When I was repotting my Meyer lemon tree, I had no idea which potting soil to use. The instructions on the growing card didn’t specify, as it only showed watering and sunlight requirements. So, I did some research to learn more. Here’s what I found worked well for my Meyer lemon tree.
The best homemade potting soil for citrus trees is an organic sandy, loam soil that is well-draining and contains a high amount of nutrients. A good combination of ingredients to make the potting mix is 1/4 of each sand, peat, perlite, and compost. Citrus trees should be repotted with new soil every 3-4 years.
This article applies to both planted and potted citrus trees, but since potted citrus have a finite amount of soil to work with, it’s important to get it right. For this reason, we’ll focus on potted citrus tree soil for the majority of the article.
Let’s find out more about quality citrus tree soil, including what it looks like and how to make it.
What Should Citrus Potting Mix Look Like?
|Should Have||Should Not Have|
|Rich and Loose Soil||Dead or Flat Soil|
|Loam or Sand||Clay|
|Good Drainage||Poor Drainage|
|pH of 6.0-7.0 (acidic)||pH that is above 7.0 (alkaline)|
The goal for a citrus tree’s potting soil is to have a rich, well-draining, loamy soil, with a pH of 6.0-7.0. While this can seem like a lot of garden-jargon, it’s much simpler than it seems. Let’s break it down.
First, rich soil is vital for citrus tree mixes since this soil is full of microscopic life and is constantly breaking down particles into nutrients. Rich soil also holds water well, but not to the point of drowning the tree. You can usually tell that the soil is rich by its strong earthy smell, dark color, and slight clumping when squeezed.
Citrus trees also need well-draining soil, otherwise, their roots can drown or start to grow fungus (also called root rot). The best way to make sure soil has good drainage is to mix in larger chunks of materials such as branches, leaves, and perlite.
pH is highly important for citrus trees (and most other plants) as it directly affects the tree’s ability to absorb nutrients. If the pH is either too acidic or too alkaline, the tree will be blocked from using the nutrients in the soil and will start to die.
Now, to better understand what makes a soil loamy or sandy, let’s check out the different soil types.
Clay is an alkaline soil that is found in many parts of the world. While some trees prefer a more alkaline soil like clay, it’s not a great growing medium for citrus trees. The high pH can make it difficult for the citrus tree to thrive and properly use the nutrients from the soil. Clay soils can also become compact quickly, which reduces the aeration of the soil.
Sandy soils have larger particles than clay or loam. This allows it to be well-draining and not clump up too much like clay. Additionally, sand is higher in acidity, which is preferred by citrus trees. However, a downside to using soil that is too sandy is its poor water retention.
Loam soils are a mix of both clay and sandy soils, along with other organic materials. Generally, loamy soils are both loose and rich enough to clump up when wet but still break apart easily.
Our goal for our homemade potting mix is to make a loamy soil that is slightly more on the sandy or acidic side.
Now, let’s explore how we can make this balanced citrus tree mix at home.
How to Make Citrus Tree Soil at Home
Simple Homemade Citrus Potting Soil
|Sand||1/4||Improves soil drainage and acidity|
|Peat||1/4||Softens the soil and provides acidity|
|Perlite||1/4||Aerates the soil and improves drainage|
|Compost||1/4||Provides nutrients and water retention|
One of the best citrus potting mixes that I’ve found is one with equal parts sand, peat moss, perlite, and compost. They each have different benefits for the soil and provide a great supply of nutrients, aeration, and water retention for the tree.
We’ve already covered what sand does for soil earlier, but what about peat, perlite, and compost? If you aren’t familiar with some of these ingredients, here’s a quick summary.
Peat moss is made of decomposed fiber from moss and other life found in peat bogs. It can hold a large volume of moisture and is slight acidic, so it’s ideal for citrus potting soil.
Perlite is a small mineral which is a type of volcanic glass. You’ve likely seen it before as the small white rocks in commercial soil mixes. Perlite helps break up clumps of soil and provides airflow to the roots of the tree, often reducing the chance of root rot.
You likely already know what compost is, but others who are new to gardening might not.
Compost is simply organic material that’s been decomposed. Most often, compost is made from leaves and branches, but it can also be made from food scraps. It provides a wide range of nutrients that are easily absorbed by plants and tends to have a balanced pH, depending on how the compost is made. This makes it suitable to use for most plants.
So, while using 1/4 of each sand, peat, perlite, and compost is a great recipe for homemade citrus soil, it’s not the only one. Let’s explore a few more balanced soil mixes so you can take your pick.
Example Potting Soil Combinations for Citrus Trees
|Soil Mix 1||Soil Mix 2||Soil Mix 3|
The easiest way to make your own citrus potting soil is to purchase sand, peat, and worm castings (soil mix 1). The amount you should buy depends on the size of the pot you’re using for your citrus tree. If you do end up with extra soil, you could always save it for other trees or when you repot your citrus tree in a couple of years.
But while sand, worm castings, and peat is the easiest way to get started, one of the most efficient ways to make potting soil is to use sand, coconut fiber, compost, and hugelkultur (soil mix 3).
If you aren’t familiar, hugelkultur is when you bury branches, logs, grass clippings, and other organic materials at the base of the soil. For potted citrus trees, when you place these materials at the bottom of the pot, they’ll slowly decompose and aerate the soil. This slow break-down of organic matter will provide much of what your citrus trees need for a long time to come.
Worm castings are also a great addition to any garden or potted citrus tree. Castings can nearly replace fertilizer as well.
If you’d like to make your own worm castings, it’s super easy.
Here’s what you’ll need:
- A bin with a lid
- Bedding (soil and leaves)
- Starter food (I used some veggie scraps)
- Red wiggler worms
- Cloth or paper covering
If you’re interested, I made a short video on how I set up my vermicomposting bin and all it took was 5 minutes and $19.
Whichever mix you choose, know that you can’t really go wrong. Just make sure to have a rich, slightly acidic, well-draining soil, and your citrus tree will be happy for years on end.
How to Transplant the Tree With the New Soil
Once you’ve selected the mix you’d like, it’s time to mix it together and transplant your potted citrus tree with the new soil.
Here’s what you’ll need to do:
- Gather your ingredients and mix them into a wheelbarrow (or a standard 5-gallon bucket)
- Once it’s mixed well, set aside, and add any gravel or hugelkultur materials to the bottom of the pot
- Add your homemade potting mix to fill about 1/3 of the pot (depending on the size of pot you’re using)
- Gently scoop out soil from the tree’s current pot, until you reach the top of the tree’s roots. Grasp your citrus tree at the base and lightly pull and wiggle it out of the old pot, and place into the center of the new pot.
- Cover the remaining space in the pot with your homemade citrus soil. The base of the tree and the top of the soil should be 0.5-1 inch lower than the top of the pot.
Every 3-4 years, when your citrus tree outgrows its pot, simply repeat the steps above to transfer it to its new pot.
When and How to Amend Potting Soil
If your potted citrus tree has soil that’s dead, dry, or high in alkalinity, amending it for your citrus trees will be well worth it.
Consider amending your citrus tree’s soil if any of the following occur:
- Water isn’t draining
- Water is draining too fast
- Root rot has taken place
- Soil has flattened/died
- Soil content has high clay/pH
- You’re repotting your citrus tree
Some common ways to amend soil are by using one or a combination of:
- Manure (in small doses)
In general, aim for equal parts of the above materials to amend your citrus tree soil (except for manure, more on this below). The purpose is to revive the soil and solve whichever issue it was having, whether it was dead, holding too much water, or any other issue. If the issue is severe enough, consider repotting your citrus tree and amending all of the soil (see the transplant steps above for instructions).
However, there are cases when you won’t need to amend the soil completely, but inject some extra nutrients into it. In these cases, you can simply add a 1-2 inch layer of compost to the top of the soil a couple of times a year (spring and summer are the best times).
The nutrients from the compost will slowly work its way into the soil and revive most of the soil’s poor conditions. While compost is slightly too alkaline for citrus trees on its own, mixing in a bit of sand or peat will help balance it out.
Also, keep in mind that manure is high in nitrogen and if the concentration is large enough, it can quickly burn your citrus tree’s roots. This is especially true for potted plants as they have less soil to work with. If you’re adding manure, make sure it’s composted first or well mixed and diluted in the soil.
What to Look for in Commercial Citrus Potting Soil
If you’re short on time, or just simply not wanting to make your own homemade citrus potting soil right now, you still have options. Buying commercial potting soil for your citrus tree keeps it easy and removes any worry about mixing your own.
Here’s what to look for in commercial citrus potting soils:
- List of ingredients
Most store-bought, or commercial, potting soils will generally have perlite, peat moss, vermiculite, and compost mixed in. However, some people believe that some pesticides and herbicides can also get mixed in (either intentionally or unintentionally), which is of course harmful to the citrus tree and nearby plants and animals.
While this is up for debate, it’s likely a safe bet to go with the well-known, organic brands of potting soil.
Keep in mind that since we won’t be needing that much soil for the potted citrus plants, splurging on a premium brand will help give the tree prime nutrients for years to come.
So, the cost of a high-quality soil is likely worth the investment, especially if you only need a small amount.
However, if you want to go a safer route, and get the best quality potting soil for your tree, it’s generally better to skip the commercial and make your own.
Citrus trees will typically outgrow their pot every 3-4 years, and while you can use the old potting soil, it’s best if you provide a fresh mix.
Repotting the tree could either mean moving it to a larger pot or pruning its roots down and placing it back in the same pot.
Avoid using garden soil for your potting mix as it can quickly become flat and not drain or aerate well.
Additionally, it’s hard to tell the pH of your citrus tree’s soil, unless you do a test. I highly recommend getting a pH meter to keep this easy. You can check out which soil pH meter I recommend by visiting my favorite tools page.
If you find you need to increase the acidity and drainage of your homemade citrus potting soil, you can simply mix in some sand.
If your citrus trees leaves are green, then they likely don’t need much fertilizer (although it’s still a good idea to provide a supplemental 1-2 inches of compost in the spring).
However, if your citrus tree’s leaves are yellowing or dropping, then check the soil for signs of over-watering and supplement the soil with a store-bought organic fertilizer.
Soil can quickly dry out if it gets too much sun. Applying a generous layer of mulch, such as leaves or straw, can improve water retention drastically. Before placing the mulch, you can also add compost first to further improve the moisture content and nutrients. This process of amending and mulching should block most of the sun’s heat and slow the evaporation of the soil’s moisture.
Keep in mind that you’ll likely need to adjust your watering schedule as your citrus tree will likely require much less water. Ensure there’s proper drainage so the water doesn’t stagnate.
If you’re also interested in making your own homemade citrus fertilizer, I took some time to research and find the best ways to repurpose your kitchen scraps, based on their nutrients. You can check out my post on this by clicking the link above.