In the Garden:
Southwestern Deserts
August, 2001
Regional Report

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Water citrus during summer to ensure a healthy crop of fruit later in the year.

Citrus Care

The Southwest is known for its high quality citrus. Home gardeners even with only a small space can grow many dwarf forms of lemon and orange trees in their own yards. However, citrus trees need attention year round to ensure a healthy crop of fruit. It's especially important during the long, hot summer to provide them with proper water, fertility, pruning, and disease control.

Watering Citrus

Sufficient water is crucial, both for the health of citrus trees and for their fruit development. If citrus trees are starved for water during the summer, it shows up in September and October as cracked or dried rinds, commonly called citrus fruit split. When there's insufficient water, the rinds can't expand as they grow, so they crack.

As your tree grows, expand the watering zone to keep up with the growing canopy. Feeder roots which take up water and nutrients are found in the ground past the canopy. It's a waste of water to apply it to a mature tree right up against its trunk.

Preventing Disease

Watering near the trunk is also a bad practice because it encourages a disease called Phytophthora. This fungus moves with the aid of water. If water stands near the trunk,

the disease can kill the bark and the tree itself within a year. Prevent Phytophthora by building a berm of soil around the trunk to prevent irrigation water from standing against bark tissue.

Pruning Citrus Trees

Avoid pruning during the summer, unless you must remove diseased or storm-damaged limbs. Pruning opens gaps in the foliage, which allows the hot sun to burn sensitive bark tissue. If severe, this tissue can be permanently damaged and never heal properly.

Fertilizing Citrus

Citrus trees in the low desert are best fertilized 3 times a year, with 1/3rd of the tree's total nitrogen requirement applied at each feeding. The last feeding of the year takes place in August or September, so fertilize this month. Thoroughly moisten the soil before and after applying granular fertilizers specifically blended for citrus to help prevent root burn. Some of my friends who grow a lot of citrus prefer to mix the fertilizer in a bucket of water and apply it that way. Like water, it should be applied just past the tree's dripline.

Take good care of your citrus trees now and they will reward you with loads of juicy fruit later.


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