What climate will citrus grow in?
Some citrus trees can tolerate the rare occasions of low temperatures in Australia with little or no damage. Trees less than three years old should be covered when frost is expected. In frosty areas, always plant citrus trees in the spring.
The only places to think twice about planting citrus are the country’s coldest districts. Citrus don’t like prolonged cold or repeated heavy frosts.
• Cumquats are able to take -7°C.
• Mandarins, Meyer lemons, Seville oranges and calamondins tolerate up to -6°C.
• Sweet oranges accept -5°C.
• Lemons and grapefruit tolerate up to -3°C.
• Limes prefer no frosts, but can take -1°C.
Where and when to plant citrus trees
The best planting time is early autumn, plant until the weather is consistently hot. Allow room for the canopy to spread (4–5m across).
Plant in full sun, preferably sheltered. In very hot areas, afternoon shade helps.
What soil to use for citrus trees
Average garden soil will suffice as long as it drains well and does not stay sodden after rain. The deeper, darker and better quality your soil, the stronger your trees will be.
Planting citrus trees in pots
Pots are suitable for all citrus trees. Start with a 40cm pot, then, if required for larger growing varieties, repot into a bigger container after about two years, and again two to three years later.
Use top-quality potting mix and at each repotting, mix in a ration of long-term controlled-release fertiliser. Always ensure containers have adequate drain hole.
Watering citrus trees
To get the most out of your citrus plants, be sure to water young plants twice a week. As they grow, water as the weather dictates. They like moisture at the roots so give a good, deep soaking when it’s hot. Water potted plants more frequently during summer and less when it’s cooler. A rule of (green) thumb is to poke your finger into the soil down to the second joint – if it feels moist, don’t water.
Feed garden plants after picking all the fruit and again about six weeks before the tree flowers. Use a granular citrus food, watering in well after each application. Feed potted plants monthly with a soluble fertiliser. If the leaves start to go yellow, water less and fertilise more.
When to expect fruit
There’s a different variety of citrus ready to pick every month of the year.
- Navel oranges ripen between June and October, directly followed by Valencias until March.
- Mandarins ripen in autumn and winter – the earliest in April and the latest in August.
- Lemons are most abundant in winter, but can be picked from at least February to October.
- Tahitian limes ripen from October to March in northern Australia, December to March in the subtropics and April to July in the Sydney region. West Indian limes (best in Brisbane) ripen in summer and autumn.
- Grapefuit comes on in winter.
- Calamondins and cumquats ripen from May to September.
- Native finger limes are ready to pick in autumn
Citrus leaf curl
If you've closely follow the guidelines for growing and caring for citrus, but find your plants may still not be looking as lush as they should then they might have citrus leaf curl.
Citrus leaves can curl when disease is present, temperatures are either too cold or too hot, or there's an insect infestation such as scale, mealy bug, mites or aphids. Over or under-watering can also cause citrus tree leaf curl. But it's easy to treat, here's how.