Care of Citrus Plants in Georgia

Source(s): Randy Drinkard

The first three years should be devoted to developing a vigorous tree with strong scaffolds. Some fruit may be borne the second year and third growing seasons, although the quality may not be too good. Trees should commence fruiting significant crops in the fourth growing season.

Continue using the same 8-8-8 fertilizer (or equivalent) for the bearing tree. Three applications per year, February, May-June and August-September, are suggested. Apply fertilizer from near the trunk to well beyond the leaf drip of the tree (on large trees this usually involves fertilizing about 4 to 6 feet beyond the leaf drip). A reasonable rate of application to maintain healthy foliage and good fruiting is about half a pound of 8-8-8 fertilizer per year of age of the tree (rates are for sandy soils; clay soils and others with greater inherent fertility would require less fertilizer). After a number of years, a fertilizer containing nitrogen and potassium or just nitrogen alone may prove adequate. A maximum of 1.5 to 3.0 pounds of actual nitrogen per tree per year should be adequate.

As trees become older, problems may be encountered with micronutrient deficiencies. An annual nutritional spray applied in the spring usually corrects these deficiencies. Prepackaged nutritional spray mixes may be purchased from garden supply dealers. These mixes should contain manganese, zinc and copper. Deficiencies of boron may be corrected with foliar sprays or soil applications. When iron deficiency symptoms develop, chelated forms should be applied to the soil.

The pH (acidity or alkalinity) of the soil in which the trees are growing should be maintained between 6.0 and 7.0 for best growth and production. Apply dolomitic limestone, agricultural limestone or basic slag as needed to prevent the pH from dropping below 6.0. Your local County Extension Agent or garden supply dealer can assist in determining if a pH adjustment is needed.

Weed control around large bearing citrus plants becomes somewhat less essential. However, it is generally beneficial to remove all weeds and lawn grass from beneath the canopy of the plant. This approach also provides a more attractive landscape design. Of particular importance is the removal of weeds and grass from the area immediately around the tree trunk. This growth tends to create ideal conditions for fungal organisms such as those causing foot rot at the base of the tree. Mulches are not essential for best tree performance but may be used. Mulching materials should not be placed within 12 inches of the trunk.

Watering of bearing citrus plants will not be necessary in some years. But adequate water should be provided as needed particularly during flowering and fruit setting in the early spring and the dry periods of mid to late summer. A slow application of water over a several-hour period is preferable to a rapid “lawn type irrigation.”

Pruning of citrus trees on an annual basis is unnecessary. Actually, the only pruning usually required is for the removal of water sprouts (suckers) and any dead, damaged or diseased limbs. Make all cuts nearly flush with the trunk or next largest branch (don’t leave stubs). Seal all cuts in excess of 1/2 inch in diameter with a safe pruning paint – those with an asphalt base are recommended. The summer period is usually an ideal time for pruning.

Citrus plants in Georgia are always subject to injury from cold weather. If trees are only slightly damaged, pruning may be done as soon as new growth indicates the extent of injury. However, regardless of the amount of injury sustained, no pruning should be done until after danger of further freezes. If trees incur major freeze damage, allow the first flush of growth to mature before pruning.

Resource(s): Citrus Fruits for Southern and Coastal Georgia

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