If you’ve been reading posts or watching videos about citrus trees, chances are you’ve seen someone mention “deep watering”. But if you’re newer to gardening, you may not know what it is yet. I know it took me several times of seeing it mentioned before I did some research and found out more. Now, I strive to adjust most of my plants to deep watering. So, if you’re not yet sure, how do you deep water citrus trees?

To deep water citrus trees, use a hose on a low flow setting and place it a few inches to one foot away from the tree base. Let the water run for 20 minutes. For potted plants, water until it flows out of the bottom of the pot. A soaker hose or drip system can also help provide enough water for the citrus tree.

Whether you just got your first citrus tree or are adding to your garden, knowing how to properly deep water them is a vital step. By learning this simple skill, you can keep your trees from drying out and dying. Keep reading to learn more about deep watering and how to do it.

What Is Deep Watering?

deep watering a tangerine tree with a hose

Deep watering is the practice of watering your plants at least eight inches below ground. This mimics a long rainfall, which trains plants to grow deeper roots and store more water. Because of this, it helps them survive in times of drought. On the other hand, shallow watering keeps the plant’s roots shallow.

Shallow watering can also evaporate fast if it’s sunny and warm outside. Additionally, using sprinklers that shoot through the air increases the rate of evaporation. But getting the water deep in the pot, or underground, keeps cool water and retains it in the ground. Your citrus tree can then use the water over a few days, so you don’t have to water as often.

Even with deep watering, still water your citrus tree about once per week on average. But the frequency and amount your tree needs depend on a few factors, like size, age, and location.

How Much Water Does a Citrus Tree Need?

A citrus tree may need more or less water at certain times. For example, a smaller tree in a pot will need a different watering schedule than a larger tree in the ground. You can tell if your citrus tree needs watering if it starts curling its leaves.

Both potted and young planted citrus trees need water about once a week. To water, provide potted trees with water until it flows out the bottom, and planted trees with a 20-minute deep watering session. When the citrus tree is mature at 2-3 years, it will need watering only when there’s a drought.

Providing your citrus tree with 2 inches of mulch will greatly improve the amount of water that gets absorbed and blocks the sun from drying out the soil. To mulch, use straw, leaves, or standard (non-toxic) mulch. Mulching also benefits the tree with a slow-release of nutrients as it breaks down into the soil.

Here are a few factors to consider when determining when to deep water your trees.

Planted Trees

If you planted your citrus tree in the ground, water it about once per week. Make sure you soak the ground completely and there’s sufficient drainage around the tree. That way, your citrus tree can get enough water but it doesn’t stagnant and cause root rot.

Water the tree at least eight inches to two feet below the surface. Soak the soil so that it is clearly wet, but don’t overdo it. If you aren’t sure when to stop watering, check your tree’s soil every few days to see if it’s still moist. If it drys out within a day or two, it needs more water. From there, determine how often and how long to water your plant each week.

Potted Trees

If your citrus tree is potted, monitor the soil to make sure it doesn’t dry out. When the top 2-4 inches of soil does get dry, add more water. Trees in pots don’t have access to the same soil and root network as trees in the ground, so you may need to water them more often.

When watering, the soil should stay moist, much like citrus trees planted in the ground. Make sure you water the pot evenly so that one side isn’t significantly wetter than the other. If it takes a while for the water to clear, check for any drainage issues with the pot and soil and adjust the soil if necessary. If there are drainage issues, and the soil is sopping wet, root rot can occur. However, root rot can be fixed if you identify it early and repot the soil.

If you keep your potted citrus tree outside in the warmer months, and it’s drying out too quickly, consider moving it to an area with afternoon shade and mulching the top of the soil.

Tree Age

If you have a young citrus tree, it will need to establish its roots first, which means it needs more water than a mature tree. To water young citrus trees, dig a shallow basin around the base of the tree (careful not to damage the shallow roots), then add water and let it drain multiple times. This will help the root ball get used to the watering. After that, water your young citrus tree every other day to keep the soil moist and help it grow.

Once your citrus tree is a 2-3 years old, you won’t need to water it as often. If the tree is planted in the ground, and properly adjusted to deep watering, you’ll only need to water it during a drought. This is because the tree will have deeper roots which access water deeper in the soil. Deep roots will also hold and store more water in the soil, which benefits other nearby plants.

So, overall, an adjusted mature citrus tree can get most of its water needs through the ground, while citrus trees in pots will still need water every week or so.

Tree Size and Season

The amount of water you need to give your citrus tree also depends on its size. Consider the diameter of the tree canopy to help you get an idea the width and depth of the roots. Generally, the 20-minute deep watering session will provide enough water even for the largest of citrus trees. When in doubt, check the moisture of the first 8 inches of soil a day or two after watering. If it’s dry, consider watering longer or providing a higher amount.

Also, the season can affect how much water your citrus tree needs. June, July, and August are the months where your tree will need the most water. On the other hand, your tree won’t need much water during the winter when the tree is more dormant and not growing much.

Best Time of Day to Water Citrus Trees

Water your citrus trees in the morning or evening. That way, the tree has plenty of time to absorb the water before it evaporates in the heat or gets too cold overnight. Avoid watering your trees during the middle of the afternoon on a hot day.

However, outside of summer, you don’t have to follow a set schedule. Instead, monitor your citrus tree each day or every few days for water. Check the soil to see if it’s dry and add water if it is or if it’s almost dry.

Once you get into the groove of watering your citrus tree, come up with a schedule that works for you. That way, you can focus on what your tree needs based on your location and the plants around it.

What Happens if You Overwater Citrus Trees?

Overwatering citrus trees can happen if you don’t check the soil before adding water. Also, setting up a hose and not turning it off soon enough can overwater your tree. Using too much water can be just as bad for your citrus trees as underwatering.

A few things can happen when you overwater your citrus trees. Consider learning how to tell you’ve overwatered and what problems can develop from it.

How to Tell if You Overwatered Your Citrus Tree

If you see stagnant water around your citrus tree, especially if it sits for several hours to a couple days, you added too much. This can be easy to do if you don’t have good drainage in your pot or around your citrus tree. While, it can be hard to correct this issue, you can elevate planted trees or repot container trees for better drainage. However, transplanting citrus trees can cause transplant shock and potentially damage the tap root, so only transplant if your tree definitely needs it.

You may also have stagnant water if you water too often. In most cases, watering your citrus trees once a week is plenty. Try not to water more often than that unless you feel the soil is completely dry. Always check the soil before you add more water so that you don’t overwater your citrus tree in the future.

Overwatering Problems

When you overwater your citrus trees, a few things can happen. You may notice the leaves start to turn yellow. The leaves may also feel more brittle, and they can start to droop after getting too much water. If your tree has started growing fruit, it may fall before it ripens, or it could split.

Root rot can also happen if your tree gets too much water. The roots can start to decay from the fungus, and that can affect the rest of the tree. Lastly, overwatering can keep your citrus tree from getting enough nutrients as they leach through the soil.

Avoid Watering the Leaves

Letting water sit on the leaves can give way for diseases to develop, but also increase the risk of sun exposure and burning the leaves. Don’t add more to the leaves because the leaves can get what they need through the roots and the soil.

Final Thoughts

Deep watering citrus trees usually requires a hose or a drip irrigation system, but make sure not to overwater your tree. Experiment and set a schedule that’s best for your trees based on where your tree’s location and your local climate.

Water potted and young citrus trees weekly, and get more mature citrus trees used to deep watering. Once adjusted, they’ll need very little watering and will be largely self-sufficient, except in times of drought. Remember that mulch is your best friend when it comes to using less water and helping the tree take care of itself.


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