February 24, 2010

Caring For Your Mature Citrus Tree

Cindy Peacock, Extension Specialist, Pinellas County Extension

Most of us have a citrus tree of some kind growing in our yards. For new comers to Florida it has been very popular to have a citrus tree in the yard to be able to enjoy fresh picked fruit. We used to have an abundance of commercial citrus growing in Pinellas County also.

In 1830s, Odet Philippe, a European American pioneer, arrived in the Pinellas peninsula and established the area’s first citrus grove on his plantation. Philippe was a key figure in the early development of Florida’s citrus industry. The Orange belt railroad was built in 1888 and soon after many farmers planted groves in Pinellas County. The groves were planted on elevated, well-drained soils that are common in parts of Pinellas County.

In later years, rapid population growth, urbanization, high land values, and freezes in the 1980s caused most of the remaining citrus growers to abandon the citrus business in Pinellas and sell their groves for development.

Many of the developers left citrus trees in the yards of the homes that they built. You may have one of these mature citrus trees in your yard today that you are tending to. Citrus trees can easily live up to 50 years old, and sometimes considerably longer. They may look bad but, still produce. Here are some tips that will help you take care of your mature citrus tree.

Citrus trees like a well-drained soil. The roots need oxygen and if the tree is in a low area where water stands for a day or two after rains the tree can “drown.” When planting a new citrus tree, be sure to choose a well-drained area.

Established citrus trees can survive with one inch of water per week in hot, dry weather and with less frequent watering during the cooler parts of the year. During the summer rainy season, turn your irrigation system off and let the rain water your tree. If the leaves curl up from the side edges this is a good indication that the tree needs water. Over-watering can stress citrus trees. A stressed tree can become more susceptible to diseases and insects. When watering, direct the water to the roots and not the trunk. To get the most fruit from your tree, full sun is best. If your old tree is getting shaded it will not produce as much fruit. Pruning overhanging branches of nearby trees to let in more sunlight may help.

Citrus trees grow much better with bare soil under the canopy. Grass or flowers should not be planted under them. Mulch is not recommended around citrus trees. If you do mulch, put down a thin layer and keep it a foot or two away from the trunk. Mulch applied directly around the trunks of citrus trees can encourage foot rot disease, a fungal disease that can kill citrus trees.

Mature citrus trees require little pruning. Mature trees tend to have dead branches within the canopy. Pruning out this deadwood can be done any time during the year. Dead wood should be pruned back to the live branch that it grew from.

Remove water sprouts that grow within the tree. Water sprouts are small, fast-growing branches that grow straight up from another branch. They may have many thorns. They tend to grow well beyond the main canopy of the tree. Water sprouts should be removed back to the branch they grew out from.

Remove suckers. Suckers are shoots that grow out from the trunk below the graft. They are actually part of the rootstock. The graft usually has a bump around the trunk about 6 to 12 inches above the ground.

If your citrus tree is too tall to reach the fruit you can selectively remove branches to control the height. Limbs that hang so low that they touch the ground can also be selectively removed. This should be done late winter or early spring. It is not recommended that you heavily prune citrus. Only take off what is needed.

Mature citrus trees need fertilizing. They should be fertilized 3 times a year (February, May and October). The University of Florida recommends an 8-8-8 analysis with micronutrients is a good general fertilizer for citrus trees. Although Pinellas County has a new fertilizer ordinance in which it states no phosphorus unless a soil ph test confirming the need for phosphorus in your soil. Higher analysis formulations such as a 12-0-12 or 15-0-14 are used on mature trees. Phosphorus is the middle number in the fertilizer analysis. In the Pinellas County area we usually have enough available phosphorus in our soils and adding more to our soils can become a problem by polluting our lakes and ponds.
If you feel your tree may need phosphorus you can get a soil ph test done at the University of Florida. For a fee of 7.00 you can get the ph of your soil and find out how much phosphorus, magnesium, calcium and potassium is in your soil.

As you can see citrus trees are very easy to maintain. Below are some helpful fact sheets about growing and caring for new and mature citrus trees. You can also call our Lawn and Garden Hotline at 582-2110 (Monday, Tuesday and Thursday from 9:00 am to 12:00 pm and 1:00 pm to 4:00 pm) and a horticulturist will be happy to answer your questions

Your Florida Dooryard Citrus Guide- Bearing Trees (Years 3 to 5+)

Citrus Culture In the Home Landscape

Diagnosing Dooryard Citrus Problems

Citrus Problems in the Home Landscape

Your Florida Dooryard Citrus Guide- Pruning

Soil Ph Form

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