tangerine tree isolated on the white background.

The growing and maintenance of citrus is the number one question asked of the Lake Havasu City Master Gardeners. In fact, it’s so popular that the University of Arizona, along with Mohave County Cooperative Extension, initiated guidelines specifically for Lake Havasu City and Bullhead City regarding the care and maintenance of citrus trees. These guidelines are free and can be picked up at any of our workshops or at our monthly home garden day at the library.

When choosing a variety of citrus you need to consider your needs, such as when do you want to harvest, seed or seedless, skin of the fruit for peeling, taste and color of the fruits flesh and most importantly, what you will personally utilize. These are important decisions since you will be enjoying these trees for approximately 15 to 20 years and applying large amounts of water to them during this period. Some of the recommended citrus varieties for Arizona are:

Oranges: Diller, Marrs, Tovita, Valencia (not Naval)

Grapefruit: Marsh, Duncan, Red blush.

Mandarins/Tangerines: Dancy, Kinnow, Algerian (Clementine), Fairchild, Fremont

Tangelos: Minneola, Orlando

Lemons: Eureka, Lisbon, Myer, Villafranca

Limes: Mexican Lime (Key Lime), Tahiti, Bears

Planting

You will need to dig the hole three to five times wider and no deeper than the root ball of the tree. Once placed in the hole, score the sides of the rootball to promote root growth and back fill with the original soil only (no amended soil) and then form a well around the tree. After the first year, construct a dike around (but not touching) the trunk of the tree to prevent irrigation water from wetting the trunk. This is called a double well and will help prevent Phytophthora, a water-borne fungi, which enters the tree through the bark at the root stock graft line.

Irrigation

During the first year, deeply irrigate every three days in the summer and every six days in the winter. After one year, deeply irrigate every four to seven days in the summer and every eight to twelve days in winter. Deep watering means that the root system should be wet to a depth of three or four feet. If you irrigate by a bubbler system you will need to double irrigate every couple of months to leach out the accumulated soil salts that will build up. Citrus trees do not like salt on the roots.

Fertilizing

Fertilize carefully. Application of all fertilizers should be done according to the manufacturer’s directions. The only part of the directions you should ignore is when to apply fertilizer. The recommended feeding time for citrus trees in Lake Havasu and Bullhead is February, April, and September (when the temperature is below 100 degrees (NOT AUGUST). Also remember that the age of the tree begins when you plant it. Fertilization of a citrus tree is not necessary if it has been in the ground for less than a year since it came packed with all the nutrients that it will need for a year.

Fruit

Whether you buy a tree that’s eight years old or only one year old, fruit set starts approximately three to five years after the tree has been planted in the ground. Remember that good planning of the citrus’s needs will pay you back in the long run. Decide the fruits that you enjoy and will utilize, and when they will be ready for harvesting. Limes ripen in September; Mandarins/Tangerines and Tangelos in November/December; Oranges in March; Lemons are good around March/April and Grapefruit are best after April. However, the best test is the taste test.

Citrus are not native to Arizona and can stress easily due to our heat. It is also important to remember that they are heavy drinkers of water and if/when water conservation comes into effect that it will have an impact on them.

-Dottie Holman