By: Justin Butts Photos by: Rachel Benavides
If there is a gorgeous citrus tree in your neighborhood, tall, lush, and dripping with fruit, you can be sure of one thing: Someone nurtured and protected that tree to get it started.
You must do the same to give your new citrus tree a chance. It is possible to grow citrus trees here in the Coastal Bend, but some early pitfalls must be avoided. The two chief causes for young citrus tree failure are improper planting and freezing.
Freezing is the leading cause of citrus tree failure. For the first three years, create a “soil bank” for your tree from December through February (when freezes are most likely). To build a soil bank, mound as much dirt as possible around the base of the trunk, up to the lowest limbs. The dirt will look like a wide cone covering the trunk.
You’ll want to plant your tree during winter seasons in full sun, in well-drained soil, at least eight feet away from buildings or other trees.
Dig a wide planting hole at least half an inch less shallow than the depth of the root ball. Planting it too deeply will slowly kill the tree. Lay a shovel across the hole to make sure the soil line on the trunk is above the soil line of your hole.
Backfill half the soil into the hole, then fill the hole with water until it drains to help the tree settle. Rinse any planting medium from the edges of the roots to ensure good root-to-soil contact.
Fully backfill the hole, and water again. Deeply water three times per week for two weeks, then once per week until established. Mulch with native leaf mulch, but keep mulch, weeds, and grass clear from a 12-inch circle around the trunk.
Growing Up: As mentioned above, the position and soil are two of the key components to nurturing a citrus tree as it grows. Citrus trees prefer a soil with a neutral or slightly acidic pH. As any growing method would entail, watering your young tree plentifully is crucial, and irrigation should be done once or twice a week for the first six weeks after planting.
Profiling: Citrus of all types can be described in myriad ways, but one word to use, regardless of your choice of fruit, is fresh. The bitter grapefruit can be served with salt or sugar; tangerines are sweet, yet tangy; oranges are refreshing and serve as a great source of Vitamin C; and both lemons and limes can be used for numerous things – cooking, mixing cocktails, cleaning, medicinal purposes, the list goes on!
Local Recs: “From marinades, to dressing, to cocktails, Texas produces the best citrus. My favorite citrus is the beloved Ruby Red Grapefruit from the Rio Grande valley. Ruby reds produce the most sweet, tart juice that I can’t get enough of. I use the juice for my winter cocktails, to tenderize my fajitas, and to add a touch of zing to my salad dressings.” – Vianney Rodriguez, @sweetlifebake
Fun Facts: It is against the law to import citrus trees into Texas, even from another state. The root stocks from trees in other areas are infested with tristeza and other diseases. One infected tree could wipe out all the citrus trees in Texas! Only purchase container trees from a trusted local nursery. Go to saveourcitrus.org to learn more.