the soil is to their liking. Soil pH between 5.5 and 6.5 is the ideal condition for citrus. Contact your local County Extension Office for information about soil testing in your area, or use a digital soil meter to test the soil in your location. Soils can be amended to attain proper pH levels.

Planting In The Ground

Prepare a hole large enough to allow the root system to fit with enough added space to back-fill the hole at least ten inches all the way around the root ball. Gently loosen any tightly wound roots but do not aggressively disturb the root system. Do not over bury. Place the citrus tree at a depth where the surface of the root ball is level with what will be the surface of the ground. Pack soil lightly to eliminate any air pockets, and add no fertilizer to the back-fill soil. Water thoroughly and be sure the trunk and tree base are free of any caked soil or mud.

Planting In A Container

Planting a new citrus tree in a container is similar to planting in the ground. Use a pot large enough to accommodate root growth. A container should have at least three inches of growing space for the root system. Plant the citrus tree so that the soil surface is three inches below the container rim. Once again, do not over bury, and be sure the root surface is at the soil surface level once you are done. Gently compact the soil as you fill the container and water thoroughly once your new citrus tree is planted securely in its new home. Citrus trees have a relatively shallow root system, so a wide container is more suitable than a narrow deep one. By your tree’s second summer you can upgrade it to a larger pot with a diameter of up to 20 inches. Refreshing the soil every two years will allow your citrus tree to remain in this larger container permanently.

Protect Your Planted Citrus Trees

Citrus trees do best in temperatures between 55 and 90 degrees Fahrenheit. Ideal temperatures for the spring and summer range from 75 to 90 degrees. During fall and winter, the best temperature range for growing citrus is 60 to 70 degrees. Containerized citrus trees can be moved indoors during harsh cold weather. Planting in a spot protected from wind is the best defense for trees in the ground. Heaters can reduce humidity to dangerous levels when used in close proximity to any citrus tree, so they are best avoided.