A couple of months ago, I bought a young Meyer lemon tree. While I know that it and our other citrus trees can take a while to fruit, I wanted to know exactly how long. So, how long does it take for citrus trees to fruit?
Citrus trees grown from seed take around 5-7 years to mature and fruit, while grafted citrus trees take 1-3 years. Although, timing depends on the type of tree and its environment. If you bought your citrus tree from a nursery or if your tree has a scar above the trunk or along the node, it’s most likely grafted.
While growing citrus trees can be fun and rewarding, you should know that it’s not a fast process. Keep reading to learn the details about how long citrus trees take to fruit, including some ways you can speed it up.
Grown From Seed
Citrus trees grown from seed typically take 5-7 years to produce fruit, but can sometimes take up to 10 years.
However, because citrus trees from seeds are genetically different than their parents, they often have different fruit. As a result, some apple trees have inedible fruit. Other times, some never fruit. Not to mention, it takes double the time.
Grown From a Graft
When you graft a citrus tree, it can start producing fruit within 1-3 years.
Because citrus trees grown from seed take a long time to fruit, most growers use grafted trees due to their benefits and speed of growth.
Grafting is when you take a piece of wood (called a scion) from a mature apple tree and fuse it with a rootstock from another apple tree. If all goes well, the rootstock should adopt the scion, making it a part of the tree.
The main benefits of grafting are:
- Faster growth
- Fruit is identical to the mature tree
- Increased disease and pest resistance
- Improved hardiness
The first step in determining how long your apple tree will take to grow is to check to see if it was grown from a graft or grown from seed.
Usually, you can tell that a citrus tree was grafted if it has a scar or larger node on the site where it was grafted (see image below).
If you can’t tell if your tree was grafted or not, then it’s best to contact the seller, nursery, or orchard you purchased the tree.
So, once you find out if your citrus tree is grown from seed or graft, you should get a clear answer on how much longer you’ll need to wait to get fruit.
If you do decide to graft, it should be done in the late winter or early spring, before the growing season starts. That way, the rootstock will be still dormant, and you can plant the citrus tree more easily.
Do You Need 2 Citrus Trees to Produce Fruit?
Most times, you don’t need to have a second citrus tree for the first one to produce fruit. The majority of citrus trees are self-pollinating, so having only one will work just fine. If these self-pollinating trees are also cross-pollinated, they’ll have an even higher percentage of fruit production.
You can help your citrus tree cross-pollinate by planting flowers that attract bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. Additionally, you can manually pollinate the blossoms with a clean toothbrush.
4 Reasons Mature Citrus Trees Won’t Fruit
1. Insufficient Nutrients
Lack of Nutrients
|Nutrient Deficiency||Leaf Symptom|
|Nitrogen||Entire leaf is pale or yellow|
|Iron||Dark green veins, rest of the leaf is yellowing|
|Manganese||Broadly pale leaves, foliage color looks mottled or smeared|
Source: The University of California Agriculture and Natural Resources
A lack of nutrients in the soil is typically caused by:
- Degraded Soil
- Imbalanced Soil pH
- Sandy Soil
Fortunately, compost fixes all of the above 3 causes (more on compost and fertilizer soon).
On the other hand, an excess of nutrients typically stresses the citrus tree.
Again, these issues are most common from fast-release chemical fertilizers. Compost itself does not have the same concentration of nutrients, and therefore cannot chemically burn the tree’s roots.
If you do find that your citrus tree has too many nutrients (such as from over-applying fertilizer), nutrient leaching by over-watering is a good solution. In this case, provide a slow drip of water for an hour or two, saturating the soil.
When it comes to providing the proper amount of nutrients and fertilizing your citrus tree’s soil, there are two approaches.
For citrus trees, use a fertilizer with an NPK that has double the nitrogen to phosphorus and potassium, such as a 6-3-3. Aim for organic and slow-release if possible. Alternatively, you can apply 2 inches of compost every 1-2 months under the canopy.
While it may be hard to believe, chemical fertilizers were only invented in 1903 and citrus trees have been thriving without them for hundreds and thousands of years.
Even if your citrus tree’s soil has the proper amount of nutrients, improper soil pH may be a reason your citrus tree isn’t producing fruit.
Soil pH might sound a bit technical, but it’s quite simple. Soils that are high in sand typically have a more acidic pH, while clay soils are more alkaline. Other materials such as salt can contribute to the soil’s pH.
Like most plants, citrus trees prefer a soil pH of 6.0-7.0.
The reason why citrus trees prefer a slightly acidic pH is that it dissolves the nutrient solids in the soil, making them accessible to the plant’s finer roots (source).
If you find that your citrus tree’s soil is too alkaline (above 7.0) you can add acidic amendments such as coffee grounds, sand, and peat moss.
On the other hand, if your citrus tree’s soil is too acidic, add alkaline materials such as wood ash, charcoal, or lime.
Two good ways to check your soil’s pH are either by using a pH strip or a pH meter. I prefer using a pH meter since they’re affordable and easy to use. To see which pH meter I use and recommend, check out my recommended tools page.
2. Improper Watering
- Only water when the top 2-4 inches of soil is dry. This prevents both under and over-watering.
- Provide 2 inches of compost and 4 inches of mulch. Compost and mulch dramatically improve the soil’s water retention, nutrients, and health.
- If the soil is poorly draining, repot the citrus tree with fresh potting soil, or add 2 inches of compost to planted citrus trees. Avoid mulch until well-draining.
3. Transplant Shock
Transplant shock varies depending on how stressful the move of the tree was, and recovery can take up to one year. Ideally, provide a gentle move and generous watering.
Planting citrus trees can be tricky, but with some practice and preparation, it can go more smoothly.
Here are the steps that I use whenever I’m planting a new citrus tree or repotting an existing one. They really help in reducing transplant shock (which can stunt the tree and last up to one year):
- Have the new ground (or pot) prepared
- Remove as much of the tree’s current topsoil as possible, without damaging the shallow roots
- Grab the base of the tree’s trunk and wiggle lightly
- Using your other hand, scoop up and support the rootball
- Lightly place the tree in the new ground (or pot) and fill it in
- Make sure the soil is at the same level on the trunk as before
- Apply 1-2 inches of compost and mulch to the top of the soil
- Water generously and add more soil as needed
At this point, if you’ve provided the proper nutrients, and you haven’t recently moved your citrus tree, then consider its climate.
4. Wrong Climate
Citrus trees grow best in hardiness zones 9 through 11. Hardiness zones are different climate zones based on the average lowest temperature for the year. The best hardiness zones for citrus trees hardly drop below 30℉ to 50℉ (-1.1℃ to 10℃).
The best hardiness zones in the US are in states like California, Arizona, Texas, Louisiana, and Florida. Other southern coastal states may also be able to support citrus trees throughout the year. If you’re in a colder climate, you can always grow potted citrus trees indoors or in a greenhouse.
Even still, you can grow citrus trees outside of hardiness zones 9 to 11, but it may take longer for the trees to bear fruit. However, if the winter gets too cold, the citrus tree will start to die.
Some cover the trunks of their citrus trees with bubble wrap or cardboard during freezes. You can also bring in your citrus tree if it is potted. Just make sure it is placed by a window with tons of sunlight.
3 Quick Tips to Help Citrus Trees Fruit Faster
Here are a few tips to speed up the growth and fruit-bearing process.
1. Make Sure the Soil Is Well-Draining
Choose soil that drains well. You can test the drainage by digging a hole that’s one foot deep and filling it up with water. If the water is gone by the next day, the soil is well-draining.
It also helps to plant your tree in an area with naturally good drainage, like the top of a hill. If you don’t have a spot with good drainage, you can plant your citrus tree in a raised planting bed. The bed will help encourage draining and can promote growth and quicker fruiting.
2. Use a Quality Fertilizer
Adding fertilizer to your citrus tree’s soil each month during the spring and summer will make sure the tree has a consistent supply of nutrients to grow fruit.
In the beginning, it’s best to use a high-nitrogen fertilizer to promote foliage growth, but after the first year, switch to a fertilizer with higher phosphorus and magnesium if possible. This will help the citrus tree switch focuses to fruit production.
After the first year, continue using fertilizer in the warmer seasons, but use it every other month.
You can also help the tree grow by removing any grass or other vegetative competition around the roots. It’s best to check for grass before you add fertilizer.
Removing nearby competition promotes a good environment for the fertilizer and the citrus tree. If you’re not a fan of synthetic fertilizers, you can also make your own homemade citrus fertilizer.
3. Water Properly
Deep watering your citrus tree can make all the difference in how much fruit it produces. After all, other than sugar, much of the fruit is made of water.
The general rule is to only water when the leaves start to curl. At that point, provide 1-2 inches of water in well-draining soil. The soil should also be rich enough to hold more moisture.
Providing a layer of compost or mulch on top of the soil will also improve water retention and the number of nutrients in the soil. If you do the mulch, make sure it’s not touching the tree directly.
Keep in mind that citrus trees prefer periods of cooler weather for the fruit to grow. Colder temperatures can help the trees bloom and produce more fruit.
How Often Do Citrus Trees Produce Fruit?
Healthy citrus trees produce fruit once per year, but different varieties can have different harvesting times. Orange varieties produce fruit throughout the year, so you can grow oranges for any season. Lemon and lime trees are ready to harvest in the fall and you can harvest grapefruit trees in the winter. want to have citrus fruit ready each season, orange trees are your best bet.