Growing Citrus

Without doubt citrus trees are the most popular fruit grown in home gardens. Once upon a time fruit trees could be found in every New Zealand garden. With today’s smaller gardens it is more difficult to find space, but with careful selection they can fit. Citrus plants don’t take a lot of space, and are easy to grow.

At a Glance

  • Warm sunny position
  • Free draining soil
  • Lots of food
  • Water in summer

Citrus are vitamin rich, great tasting and can be picked progressively over quite a long time.  Early Mandarins begin to ripen from early June with oranges grapefruit and lemons holding on until November.

This winter-early spring fruiting makes citrus so valuable when other fruit is more expensive. They are also very attractive trees with their glossy green leaves, fragrant blossom in spring and coloured fruit in winter.

How to Care

Where to Plant

Citrus will grow in warm or mild climate zones. 

Providing frosts are not severe they will tolerate cool conditions. They will thrive in hot inland conditions providing they have water. They require a sunny position protected from cold winds. 

Citrus prefer a sandy or loam soil. They will tolerate clay soils providing they are planted on a raised bed with lots of compost mixed into the soil. Dig in Organic Compost or peat to help break up clay soils and improve water-holding capacity of light sandy soils.

Citrus make ideal container plants, especially Mandarins and Limes. Use a quality container mix and Yates Waterwise Water Storage Crystals to avoid drying out in summer.

How to Plant

Refer to our page on ‘How to Plant’ in our Garden Care section.

When to Plant

Citrus trees are available most of the year and can be planted anytime provided they are watered regularly in summer.

Citrus are big feeders. A moderately sized mature tree requires at least 500g of General or Citrus Food each year. Two thirds of this should be applied in late winter and one third in January. Pelletised Sheep Manure is a good alternative. Do not plant other crops or disturb the soil under citrus trees as their feeding roots are relatively close to the surface.


Citrus must be watered regularly through spring and summer. Irregular watering can cause fruit drop and fruit splitting, not to mention reduced yield and dry fruit.


A layer of mulch spread over the surface under citrus trees will conserve moisture and improve performance. Take care however, to keep mulch away from the base of the tree trunk.

Pests and Diseases

Citrus trees are relatively free of insect pests, but occasionally can be attacked by scale insects, mealy bug, aphids and mites. Yates Mavrik controls all these pests.

Verrucossis, a fungal disease which sometimes attacks lemons causing rough fruit, is controlled by spraying with Grosafe Free Flo Copper. 

Brown scale insects which cling to stems and suck at sap, weakening growth. 

Lemon Tree Borer Black grub which bores its way through trunk and woody branches cutting off sap flow. Borer ‘dust’ visible on ground under tree in bad cases. Cut out affected branches.

Take a look at our Pest & Disease and Control in Fruit page here, or you can download spraying guides below.

Download Pesticide Guides and Spray Schedules

Pest and Disease Control in Fruit Spray Schedule - Download


Citrus tend to be self-shaping and so need little pruning.

Some mandarin varieties become a little thick and benefit from some thinning out, usually after pick the fruit.

Lemon trees can sometimes require pruning back to make them more compact and easily manageable. Make sure that any shoots below the graft are removed. These are easily identified as they have different foliage.

Prune citrus fruit on new season’s growth. We advise removing any fruit in first year to encourage growth of tree and establish good strong plant.

Making your selection


Meyer variety is most popular because of its reliable high yield over an eight month picking period. The fruit is of medium size and sweeter than other varieties. 

Lisbon and Eureka lemons are more acidic and often preferred by chefs. 

Yen Ben is an improved selection of Lisbon for those wanting a ‘real’ lemon for cooking. 

Lemonade is a very sweet lemon that does taste like delicious lemonade, and deserves its increasing popularity. These ripen during spring. 


Golden Special is the traditional grapefruit with pale orange skin and a strong grapefruit taste. Excellent for those who like a strong marmalade. Ripens July - Oct. 

Jamaican Wheeny is a larger sweeter variety ripening Oct - Dec and is inclined to on fruit every second year. 


Limes are a popular ingredient in the kitchen. Most popular is the Tahitian Lime or selections such as Bears Lime.  

Kaffir Limes are mainly grown for the leaves, and are an essential ingredient in Asian cuisine. 

Tahitian limes are very hardy and crop heavily. They make an excellent container feature.

Mexican limes, otherwise known as  ‘The Bartenders Lime’ is a small green fruit. 

Limes need protection from frost until established as they do not tolerate heavy frosts.


New Zealand navel oranges are rated very highly compared to imported oranges for flavour. Carters or Washington navel oranges are reliable in all but the coldest climates of NZ. 

Washington Navel is rich in flavour. They are fairly seedless and ripen mid to late winter.

Harwood Late  are excellent for juicing. They are thick skinned fruit that ripen in late winter.

Carters Navel is also excellent for juicing. They too have a thick skin and ripen in late winter. 


Very popular with families because they are great in school lunch boxes due to the easy peal nature of most varieties. 

Satsuma are popular easy to peel mandarins. They are medium sized sweet flat fruit that ripen mid winter.
‘Silverhill’ a Satsuma selection, is the earliest, ripening (July) and is a very easy peal. 

‘Miho’ is a new early ripening easy peel which begins cropping as a young tree and has more flavour.

‘Clementine’ has good flavour, and is a high yielding reliable cropper ripening between August—October but is not an easy peel.

Encore is usually rich flavoured and is excellent for tub growing.

Miagawa is a new Japanese variety. They are very productive and an earliest strain of easy peel Satsuma. They are sweet and ripen during May – June. They are excellent quality and keep well. They need thinning to attain good size.


These are a cross between grapefruit and oranges and now only grown by the citrus enthusiast.
Ugli are an unusually large fruit. They are tender and juicy and ripen in late winter.

Seminole are extremely sweet and juicy. They are thin skinned tender fleshed fruit.