Citrus Fruit Production

By Kay DiVerde

As soon as we plant a fruit tree we are anxious for the fruit to develop, so we can enjoy the taste of the fruit. It is often frustrating and difficult to wait. There are many reasons why a tree is slow to bear fruit, and many times it just takes time. Let’s look at some common reasons why trees may not bear citrus fruits.

Transplant Stress

Many times citrus trees are purchased with small fruits already on the branches. It is not abnormal for your tree to lose its fruit upon planting. It’s quite a shock for the plant to be relocated.

There are many possible reasons why a citrus tree does not bloom and bear fruit. One reason is time. It can often take a tree a few years for the tree and its root system to get settled, to prosper and start bearing fruit.

Consider the location of the citrus tree. Citrus trees need plenty of sun and heat. If you live in a very hot region, some shade (especially at mid-day) may be a good idea. Drying desert winds can also cause problems. If you live in a very windy area, you may need to provide a windbreak to protect it.

Good Drainage is Essential to Fruit Production

No matter where you live, your citrus tree needs to be in a very well-drained location. Citrus trees do not grow well in wet soil. The layer of top soil should be no less than about one yard. Citrus trees will do best in a light, sandy loam soil. If your tree is planted in a very heavy soil, you should lighten it with plenty of organic matter. The pH balance of the soil should be around 5.7-6.9.

If your tree is planted in a location that meets all of the criteria previously mentioned, your citrus tree could have some frost damage. Because citrus trees continue to grow throughout the year and don’t become dormant, like deciduous trees do, they are more prone to frost damage. When this damage occurs the water inside the fruit, leaves, branches, etc., freezes and ruptures the cell membranes. Leaves with frost damage become soft and droopy, and will eventually fall off the branch. Twigs that have been damaged by cold weather will stop developing leaves. Branches with frost damage may begin to loosen and split open. Sores with oozing liquid may also develop. Many times your tree can heal itself, and new leaves and branches will begin to grow. The key to frost damage is to wait it out long enough to determine if your tree can heal on its own. Many times damage from a frost may not show up until two years after the exposure.

You can remove frost damaged wood with pruning. You’ll want to prune living wood, ideally at crotches. This will ensure that you cut away all of the damaged wood.

Proper Irrigation and Fertilization

Watering your citrus tree should be regular and controlled. The tree will need less water when preparing to blossom and more when starting to yield fruit. A change in the color of the bark from hard green to light green is a sign of maturity and a signal that the amount of watering should be reduced.

Fertilize your citrus tree about every three months using a chemical fertilizer with a 15-15-15 formula. The first year your tree bears fruit, use a 13-13-21 fertilizer. The quality of fruit can be enhanced with this formula during your first fruit bearing years. Add the fertilizer around the skirt of the tree.

Pruning Your Citrus Tree

Your citrus tree will not require much pruning. Always remove water sprouts and suckers as soon as you notice them. Remove dense branches that are near the base and center of the tree. This will allow the base to receive the maximum amount of sunlight. Also remove branches that arch downward toward the ground or inward toward the trunk, and branches that are weak, twisted, dead or diseased.

Make sure your remove all weeds around your citrus tree. Weeds steal the precious nutrients your tree needs to blossom and bear fruit.

For more ideas on the care of citrus trees, check out our article Pruning Citrus Trees. Notice in the article that it says to do your pruning a little at a time, as "most citrus trees have a limited supply of carbohydrates in their stem tissues. Excessive pruning at one time may set back growth and fruiting." This is a key element to a healthy citrus tree that bears fruit.

Sharp Tools for Pruning

When you are pruning your citrus tree, be sure to use a sharp saw. Clean, sharp cuts heal the fastest.

And to reach the high branches, choose one of our cut-and-hold long-reach pruners. These pruners will hold onto the branches once they are cut, so they won’t fall on top of you, risking injury. This is also a great feature for picking fruit from the high branches.

Kay DiVerde is a freelance writer, horticultural researcher and consultant for Orchard's Edge. DiVerde also writes for a variety of newsletters and publications in the Midwest.

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