Tips for Overwintering Citrus Trees
- Watch our top 10 tips for looking after citrus and learn how to get the most from these rewarding plants.
- As the weather and day length changes, so does the care that your citrus trees need. Because sometimes people can be caught out by this, we’ve put together our top 5 tips to remember for the winter season.
- STOP PRESS: At the end of January the days are already starting to get longer, bear this in mind when you are thinking about watering and we’ll update this page again at the end of February.
- 1. Watering
- 2. Position
- 3. Winter Feed
- 4. Watch for Leaf Drop
- 5. Treat early for Pests
- And finally…. don’t forget to enjoy the fruits of your labour!
- Want to know more about Growing Citrus in Melbourne?
- Young Trees and shaping
- Maintaining the shape
- Overgrown citrus trees
- How to Identify a Lime Tree
- Did I get a Lime Tree? Why is my Citrus Fruit Still Green?!
- Lime Tree Leaf Drop – Why A Lime Tree Is Losing Leaves
- Why is My Lime Tree Losing Leaves?
- A leaf drop per day on indoor citrus
- Meyer Lemon Tree losing majority of leaves – turning brown and brittle on the ends – Knowledgebase Question
Tips for Overwintering Citrus Trees
Watch our top 10 tips for looking after citrus and learn how to get the most from these rewarding plants.
As the weather and day length changes, so does the care that your citrus trees need. Because sometimes people can be caught out by this, we’ve put together our top 5 tips to remember for the winter season.
STOP PRESS: At the end of January the days are already starting to get longer, bear this in mind when you are thinking about watering and we’ll update this page again at the end of February.
As the temperature drops water evaporates more slowly but also because your citrus tree is no longer putting on new growth, the amount of water your tree will need will be considerably less in the winter months.
As always water heavily from the top of the pot and let the excess water drain away. Don’t let your citrus tree stand in water and don’t water again until the top of the soil starts to feel dry to the touch.
In our Nursery we have gone from daily watering in summer, to twice weekly watering in autumn to once every 7-10 days at the moment. How quickly the top of the soil dries out for you will depend on the position and temperature you are keeping it in and even the size of the plant compared to its pot.
We all love sunshine, citrus more than most. Remember most citrus prefer to be above at least 5C in the winter. That means the coolest but very lightest place you can find indoors.
Citrus trees fall into 3 main categories for hardiness:-
Non-hardy Calamondins, Sweet Oranges, Kumquats, Tahiti Limes, Grapefruits and Mandarins should be kept above 5C and it’s best to move them inside before the night time temperature drops much below this and wait until late Spring before they go back outside. Choose the sunniest place in the house away from draughts and radiators.
Nearly hardy Lemon trees, Chinottos and Kaffir limes will be fine in temperatures right down to zero and will even tolerate -1C or -2C for short periods. This winter has been quite mild so far so we know many people have chosen to keep their trees outside. In wet weather do just make sure that your tree is not sitting in a puddle of water and that it protected from the worst downpours. Keep an eye out for any hard frosts and remember it’s not the leaves you need to worry about but the rootball – this must not freeze!
You can wrap the pot with hessian or fleece to extend the season outdoors and/or bring it close to the wall of your house to give your tree a bit of extra protection. When you think it is going to be too cold overnight it’s best to move your tree to a new position for the coming months rather than try and move it in and out and every day.
Hardy Yuzus and Finger Limes can withstand temperatures down to -15C. It’s still best to keep these in a pot as they will suffer if they become too waterlogged, but these hardy varieties are grown on Poncirus trifoliate stock and should withstand all that a British winter can throw at them.
In the middle of winter our dark, rainy days can lead to some leaf drop even if you are doing everything right. Kaffir Limes, Kumquats and some Lime trees seem most susceptible to this and once the days start to get longer they will pick up and put on new growth. In the meantime try to ensure they are getting as much direct sunlight on their leaves as possible.
Indoors you don’t need a conservatory but just a nice big window to place your tree or trees beside. Try to choose a place that is free from draughts and away from any radiators (especially under floor heating) and where the temperature is reasonably constant. Most citrus will overwinter very well even in quite warm houses but if your tree does start to suffer mid winter, hang in there – spring is just around the corner.
3. Winter Feed
Citrus benefit from a balanced Summer and Winter Citrus Feed. This is in addition to the free plant tonic we include when your tree is delivered.
The Summer Feed has more Nitrogen for leaf growth and the Winter Feed has proportionately more Phosphorous and Potassium to help develop fruits. At this time of year you should be using a Winter Feed every other watering to keep your tree at its best.
You should be able to buy citrus feed from a good garden centre or of course you can buy the citrus feed we use for £6.95 and have it delivered free of charge. Buy winter feed
4. Watch for Leaf Drop
Citrus trees are not deciduous. One or two leaves is not too much of a concern but more than this and it’s a sign that your tree is unhappy. This is almost always to do with too little or too much water and sometimes it can be tricky to know the difference. If you’re not sure which you are always welcome to give us a call on 01825 721162 and we’ll do our best to advise you.
Other things that can cause leaf drop are sudden or dramatic changes in temperature, under floor heating or being too near to a radiator or being in too draughty a position – but again if you’re not sure – do get in touch.
January and February are the toughest months of the year for citrus trees when overcast skies and short days mean they are surviving on minimal light for weeks on end. Some varieties are tougher than others but we find even in our greenhouses with maximum light, some of the limes particularly, will develop a bit of leaf drop at this time of year.
Once the days get longer, this will settle down and they will soon replace these leaves with fresh foliage in the spring. If your tree has lost more than a handful of leaves do give us a call though and we’ll just check through that there is nothing else that you can do.
5. Treat early for Pests
Outdoors birds and other insects plus the cooler temperatures will keep most pests at bay. However, indoors over winter, the warm conditions can become breeding grounds for pests.
Scale, mealy bug, red spider mite, aphids and caterpillars all do like citrus trees but the trick is to catch them early. Round brown circles, white sticky fluff, webbing, holes in the leaves or stickiness are all signs of pest attack and should be treated as soon as possible. A soapy washing up liquid solution is normally good enough if the infestation hasn’t got too advanced. Spray on to the leaves morning or evening a few times a week until it’s cleared.
If you are not sure what is attacking your plant then why not send us a picture by email or give us a call and we’ll be more than happy to help you identify any problems.
And finally…. don’t forget to enjoy the fruits of your labour!
Although citrus don’t always follow a strict fruiting season in the UK, they do usually fruit in the winter months. Lemon Meyers, Limes, Grapefruits, Kumquats and Clementines will naturally drop when they are ripe, but Lemon4seasons, Calamondins and Chinottos will need to be picked off the tree when they are fully coloured.
Don’t forget citrus are not just for your G&T. Try a slice of lemon in hot water for a healthy alternative to tea or coffee or try using sour Oranges and Kumquats in place of Lemons in your favourite recipes. Packed with vitamin C, all citrus are brilliant for keeping away winter colds but if you find them a little sour on their own, juice even the sourest Oranges with a bit of fizzy water and sugar and they make a super refreshing and healthy drink – way tastier than wheatgrass!
For more information about pruning, repotting and year round care
Want to know more about Growing Citrus in Melbourne?
Without pruning or training, citrus trees grow naturally into bushy trees and will initially crop well. However, trees will eventually become overgrown with high proportion of dense, unproductive and spent wood. If trained, shaped and pruned in a specific way, trees will be healthier, easier to manage and will crop more reliably.
Citrus trees blossom and fruit on the terminal ends (tip ends) of branches
The most productive growth and fruiting occurs, in the outer 90cm of the tree canopy. So the optimum tree canopy size is no more than 2 to 3 metres. A large sprawling canopy takes up a lot of space and produces no more fruit than a compact well-managed one.
The number of terminal (tip end) shoots, determine fruit quantity. More shoot tips results in more fruit. Regulating the number of shoot terminals is the best way to achieve a balance between foliar growth and fruit numbers.
Young Trees and shaping
Retain three to four main branches 50 to 70 cm above ground level. As the young tree grows, tip prune young shoots to keep the tree compact. The ideal shape is an upright tapering cone. Maintain this shape by tipping shoots and cutting back over vigorous water shoots in late winter. Early and continuous shaping minimises heavy cutting later on.
Optimum citrus tree size and shape for productivity
Maintaining the shape
Citrus trees respond well to shaping. You can even prune them with hedge clippers. Trim any untidy growth to maintain the desired shape. The best time is after harvest in spring. Early pruning promotes early summer growth, that will mature before the summer heat and the arrival of pests such as leaf miner.
Overgrown citrus trees
Older, overgrown citrus trees can be reworked to the desired shape using secateurs, hedge clippers or a chainsaw.
Very old (over 25 to 30 years), weak or disease affected trees may be cut back to induce further fruiting. However, old trees like this are at the end of their productive life and are often better off removed or replaced.
This is Part 4 of a 5 part guide to growing citrus in Melbourne. The links below will take you to the other four parts of our Melbourne citrus growing guide.
Citrus Growing Guide Part 1: Citrus Varieties for Melbourne
Citrus Growing Guide Part 2: Where and How to Plant Your Citrus Tree
Citrus Growing Guide Part 3: Ongoing Care and Management of Citrus Trees
Citrus Growing Guide Part 5: Citrus Pests, Diseases and Problems in Melbourne
Our citrus growing guides are based on my own experience, as well as the following two books. They are both invaluable resources for the home gardener based in Melbourne. I strongly recommend you have a read of both if you want to know more about growing citrus in Melbourne:
Bruce Mophett & Ian Tolley: Citrus, A Gardener’s Guide, 2009.
Louis Glowinski: The Complete Book of Fruit Growing in Australia, 1997.
How to Identify a Lime Tree
Lime trees are easily identifiable. Citrus trees may look a lot alike at first glance, but there are differences between them. Knowing what the tree parts, flowers and fruit look like will help you to easily identify the lime.
Lime is a shrubby tree that is between six-and-a-half and 13 feet in height. Lime trees are small evergreens.
Lime trees have thin branches and sharp needle-like spines.
A lime tree’s leaves are small and oval in shape. The leaves will be dark green on the top and paler on the bottom. They will be between two to three inches in length with a rough surface.
Look for a tree that has white blossoms. The blossoms may also have some purple coloration in them. This will only be a slight coloration though. The blossoms grow in groups, and you will notice them clustered together around the tree near the ends of the branches.
Look for fruit that is pale green in color and about half the size of a lemon. The fruit of a lime tree is technically a berry. Limes are quite small and are between one and two inches in diameter. The skin or peel of a lime is quite thin as well. When a lime is ripe, the peel will be pale yellow in color. The pulp of a lime is greenish in color and has a distinctive acidic taste.
Did I get a Lime Tree? Why is my Citrus Fruit Still Green?!
We know, waiting for your citrus to ripen can seem like it takes forever. As much as you might be tempted to rush your little citrus buds along, patience really is key here. Let the tree take its time. Try to enjoy the process and pay attention to how beautiful it is. It’s natural to look forward to your fruit ripening, but growing citrus or any of your own food is about more than the end result. Enjoy the journey. More nutrients are getting packed in your fruit day by day while it’s still on the tree.
Citrus fruit only ripens on the vine so, if you pick it while the fruit is still green it will stop the ripening process. Citrus ripening times vary significantly which could vary from year to year as it is dependent on the weather in your area. If you have had a lot of rainy and cloudy days this could affect ripening times and cause a delay. Sunshine is crucial for ripening fruit. Your citrus tree should have at least 6-8 hours daily of full sunshine. In the winter if the tree is taken inside use supplemental lighting. There are plenty of growers lights that will work. Nurture your tree while the fruit is ripening and you won’t regret it!
All citrus variety is the same, as far as starting off as a green bud. Just like tomatoes, except citrus cannot ripen off of the vine while tomatoes can.
Here are some photos of the stages of the fruit ripening process of a lemon tree from bloom to being fully ripened. My favorite stage is when the tree is in bloom. The fragrance is wonderful! Very light and floral, with a hint of citrus zing. Mmm.
Citrus Fruit Growing from Blossom to Maturity
Pictured below are some small fruit in the process of growth but premature yellowing fruit (which will turn brown eventually).
Baby Citrus Fruit
Please do not panic, all fruiting trees go through stages of fruit drop. Fruit drop is when the fruit is still very immature and it begins to drop off the tree while green, yellow or brown.
The tree has shut off nutrients to the yellow fruit and eventually, the fruit will drop off the tree prematurely. This cannot always be prevented, as the tree is still young and has shut off the nutrients and is reserving its energy for growth rather than maturing fruit.
It is important that the tree has appropriate nutrients such as nitrogen because if it lacks nutrients it will cause fruit drop that could otherwise be avoided.
All citrus fruit (including Meyer Lemons ) will be green for about 8-9 months after they bud. It will take an additional 2-3 months to fully ripen and turn to their respective color. The Meyer Lemon ripened fruit color of the yellowish/orangish tint happens in the last month of their maturation process.
The fruit is the sweetest and has the most nutrients when it has that nice orange tint. Then the fruit is ready to be harvested.
The fruit picked prematurely will be more sour than normal. Please be patient, as Mother Nature moves at her own predetermined pace.
Let us know in the comments what you have learned through the process of watching your fruit ripen. We love hearing from you! If you are having problems with your tree, let us know by calling 866-216-TREE (8733) or emailing us at [email protected]
Lemon Citrus Tree
p.s. Our blog readers get 7 dollars off their order until 8/30/2017, use the code: greenfruit
Lime Tree Leaf Drop – Why A Lime Tree Is Losing Leaves
Citrus trees, like lemons and limes, are becoming more and more popular, especially in drier climates. They love the warm air, but water can be an issue that will cause lime tree leaf drop. Find out other reasons for dropping leaves and how to fix lime tree leaf drop in this article.
Why is My Lime Tree Losing Leaves?
Watering issues and lime tree leaf drop
Watering citrus plants can be a little tricky. If you give the tree too much water, you’ll find your lime tree dropping leaves, but if you don’t water it enough, you’ll also find your lime tree dropping leaves. The trick is to find a happy medium.
When you have lime trees that are planted, you should water them once a week or so to prevent lime tree leaf drop. Living in a dry area, there isn’t much rainfall. Make sure you plant the tree where there is good drainage and soak the ground well. If the drainage isn’t good enough, you will also find your lime tree losing leaves.
If your lime tree is planted in a container, you should water it whenever you find the dirt only slightly damp. Don’t let it dry out completely or you’ll find your lime dropping leaves like crazy.
One thing to remember is that watering can be confusing. If your lime tree has been allowed to dry out, the leaves remain intact. However, the first time you water it after it has dried out, you’ll see leaves falling off lime tree plants because they are sensitive this way. Also, if you give your lime tree too much water, you’ll see the leaves turn yellow. Shortly thereafter, you will see your lime tree losing leaves pretty quick.
Fertilizer and lime tree dropping leaves
The appearance of your lime tree will also let you know if it needs to be fertilized. If the leaves are all green and it holds its fruit, your tree doesn’t need to be fertilized. However, if you find your lime tree losing leaves, it probably can use some fertilization.
Again, fertilization of citrus can be a little tricky, and if your lime tree looks healthy, you should not fertilize it because this can cause it to produce bad fruit. Not only that, you will end up with lime tree leaf drop.
Diseases that cause leaves falling off lime tree
There are some diseases, like foot or crown rot and sooty mold, that can cause lime tree leaf drop as well. These diseases can be cured, but you need to catch them quickly.
So now, if you live in a dry climate and find your lime dropping leaves, you know it could be the water situation or the fertilizer situation. Either way, you can fix the issue and enjoy your lime tree.
A leaf drop per day on indoor citrus
This does not look like fungus gnat larvae. This looks like it may be a type of caterpillar or beetle larvae. If the plants were outside, it is possible that is why they may be in the soil. If you would like more information, send us more photos of the larvae. Turn the larvae over and send us photos of the underneath of the body. We will be looking for legs/prolegs.
In any event, we recommend that you take the plants outside and repot. Make sure the container has holes for good drainage. If not, you may want to select another container. Knock the soil from around the roots and remove any larvae. You can use a mix of cactus and potting soil or a seed starting mix. You can use the same size container but you may need to trim some of the roots lightly. Be sure to place under a gro light for 12 hours a day.
Repot the annual plants in their own containers and care for them separately.
Here is some information from our website on fungus gnats. They like to breed in moist soils. Repotting may help with this. Allow the top inch of the mixture to dry out between waterings. http://extension.umd.edu/hgic/plants/fungus-gnats-houseplants
Meyer Lemon Tree losing majority of leaves – turning brown and brittle on the ends – Knowledgebase Question
Browning at the tips can be a sign of several different problems, you are right. Your tree needs to be kept as bright as possible. It needs high humidity during the indoor heating season and a relatively cool room temperature (this also helps with the humidity.) Browning leaf tips are a common sign of lack of humidty/too hot a location.
Keep it away from drafts, both hot and cold.
You would water when the top of the soil is quite dry, so the tree does not stay saturated or sopping wet, but it should not dry out completely. When you water, water thoroughly and make sure the water is soaking into the soil and not running out between the edge of the soil and the pot. After watering, allow the excess to drain out and then empty the drainage saucer so the pot is not left sitting in water.
Browning at the tips can also mean it has been overfertilized or there is a buildup of fertilizer salts in the soil. Stop fertilizing in the winter months, then use only the amount recommended on the label of whatever product you use. (Slow release or liguid soluble.)
Finally, check the foliage and stems carefully for signs of pests such as scale insects.
You might find the following article helpful as a general care guide. You may need to cut and paste the complete url into your browser to make it work correctly.
I hope this helps you troubleshoot.