7 Tips for Growing Citrus Trees

Citrus fruits are some of the most versatile crops for use in the kitchen. They can be juiced for drinks or salad dressings, added to fruit salads, segmented over breakfast cereals, cooked with meat (duck a l’orange, anyone?) and used in any number of cakes, sorbets ice creams, cakes and other sweet desserts. They are also very nutritious fruits, being high in a range of vitamins. Sometimes, however, gardeners can be put off planting citrus fruits on their plot, feeling perhaps that they can only thrive in tropical climates or in greenhouses.

In fact, growing most varieties of citrus is relatively simple, as long as you are able to give them plenty of sunshine. Indeed, that primary consideration aside, permaculture gardeners should be able to cultivate a citrus tree, even if they have limited space. There are lots of varieties available, but some are more suited to small-scale cultivation than others. The Emperor mandarin is easy to cultivate and produces sweet fruit; Valencia is probably the best orange variety as it is hardier than many other species and produces a crop over a longer period; Meyer lemons can be grown in small spaces, and do well in pots; while Tahiti limes are ideal as they produce a lot of juice.

Whichever type of citrus you choose to cultivate, here are some guidelines to help get you started.

Exposure to sunshine is the key to successful cultivation of all citrus varieties. A minimum of five hours full sun is necessary, but the more you can give them the better, so a north-facing position is best. In more temperate climates, it is a good idea to locate the trees next to a wall so that they can benefit from the radiated heat. This will also help to protect the trees from strong winds. A sheltered spot prevents damage to the tree from winds, but be advised that you want to ensure some airflow around the trees, which helps them transpire.

Citrus trees prefer a soil that has a neutral pH or is slightly acidic. If your soil is alkaline, that best method of lowering the pH is composting well with organic compost. It is even better if your compost contains animals manure, so if you keep chickens as livestock on your permaculture plot, citrus trees should thrive with regular doses of their composted droppings. This will also provide the trees with plenty of nitrogen, essential for their growth and development of a healthy crop, and keep grass away from the tree (which would compete for nutrients and water). It will also assist in keeping the soil well drained, which is essential for successful cultivation of citrus trees.

When you plant a citrus tree, dig a hole that is twice as wide as the pot the tree is in, and around one and half times as deep. Mix some of the soil removed from the hole with compost (preferably one with animal manure in it) and add to the base of the hole (if you are in an area with heavy clay soil, it is also a good idea to mix in some sand at this stage to help improve moisture drainage). Place the tree in and fill the hole with soil. Water well. Plant your trees in spring after any risk of frost has passed. They need a full growing season to help them establish themselves in the permaculture plot before the winter comes.

The roots of citrus trees are comparatively shallow, so they benefit from an organic mulch to provide a slow release of nutrients into the soil (as they do not have the root depth to bring nutrients up from lower down in the soil profile). As with other trees, avoid mulching directly against the trunk of the citrus tree. Adding compost regularly around the drip line of the tree will also help provide it with the nutrients it needs.

Young trees need a lot of watering, and should be irrigated once or twice a week for the first six weeks after planting to help them get established. The ground should be well drained to prevent root rot. Water early in the morning or late in the evening to give the plants the most chance to access and utilize the moisture.

Even if you have limited space, perhaps just a courtyard or sheltered balcony, you can still grow a citrus tree; it will just have to be in a pot citrus treesand typically be a dwarf species. The benefit of potted citrus trees is that you can move them around to take advantage of all available sunshine as the sun moves across the sky. You can also bring the trees indoors when cold weather approaches. As you can imagine, potted trees require more constant attention than those in the garden, but the same considerations apply – they need at least five hours of sunshine a day, protection from winds (it is not recommended to have a citrus tree on a balcony high in an apartment block), a decent potting mix that drains well and regular watering. In the warmer months you should be watering once or twice a week as required. Citrus trees grown in pots will need to have their roots trimmed every three years or so. This requires you to take the tree out of the pot and trim approximately five centimeters from around the root ball. Replant with new, well-composted potting mix.

Once established, most citrus trees can survive a winter, unless it involves extremely low temperatures. When the trees are young and an unexpected frost is due, wrap the tree in fleece to protect it (if growing in pots, bring the pots indoors for the night). Citrus trees do not need pruning to help them fruit, but you should take out some leaves and branches if the center becomes too dense, as airflow helps keep the tree healthy. You can prune to keep the tree at a desired size for your available space.


A lonnnng time ago, back when Moses was a PFC, Tralece and I had a potted lemon tree indoors. Tiny, marble-sized lemons, too sour to use for much of anything other than ornamentation.

I have a dwarf lemon but it is not permacultured because of the harsh winters. I bring it into the house during the winters. It is the one thing that I really wanted but can’t keep in the garden.

I have a dwarf Meyer lemon tree that lives in a container; it goes on the back deck in the summer (FULL sun), and comes indoors over the winter (we’re in zone 5)

You’re lucky you can grow citrus.

Live somewhere warm

I have a Meyer Lemon and a Mandarin Orange. We will see how that goes.

I’ve heard citrus fruit inhibits a certain beneficial bacteria in soil when you compost them.

Jonathon Hernandez

Step 1. Move to Florida lol

Don’t live in alaska

I got this jay and Chris ..move to fla. Lol

I live in New England and have a potted Meyer Lemon. We bring it in for the winter and each year it is more productive. It took a few years for it to begin to produce, but over the past three years we’ve gotten 3, 13 and 23 (this year) lemons. The taste is awesome. I love picking them in the middle of winter.

Van Potteiger

Man do we. Peaches,plums,pears persimmons ,apples,figs,etc.etc.

Just found my lemon tree ring barked by rabbits. Not happy.

We have a Lime, a Lemon, a Blood Orange, a Tangerine, and an Avocado.

I built our chicken pen around around our orange tree. The chickens love the shade & keep the grass away from the trunk, & the orange tree loves the chicken manure.

Pink grapefruit

Calamondin and Meyer lemon

I’m trying to find the right ones for my climate! In Tuscaloosa we have a long hot summer but the winters still get very cold and windy!

I have a Myers lemon

Brenda Hort

I’m in jersey and enjoying my first year with a potted lime tree

CA here, I have around 30 I’ve planted and a lemon tree that came with the place that is 120 years old!

Backyard. Lexus

How old was it before it started producing?

I think it was the fourth year.

Great summer patio plant that keeps producing inside through the winter. A citrus delight of lemons, limes and oranges.

Mine lose it’s leaves every year when I bring it inside. How do I keep it from getting white spots and dropping leaves?

Hindi pwede sa Pilipinas yan.

Assume they may not do well in cold winter Colorado.

Mine loses quite a few leaves in winter but not all. Are the white spots on the leaves? Before I bring it in I fill the pot with compost and give it a good watering with fish emulsion. One tip that I received that seems to have been very beneficial is to save the water when you boil potatoes and use it to water the lemon tree. I started doing this about 3 years ago, do it about once a month and think the health and production have really improved since.

you can. I had for several yearss a lemontree, and a dwarf pomegrante while living in Colorado Springs. I kept them in a pot, tranfered them every other year into a larger planter. In the wintertime or when it drops below 40* you keep them in a sunny window inside. Mine got so large that I donated them to friend with a greenhouse when the planters got so large it was no longer practical to drag them inside anymore. They are from what I heard going nuts in the greenhouse.

Seth Gregg Lydia Naida Wagner Gregory Gregg


They don’t thrive in Canada!

I have two, 2 year old lemon trees in the atrium. They are 6 inches tall. I have them in jars (terrarium). I promise as soon as I transplant them they will DIE A HORRIBLE DRY DEATH.


For indoor potted citrus, during the cold months we either spritz the leaves with water every other day or put a humidifier near them. I find the leaves stay shiny and green with tge extra moisture. But I’m in south TX so it’s more like cool months and a few cold weeks.


When is the best time of year to prune them for better airflow?

Carolyn Tregenza

The home we just moved into has three citrus trees. We are normally extremely moderate winters (south Texas) but this past winter had multiple 14 degree days. Most of the citrus trees branches are dead. There is some green, some new growth on two. What can I do to help them out? Anything?

Elly O’Brien

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