Can Citrus Trees Grow in the Shade?

At one point I lived in an apartment that got four hours of sun in the summer and zero hours in the winter (I guess that happens when you’re facing north). Unfortunately, this was bad news for my potted Meyer lemon tree. Concerned for my tree, I took to researching if citrus trees could grow in the shade. Here’s what I found.

Citrus trees can grow in partial shade if needed. Still, citrus trees grow best in full, direct sunlight. Whether you keep your citrus tree in a pot or in-ground, your tree will need at least eight hours of sunlight a day. If kept inside, place your potted citrus tree in the spot where it will get the most sun.

What if your property doesn’t get direct sunlight? Are there any citrus trees that do well in the shade? Let’s take a closer look at growing a citrus tree in the shade.

Can You Grow Citrus Trees in the Shade?

my potted meyer lemon tree outside

Citrus trees will grow in partial shade, but it isn’t a great environment for most of them. If your tree is not growing or blooming, it needs more sunlight. They will do best when planted in direct sunlight. You can still grow your citrus trees if you don’t have direct sunlight for them, though, so don’t worry.

While they can grow in some shade, if your citrus tree isn’t flowering or blooming, it isn’t getting enough sunlight. A citrus tree usually needs both the light and the heat from the sun to thrive and produce fruit. 

If you can’t plant your citrus trees in a spot that gets direct sunlight, you should consider keeping them in a pot.

Keeping your citrus tree in a pot is also recommended if you live in an area that’s prone to incredibly cold weather and frost, as extreme cold often damages the roots of in-ground citrus trees.

If the weather often dips below the twenties, that much cold can kill your tree. In this case, keep your potted citrus tree in a part of your home that gets plenty of sunlight. Citrus trees can produce fruit all year, even in winter, so it’s important that they receive as much sunlight and warmth as possible. 

Which Citrus Trees Grow Well in the Shade?

All citrus trees benefit from large amounts of sunlight. However, those with sourer fruits can still grow fairly well and even produce fruit in some shade. This is great news for those who have heavily shaded yards, live in a city without a yard, or have restrictions on what they can plant in their yard.

Citrus trees with fruit that is best on the sour side of the spectrum can do really well in the shade. This means lemons and limes are going to do well with less sun.

Below is a list of citrus fruits that are known to do fairly well in partial shade:

  • Lemons
  • Limes
  • Calamondins
  • Mandarins
  • Kumquats

For citrus fruits that taste best when they are on the sweeter side, lots of direct and full sunlight is needed. This makes oranges and grapefruits difficult to grow in any type of shade.

How Much Sunlight Do Citrus Trees Need?

Citrus trees should always get at least eight hours of sunlight. Make sure your citrus tree is exposed to the morning sun, which is the most beneficial. Morning sun is generally safer for your plants because it’s softer than the afternoon sun. The light is slightly filtered and less intense in the early hours of the day.

No matter what kind of citrus tree it is, they’re still going to need as much sunlight as you can offer. However, if you don’t have access to direct sunlight, try to increase the heat your plants are getting. Even though sunlight is important, it’s the heat that will help the flavor of the fruit.

Figuring Out How Much Direct Sunlight Your Yard Gets

You might be surprised to learn that “direct sunlight” doesn’t actually mean your yard is completely exposed to the sun all the time. There’s a very simple guide for figuring out how much sunlight your plants are getting, and it has to do with the number of hours the sun is present.

  • Full sunlight: eight to twelve hours, or sometimes six, could be considered full sun.
  • Partial sunlight: three to six hours would be partial sunlight.
  • Partial shade: the amount of sun here is the same as partial sunlight, but the biggest difference is that plants requiring partial shade need to be shaded from the more intense sunlight of the afternoon.
  • Full shade: three hours of sunlight or less.

Tips to Increase the Amount of Sunlight a Citrus Tree Gets

Pruning your tree, planting in specific parts of the yard, painting your tree’s trunk, and redirecting light will increase the amount of sun your tree gets, even if you don’t have as much sunlight in your yard as your citrus tree might need.

Pruning

Pruning your citrus trees can help sunlight reach areas of your trees that aren’t getting enough of it. You’ll typically want to avoid doing this during the warmer months. Since fruit can grow on your citrus trees all year round, you can wait until late winter to prune your trees. The best time to prune is after the last frost since it will be easier for the tree to heal.

However, you may want to consider pruning your citrus trees if you’re noticing a change in the fruit it bears. When there isn’t enough light, your fruit may look discolored or smaller than fruit located in direct sunlight. Pruning your trees will help those areas of the tree grow better fruit.

Planting Along a South-Facing Wall

When planting anything that requires a lot of sunlight, you should consider planting along a south-facing wall. These areas of the yard often receive more sunlight than the rest. 

If you do choose to plant along a south-facing wall, you’ll want to keep the area’s temperature in mind. Your citrus trees enjoy some heat, but they don’t like it too hot. If you notice that there’s too much sun for your tree, you may want to find a way to cover it, especially from the harsher afternoon sun.

Painting the Tree Trunks

When a tree is located in full, direct sunlight, there is a risk of the tree getting sunburnt (also called sunscald). To protect the trunks of your citrus trees from getting sunburnt, you can paint them.

Painting the trunk of your citrus tree can have an added benefit if you take an extra moment to be selective of the color.

Use a more reflective paint color, such as white. This will help bounce the sun up and into the tree. This can also be a consideration if you’re planting your trees along an outdoor wall. If it’s painted white, the light will bounce off of it and reflect onto the tree.

Increasing Reflective Surfaces Surrounding the Tree

Using mirrors is an excellent trick for getting more sunlight on your citrus trees without moving the plant. You can set up mirrors around your tree that will reflect the light from the sun. Place the mirrors along the ground to reflect up, hang some mirrors from the branches of the trees to catch bits of light shining in through the leaves, or both.

In addition to being able to reflect the sunlight with mirrors, you can redirect where it goes. For the best results, strategically place mirrors around your yard to amplify the sunlight you have and focus the light where you need it.

You should be mindful of how concentrated the lights have become once they’ve been directed at your trees. If the light is too focused, it can work like a magnifying glass and burn the tree, so be sure to keep an eye on your tree for a few days after placing mirrors.

Final Thoughts

While I only lived in that sunless apartment for a year, my Meyer lemon tree did just fine in the four hours of the morning sun. After that, we moved to an area that had much more sun and it was much easier to grow a garden (and citrus trees).

If you don’t have a lot of sunny areas to offer your citrus tree, definitely try some of the tricks listed above. Hopefully, with some adjustments, your citrus trees will get the sun (and warmth) they need to grow and fruit well!

Tyler Ziton

After years of fatigue and declining health, Tyler found that good, fresh food was his answer. He learned more about healthy food by completing a certification in health coaching, and from there decided to grow his own food and become more self-sufficient. Tyler also runs a consulting company to help gardeners and website owners solve problems. Read more.

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