Why Your Backyard Citrus Doesn’t Look So Good…

I get asked a lot of questions about agriculture. But of all the questions, the one I get asked most frequently is:

“The citrus tree in my backyard doesn’t look so good… Why? What should I be doing differently?”

I used to dislike this question. Of all the issues affecting agriculture, public health, food trends, or business, this is the interesting question? Eventually I realized that YES… this is the interesting question.

When a homeowner feels uncertainty about the health of their beloved tree, when they know that something they are doing isn’t working as well as it should, and they are casting around for answers… They are experiencing agriculture. They are experiencing the trepidation that is part and parcel of this profession. I have about 8000 trees to worry about, but we feel the same anxiety. Their trees literally put food on their tables, as mine do for me. So of all the conversations I have with the non-professionally-farming public, this may be the one that creates the most insight.

Of course, I am usually asked this question without being able to see their trees, so my answer is never more than an educated guess. But for the record, it is probably one of the following:

Too much water, especially if the tree is in or near the lawn. Infrequent, deep watering works best for citrus.

Rootstock selection. Most garden centers sell trees grafted onto dwarf rootstocks. I’ve never been able to make dwarves thrive…every one I’ve ever planted has suffered a miserable and short life. If a small tree is desirable, I recommend a full size tree and a good set of pruning shears.

Microclimate. Heat loving citrus doesn’t typically produce tasty fruit near the coast, and no citrus produces well if it is subject to freezing. Ventura County is one of the best places for citrus in the world, but certain varieties don’t do well in certain areas. And we typically don’t have the humidity for a really great lime.

And if the tree looks great, but never has any fruit? Too much nitrogen. Especially if the tree is near a manicured lawn.

So there you have it. But if I run into you at a party or farm dinner? Sure… I’d be happy to talk about your tree.

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