Hawaii is a great place to be growing all kinds of citrus. I know this because I’ve been eating lemons, oranges, tangerines and grapefruits from trees I planted myself, for several years now!
Success at growing citrus in Hawai’i requires you look at the specific microclimate where you will be planting. This includes the elevation, soil, rainfall patterns, and seasonal and daily temperature changes. Then you have to plant appropriate varieties that thrive in those microclimates.
Citrus thrives on plenty of sunshine, rich, well-drained soil, adequate nutrients, appropriately balanced fertilizer, sufficient water, (but not too much!) proper annual pruning, and a little bit of patience.
In this Guide To Growing Citrus in Hawai’i, I will share the basic needs of growing citrus in Hawai’i’s tropical climate. From choosing the right varieties for your homestead to how to harvest the fruit, weʻve got you covered in this complete Guide to Growing Citrus In Hawaii.
Related: Citrus will either grow for you or it will be stubborn. To ensure healthy plants, you have to keep them fed. My favorite way to do this with citrus is with a good fertilizer combined with regular applications of compost and mulch. Do yourself a favor and feed your citrus trees this fertilizer product from Down To Earth when the tree is not fruiting.
Where Does Citrus Grow In Hawaii?
You can grow citrus trees almost anywhere in Hawaii, as long as you arenʻt too high in elevation and have enough water or good drainage if you get too much water.
If you live in the drier parts of the islands, all you have to do is supply a citrus tree with supplemental water through a drip irrigation system that waters deeply once or twice per week.
On the east side of the islands, where itʻs a bit rainier, citrus tend to thrive. There is a sweet spot, from the ocean up to 3000ʻ where it gets plenty of warmth and rainfall. Making it ideal for growing citrus without the need for supplemental irrigation.
Choosing Citrus Varieties In Hawaii
Most often, choosing citrus varieties is often a matter of personal choice. Everyone has a favorite, and if you do, plant them! Theyʻll probably thrive in Hawaii.
But maybe you want to have more of a strategy than that? You can plan out your citrus orchard to provide you fruit all year, or only during certain parts of the year, depending on your needs.
Below is a list of a few varieties that thrive in Hawaii and their various harvest seasons.
|Tangelo||DʻAncy Tangerine||Grapefruit, ruby||Valencia||Fischer Orange||Meyer Lemon|
|Washington Orange||Grapefruit, OroBlanco||Tabata Orange||Tahitian Lime|
|Blood Orange||Honey Tangerine||Naval Orange|
A variety of culinary and ornamental citrus species are also grown. Some very interesting varieties such as buddha’s hand, Kaffir Lime and finger limes are available to grow as well.
One great way to find out which varieties do well in your own neighborhood is to ask your neighbors what type of trees they grow.
Fortunately, most homestead citrus varieties are self-fertile, so only one tree is needed for fruit production. This is good news for those with limited planting space, or a preference for a variety for citrus fruits over the volume of one or two types.
The same canʻt be said for another subtropical fruit, the Avocado. The Avocado requires 2 trees to cross pollinate, which you can learn more about in this post.
Seedling Vs. Grafted Citrus Trees
Seedling trees can be a fun way to experiment with new citrus varieties, or used for strong and healthy rootstock for grafting scions of known varieties, at a future time.
However, it is important to know that citrus trees started from seed do not grow true to the parent tree. It does not guarantee desirable fruit and can often take many years to produce fruit.
Grafted citrus trees are cuttings that are taken from a mother tree, and grafted onto a healthy and hearty root stock of a compatible citrus variety. It is important to source your trees locally.
Grafted citrus trees guarantee the type and flavor of citrus you are growing, they will bear predictable fruit, and sometimes offer both dwarf and regular size varieties.
- Although several lime cultivars exist, only four are commonly available in Hawai’i. The Tahitian lime (Citrus x latifolia) also known as Persian Lime and is a reliable choice for your homestead, due to it’s ability to resist disease.
- Sweeter varieties of citrus (orange, tangerine, tangelo) are best grown at lower elevations (0-500 ft) while more sour citrus fruits (grapefruit, lemons, limes) are better grown at higher elevations (1200+ ft) For those of us in the middle zone, we get the best of both worlds!
- In Hawai’i, at lower elevations, oranges and tangerines do not turn orange when they are ripe. Completely green or green-yellow skin coloration is normal in ripe fruit, and is not an indicator of whether the fruit is sweet.
- Citrus start bearing fruit in 3 to 6 years, depending on the variety selected, the conditions in your microclimate, the initial health of the tree, the ongoing care it receives, and other factors.
Soil Conditions For Healthy Citrus Trees
Getting to the “root” 😉 of successful citrus growing, we need to consider the soil health where you want to plant your citrus trees.
You may grow citrus in large containers with a balanced soil that you create yourself, but when planting directly into the ground, soil testing will help you choose what types of inputs you might need for your trees.
Citrus prefers acidic soils. Most of Hawaiiʻs volcanic soils are perfect for citrus, but there are areas, like Ewa Plains on Oahu, where the soil is more Alkaline because its mostly made up of coral.
There are even some everyday things you probably have right now that could be used as fertilizer! But weʻlll “dig deeper” into fertilizer options later.
Planning, Planting and Caring For Your Citrus
When planning your orchard or intercropped tree spaces, standard-size citrus trees should be spaced 12 to 25 feet apart and dwarf citrus trees should be set 6 to 10 feet apart.
For a tree in a three-gallon pot, you should dig a hole about 18 inches wide and 24 inches deep. Remember to make sure you have good water drainage.
If you canʻt dig deep because all you have is volcanic rock like me, either find a crack in the rock or remove what stones you can to make a shallow hole.
Mix the soil you dig out of the hole with a few shovelfuls of well composted livestock manure and a handful or two of dolomite lime, if needed. Remember to test your soil to assure proper PH, which should be between 6-7 for healthy citrus trees.
You can mix up to a third of your soil mixture with black cinder to help with the drainage. Biochar is also an excellent addition to any planting mix, up to about 3%. Other organic matter such as mac-nut shells, leafy green waste material, clean wood chips, or home made compost may be added to your soil mix.
If using a commercial product, one recipe given is to spread a cup of treble superphosphate (0-45-0) or super-phosphate (0-30-0) in the hole you have prepared for your tree and cover with four to six inches of the amended soil mixture you have ready.
Remove the pot from the tree’s root ball by cutting it away gently, making sure not to injure any of the root system.
Set the tree into the hole, making adjustments with the soil mixture at the bottom of the hole, so that the soil line of the tree in the pot is the same as the soil line of the tree in the hole.
Carefully shovel the amended soil mixture into the hole around the tree and make sure the tree is positioned vertically, straight up.
If the tree is higher than soil level because you are on rock, simply build a large mound made of soil, compost and mulch that tapers up to the soil level on your potted plant.
Caring For Citrus Trees
Citrus Love Water
Citrus trees are most productive when they get deep, infrequent watering, planted in rich, well-drained soil.
Citrus trees do not like having their feet stay wet for long periods of time, so if you plant your citrus trees in areas with heavy rainfall, you will need to make sure your planting hole is not over an area with “blue rock” beneath it, as it might not drain effectively.
A Hawaii Tropical Fruit expert I spoke with recently told me, “ We irrigate for 6 to 10 minutes each morning with a 1/4 gallon an hour emitter. This works great in Kona. Each island and microclimate may require different techniques so get to know yours.”
Personally, I never have to water my trees, because I live in a very wet area. So as you see, knowing your own land’s individual needs is very important!
Mulching is helpful to citrus trees as it will reduce evaporation in dry areas and soil leaching in wet areas. It is helpful to keep down weeds and helps build healthier soil and soil structure. It helps hold fertilizer near the root zone for a longer time.
You may use whatever brown and green waste materials you have on hand to mulch your trees.
Spread the mulch in a diameter circle, beginning the mulch four to six inches from the tree’s trunk and moving outward to the dripline of the tree. Mulch should cover the soil completely and should be applied every few months, as it breaks down.
Fertilizing Citrus Trees
Your citrus trees will need minerals and proper nutrients to assure growth and productivity. Phosphorus (P) is needed for root growth at first planting, and for adequate blooming of flowers in the mature trees.
Your citrus trees will need Nitrogen (N) at all times, but particularly for new growth. Both Nitrogen and Potassium (K) are needed for development and setting of healthy fruit.
Another useful piece of advice that I received about fertilizer, from a professional fruit grower here in Hawai’i, was to not overfertilize, once the tree is established.
When choosing a commercial NPK fertilizer, it is best to use anything below 8-8-8 four times a year and 0-0-50 three times a year, to sweeten the fruit and help with flowering.
It is crucial to know that proper fertilization depends on the amount of nutrients applied rather than the amount of fertilizer.
How about things I already have available to me?
The available sources of fertilizer that you have on your homestead may be surprising. Using them will add to the sustainablity of your orchard since these inputs may currently be considered a waste product in your homestead’s system!
- Manure: Well composted manure is an excellent fertilizer for citrus trees.
- Coffee grounds: An excellent soil additive. They change the nutrients, acidity and structure of your soil. Adding coffee grounds to your soil improves the soil structure instantly and over time as they break down.
- Human Urine: YES! Human Urine is usually a pH of about 6, a slight acidity, which is just what the citrus trees want. Human urine is high in Nitrogen and contains useful levels of potassium and phosphorus.
- Eggshells: Using eggshells, you can create a slow-release calcium input for citrus trees.*
*Slow release calcium input for citrus trees:
Clean eggshells after using eggs, to prevent the inside membrane from rotting and smelling.
Allow them to dry in a sunny spot or heat in the oven to dry them out.
Once the eggshells are dry, crush until fine grit.
Keep dry and well-labelled.
Add a few tablespoons around the drip line of your trees for strong leaf and fruit set.
So whether you use manure, coffee grounds, urine, egg shells or any other amendment, using what is best for your citrus trees depends on a few factors.
If the soil is poor or marginal, amend it with quality ingredients before planting your citrus tree to prevent issues with growth and fruit production. Keep the right pH and nutrient levels needed in the soil by adding during the rainy season. The right soil structure and regular feeding will also help combat mineral deficiencies in the soil.
“Almost all citrus varieties have problems at least once a year with sooty mold and/ or leaf miners. You can spray organic rated safer soap on both sides of leaves, 2 or 3 times a week, for a couple of weeks, depending on how bad the infestation.” -Ken Love
The Right Way To Prune Citrus Trees
- As your citrus trees grow, prune off the dead wood and prune branches growing toward the inside of the tree.
- Keep the center of the tree open for light and air flow. This is essential to limiting the dark, humid conditions that create a perfect environment for disease and pests.
Thatʻs all there is to it. Pruning doesnʻt have to be something you feel only experts can do. Itʻs pretty intuitive, most anyone can do it, so start pruning away! But if you do want a little more guidance with pruning, you can check out this post that goes into it a bit deeper.
When it goes from green to orange or yellow, itʻs ready to harvest right? Well, not all of the time.
As I mentioned earlier, Citrus grown lower in elevation donʻt always change color when they are ripe. Sometimes smelling the fruit can help, or by squeezing it. But the best way to tell when a citrus is ready to harvest is by how easily it can be picked off the tree.
If a fruit pretty much falls off, it is ready. I like to leave my citrus on the tree as I eat them, but they could be harvested all at once as well. By leaving them on the tree, they stay ripe for a little bit longer than if I picked them and left them on my counter.
Citrus trees can provide you with an abundance of produce for when they are in season. Great for making all sorts of things in addition to eating fresh. I bet youʻll even have a few extra to share with neighbors. So get planting!!
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