Do Citrus Trees Need Direct Sunlight?

tangerine tree in the shade

When I first got my potted Meyer lemon tree, I lived in an apartment that got zero hours of sun in the fall and winter. However, some sunlight did reflect off of a wall. Curious if this was enough for my lemon tree, I did some research to check. Here’s what I found.

While citrus trees can survive and provide some fruit in indirect sunlight, they’re much better suited for direct sunlight. Citrus trees require 8-12 hours of direct sunlight daily (6-8 hours minimum) to produce the maximum amount of fruit. This is because citrus trees are originally a subtropical species.

Keep reading to find out if citrus trees can grow with indirect sunlight, how much sunlight they need, which citrus trees can tolerate shade, and some tips to boost direct sunlight for them.

Can Citrus Trees Grow With Indirect Sunlight or Shade?

Citrus trees require at least partial shade, if not full sun to grow and fruit. Most trees need sunlight to grow, but fruit trees need even more to produce large, juicy fruits. This is because sunlight is converted into energy (sugar) for the tree and fruit. For a large fruit tree, this can mean a lot of sunlight.

Citrus trees planted in light shade or indirect sunlight may grow and bear fruit, but only if they still have at least 6-8 hours of full daylight.

Some citrus trees, such as grapefruit and Meyer lemons, might only fruit if they get full sun. (My Meyer lemon is currently flowering in partial shade, so I’ll post an update on how it ends up fruiting!). Generally, if you only have a relatively shady spot to plant your citrus tree in, you should avoid these two varieties.

Citrus trees that don’t get full sunlight likely won’t die, but they might not blossom or bear fruit. Trees that only get partial sunlight in the harvest season will take longer to develop their fruits, making their fruit take a lot longer to ripen.

If your citrus tree isn’t blooming, or if it takes a long time for the fruit to ripen, you should increase your tree’s sun exposure. If it’s an indoor potted tree, consider getting some grow lights if you don’t have a sunny window or greenhouse.

Also, some varieties of citrus trees grow better with partial shade than others, so it’s essential to know the preferences of your specific kind of tree.

Dwarf citrus trees are among those that do well in partial sunlight. If you don’t have a good spot with full sun exposure to plant your citrus tree in, consider getting a dwarf citrus tree (our kaffir lime tree is fairly flexible with the little amount of sunlight it receives).

How Much Sunlight Do Citrus Trees Need?

Citrus trees prefer full sunlight and warm temperatures, which means that they grow best with 8-12 hours of sun exposure and temperatures above 32˚F (0˚C). Grapefruit and oranges usually require the most sunlight of all citrus trees, and they have been known to die if they don’t get enough daily sun.

Since citrus trees are subtropical plants, they naturally grow in areas where the summers are intense and the winters are still pretty warm. Citrus trees are native to Asia and Northern Australia, where there are vast, sandy plains for the citrus trees to grow. Also, citrus trees naturally grow in places where there’s a lot of sun exposure, and not blocked with a thick canopy overhead.

Citrus trees also need the sun’s heat to stay alive. Citrus trees flourish in temperatures between 55˚F-90˚F (12.8˚C – 32.2˚C).

If you live in a colder climate and your citrus tree doesn’t get enough sunlight, your citrus tree can stop growing or even start to die. To prevent this, place citrus trees in areas where there’s full sun exposure. And if you have a south or east-facing window, you could try keeping your citrus inside as a houseplant.

Generally, all citrus trees grow best in full sunlight. Still, some tree varieties are more tolerant of partial shade than other citrus trees, and we’ll take a look at those next. 

Citrus Trees That Can Tolerate Shade

Some varieties of citrus trees that do better in partial shade include sour-fruited citrus trees, which demand less sugar as they grow (and so less sunlight), variegated varieties, whose leaves are more sensitive to the sun, and dwarf varieties which produce smaller fruit that requires less energy to generate.

Generally, sweeter citrus fruits require a bit more sunlight than sour fruits. This is because sweeter citrus fruits need more sugar as they grow, and the tree has to have a lot of sunlight to make that sugar.

Lemons, limes, and other sour citrus fruits can grow well in partial shade (4-6 hours of direct sunlight), although the tree may still bear more fruit if it gets full sun. 

Variegated varieties of citrus trees also do better in partial sunlight. This group of citrus fruits includes variegated pink lemons, blood oranges, some types of limes, and kumquats.

Variegated citrus trees have two-tone leaves with yellow or light green spots on them. These trees are prone to getting sunburnt because of their leaves’ more pale color, so they grow best with less sun exposure than other citrus fruits.

Dwarf citrus trees such as dwarf key limes and dwarf lemons can tolerate shade too. Since dwarf citrus trees are smaller and bear fewer fruits, their lower energy demands require less sunlight.

However, dwarf citrus trees with sweeter fruits still need more sunlight exposure than their sour counterparts. So, if you have a citrus tree with sweeter fruits, you should relocate it if you’re worried that it will not get enough light.

Tips to Boost Direct Sunlight for Citrus Tree

If your citrus tree isn’t growing, doesn’t blossom, or yields less fruit every year, you may need to increase the amount of sunlight it gets. If you keep your citrus tree healthy and warm, it will produce better and grow faster.

Here are some tips that will help you keep your citrus tree productive and healthy:

  • Plant your citrus trees in an unshaded spot at least 8 feet away from your home (this allows their roots to grow without obstruction)
  • Plant citrus trees in areas with southern sun exposure to maximize the amount of sunlight they get
  • Ensure that your citrus tree is getting at least 6-8 hours of unshaded sunlight every day. Try to aim for 8-12 hours of direct exposure.
  • If your tree is planted in a shady spot, you can prune other trees that provide too much shade
  • Replant your tree in a sunnier spot if it is not flowering or not bearing fruit in its growing season
  • Keep potted citrus trees outside whenever you can. However, if the temperature varies greatly, they’ll need to be gradually adjusted to it.
  • When growing citrus trees with sweeter fruits, make sure that they have plenty of direct sun exposure. If you have Meyer lemons or grapefruit trees that are potted indoors, consider using a powerful grow light to supplement their growth. 

So, while my Meyer lemon tree can grow in indirect sunlight, it definitely prefers direct sunlight. Even though it can still flower and fruit, the amount of fruit it yields will likely be substantially more in direct sunlight. If you don’t have enough direct sun for your citrus tree, consider trying some of the tips above!

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 obtaining a certification in health coaching, and from there decided to grow his own food and become more self-sufficient. From gardening to learning about living off-grid, homesteading has become a good fit and pairs well with Tyler's odd childhood dream – to one day own a goat. Read more.

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