How to Plant and Grow Citrus Trees

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Citrus trees are evergreen plants that can be successfully grown either in pots or on the ground with the proper year-round care. Luckily, they’re straightforward to look after, resulting in an abundant harvest in only a few years from planting. Garden maintenance experts with decades of experience have come to help and share everything you need to know to prepare yourself for growing your own citrus tree.

The characteristics of citrus trees

Citrus trees aren’t hardy plants. Although they’re subtropical, they can be grown almost anywhere thanks to human cultivation. They range from small shrubs to tall trees with various shapes and sizes of fruits.

Most are self-fertile, meaning you’ll only need one tree for fruit production. On average, that happens when the plant is 3 to 6 years old. However, this will also depend on the type of the tree, the climate, the health of the plant, and a few other factors. Flowering isn’t seasonal. It occurs during warm weather and regular rainfall. The flowers and fruits can sometimes even appear at the same time.

If you’re growing one in the UK, it’ll need to spend most of the time inside. This means that you’ll need to grow it in a pot. However, there are times when you can take your potted citrus tree outdoors – usually during summer when the weather is warmer and more forgiving. Keep in mind that some citrus trees are more tolerant to cold than others. For example, kumquats can tolerate cold better than grapefruit trees.

Whether you’re growing lemon, lime, grapefruit, or an orange tree, it’s very easy to care for a citrus tree if you follow the directions below.

Planting and growing a citrus tree

Time and location

The best time to plant a citrus tree in a pot is spring, around May. This will provide the plant with a growing season to establish before colder weather arrives. Since you’re growing your citrus tree in a pot, don’t expect it to grow more than 1.5m tall because its container will limit root development.

Citrus plants love the sun. When you decide to move your tree outdoors for summer, choose a sheltered, bright, and sunny spot. You can usually keep the plant outdoors from mid-June until late September. However, keeping a fleece nearby is recommended in case of colder summer nights.

When choosing a spot inside your home for your potted citrus tree, avoid centrally heated rooms because they tend to be too hot and lack humidity.


The best choice for a potting mixture is a specially formulated citrus compost. Citrus trees need well-draining soil. Otherwise, the roots can rot if they sit in too much water. Additionally, citrus trees prefer slightly acidic soil, so pick one with an appropriate pH level.


Low temperatures can inflict a lot of harm on your citrus tree by inhibiting flowering, leading to irreversible damage and even death. The temperatures these plants can’t thrive in include:

  • Lemons and limes – 10°C as minimum winter night temperature;
  • Calamondin oranges – 13°C as minimum winter night temperature;
  • Kumquats – 7°C as minimum winter night temperature.


Repot your citrus tree annually, usually sometime around March.

Feeding and watering a citrus tree


Citrus trees require regular feeding. Starting late March to October, feed it with high-nitrogen citrus summer feed. In winter, go for a winter feed that’s formulated specifically for your type of citrus tree.

To apply fertiliser to the pot of your citrus tree, clear any mulch from the area directly beneath the tree canopy. Sprinkle some fertiliser in a band immediately below the external perimeter of the foliage. Water well and replenish the mulch.

Application of fertiliser in addition to organic material will ensure that your citrus tree is provided with a range of essential nutrients for healthy growth.

Keep in mind that the type of fertiliser you choose will have a huge impact on the health of your citrus plant. There are many options available for purchase, and selecting the right one can save you a lot of time and money in the long run.


Water your citrus tree generously during summer, preferably with rainwater. Wait for the potting mixture’s surface to dry well in winter before watering it. When the time is right, water the plant thoroughly with lukewarm rainwater and let the excess moisture drain away.

During the establishment period, water your citrus tree twice a week. The frequency of watering can be cut back once it’s established. After that, you’ll only need to water it more frequently during dry periods and when its fruits are developing.

When the fruits are ready to harvest, maintaining proper soil moisture is essential, or your citrus tree can become stressed. This can result in the dropping of a significant part of the fruit before it’s even ripe.

The most common mistake people make when looking after a citrus tree is overwatering it during winter. It’s best to keep the soil on the drier side.


Garden maintenance professionals suggest hand misting your tree regularly to ensure it pollinates.

Training and pruning a citrus tree

Citrus trees are different from most fruit trees because they’re evergreen and require minimal pruning. However, you’ll need to reshape any overcrowded branches in February and pinch back the tips of the more vigorously growing ones during summer using your thumb and forefinger.

In some instances, mature citrus plants may begin to produce unwanted, rapidly growing branches. Remove them as soon as possible once they start popping up from the main branches at the bottom of the plant.

Pests and disease management

To avoid pests and disease and ensure healthy growth for your citrus plant, prepare the soil by enriching it with compost before planting your citrus tree.

Sometimes, despite all your efforts, pests and disease still attack your citrus tree. To identify them, look for the following:

  • Scale, leaf miners, and aphids. These are common citrus pests. However, they rarely cause major damage. Treat them with an environment-friendly oil spray to solve the problem.
  • Stink bugs. They can cause damage to your citrus tree and its produce. Remove them by using your hand as soon as you notice them. Make sure you’re wearing gloves and eye protection while doing that.
  • Yellow leaves. They’re a common concern with citrus trees. However, if you have prepared the soil appropriately and replenish it each season, your citrus will thrive well. If you face this problem, look for fertilisers with boosted magnesium and iron to assist in the prevention of yellowing.

Besides the above-mentioned, other pests that may affect your citrus tree include spider mites, fruit flies, and the tristeza virus, which is spread by aphids. In some cases, nutrient disorders from a lack of nitrogen, magnesium, manganese, or zinc can also occur.

Final Words

Citrus plants are fragrant, flavourful, and rewarding plants to grow as long as you know how to care for them properly. Whether you choose a grapefruit, orange, or lemon, you can successfully grow your own citrus tree in the UK and reap its benefits.