A 12 minute read by Peter Worsp

Once upon a time fruit trees could be found in every New Zealand garden. With today’s smaller gardens it is more difficult to find space, but with careful selection they can fit. Citrus don’t take a lot of space. Without doubt citrus trees are the most popular fruit grown in home gardens. This is not surprising, considering the usefulness of the fruit, the attractiveness of the tree and the ease of growing them.

At a Glance

  • Warm sunny position
  • Free draining soil
  • Lots of food
  • Water in summer

Citrus have always been popular. They are vitamin rich, great tasting, and through careful variety choice provide fresh fruit from winter through to early summer. This long fruiting time makes citrus so valuable when other fruit is more expensive. 

They are also very attractive trees with their glossy green leaves, fragrant blossom in spring and coloured fruit in winter. 

Early mandarins begin to ripen from early June with oranges, grapefruit and lemons holding on until November. 

Citrus make ideal container plants, especially mandarins and limes.

Where to Plant

  • Citrus will grow in warm or mild climate zones
  • Well dug, free draining soil essential
  • Providing frosts are not severe they will tolerate cool conditions
  • They will thrive in hot inland conditions providing they have water.
  • They require a sunny position protected from cold winds
  • Citrus prefer a sandy or loam soil. They will tolerate clay soils providing they are planted on a raised area with lots of compost mixed into the soil
  • Will not tolerate wet feet or heavy clay soils. In this situation raised planting is recommended
  • Warm sunny position with some protection from strong winds

When to Plant

Citrus trees are available throughout the year and can be planted anytime provided they are watered regularly in summer.

How to Plant

Use a quality container mix like Tui Pot Power when planting in pots and containers. Half wine barrel is a good size and will have enough space for your plants for years to come.

For planting into garden beds use organic compost, Rooster Booster or peat to help break up clay soils and improve water-holding capacity of light sandy soils.

Dont plant your citrus too deep or too shallow. Make sure you keep the trunk at the same soil level as it was in the pot you bought it in.


Citrus have a fibrous surface rooting system, essential this does not dry out. Mulch in summer with compost. Be sure not to put mulch too close to the trunk.

A layer of mulch spread over the surface under citrus trees will conserve moisture and improve performance. 


Citrus are big feeders. A moderately sized mature tree requires at least 500g of general or citrus food each year. Two thirds of this should be applied in late winter and one third in January. Pelletised sheep manure is a good alternative. Do not cultivate under citrus trees as their feeding roots are relatively close to the surface.

Tui Citrus Food can be applied September, December, February (see packet for details).

Yates Thrive Flower and Fruit liquid fertilizer can be used more often.


Citrus must be watered regularly through spring and summer. Irregular watering can cause fruit drop and fruit splitting, not to mention reduced yield and dry fruit.

Summer moisture is essential, especially in hot dry weather.

Pests and Diseases

Citrus trees are relatively free of insect pests, but occasionally can be attacked by scale insects, aphids and mites. Yates Mavrik controls all these pests.

Verrucossis, a fungal disease which sometimes attacks lemons causing rough fruit, is controlled by spraying with Grosafe Free Flo Copper.


Citrus require minimal pruning. Dense growing varieties such as mandarin may need some thinning to keep in shape, usually when fruit is picked.

It is advisable to remove any fruit in first year to encourage growth of tree and establish good strong plant.


  • Small, black/green insects clustering on new growth
  • Spray with Maverik or Grosafe Enspray99 oil

Mealy Bug

  • White, cotton-wool-like insects cluster together on leaf axils and stems
  • Spray with Grosafe Enspray99 oil or Neem Oil


  • Brown scale insects which cling to stems and suck at sap, weakening growth
  • Spray with Grosafe Enspray99 spraying oil

Lemon Tree Borer

  • Black grub which bores its way through trunk and woody branches cutting off sap flow
  • Borer ‘dust’ visible on ground under tree in bad cases
  • Cut out affected branches


  • Fungus disease causing curly brown scabs or blisters on fruit 
  • Spray with Grosafe Free Flo Copper


  • Citrus tend to be self shaping and so need little pruning
  • Some mandarin varieties become a little thick and benefit from some thinning out
  • Lemon trees can sometimes require pruning back to make them more compact and easily manageable. Make sure that any shoots below the graft are removed. These are easily identified as they have different foliage
  • Citrus fruit on new season’s growth

Making your selection


Meyer variety is most popular because of its reliable high yield over an eight month picking period. The fruit is of medium size and sweeter than other varieties.

Lisbon and Eureka are more acid and often preferred by chefs. Yen Ben is an improved selection of Lisbon for those wanting a ‘real’ lemon for cooking. Lemonade is a very sweet lemon and does taste like delicious lemonade. It deserves its increasing popularity. Ripens during spring.

  • Yen Ben - Medium sized seedless fruit. Excellent sharp flavor
  • Villa Franca - Thick skinned fruit with sharp flavor. Winter and summer
  • Meyer - The common sweet lemon. Excellent for drinks
  • Lemonade -  Light flavoured and refreshing


Golden Special is the traditional grapefruit with pale orange skin and a strong grapefruit taste. Excellent for those who like a strong marmalade. Ripens July - October.

Wheeny is a larger sweeter variety ripening October - December and is inclined to biennial cropping.

  • Golden Special - Large pale yellow fruit. Sharp flavour. Heavy cropper
  • Cutlers Red - vigorous tree bearing medium to large size fruits with deep pink flesh. Ripens from October - December


Limes have become very popular in recent years, largely because of the interest in cooking created by the many cuisine programmes on TV and magazines. 

Limes need protection from frost until established. Will not tolerate heavy frosts.

Most popular is the Tahitian Lime or selections such as Bears Lime.

  • Kaffir Limes - mainly grown for the leaves, an essential ingredient in asian cuisine
  • Tahitian - Hardy. Heavy cropper. Excellent container feature


NZ navel oranges are rated very highly compared to imported oranges for flavour. Carters or Washington navel oranges are reliable in all but the coldest climates of NZ.

  • Washington Navel - Rich flavour. Fairly seedless. Ripens mid to late winter
  • Harwood Late - Excellent for juicing. Thick skinned fruit late winter
  • Navelina  - seedless, sweet, medium size fruits ripen from July - September
  • Fukumoto - sweet, larger fruit on a compact growing tree
  • Newhall - good cropper of tasty, sweet fruits
  • Seville - great for marmalade, preserves, liquors, 


Very popular with families because they are great in school lunch boxes due to the easy peal nature of most varieties.

Silverhill a satsuma selection, is the earliest, ripening (July) and is a very easy peal.

Miho is a new early ripening easy peel which begins cropping as a young tree and has more flavour.

Clementine has good flavour, is a high yielding reliable cropper ripening August - October but is not an easy peel.

  • Clementine - Delicious sweet fruit. Heavy bearing. Late winter
  • Encore - Usually rich flavoured. Excellent for tub growing
  • Silverhill - Very cold resistant. Heavy bearing. Mid winter
  • Satsuma - Popular easy peel mandarin. Medium sized sweet flat fruit. Ripens mid winter
  • Kawano - easy peel, juicy, seedless variety, heavy cropper, ripens early
  • Bay Sweetie - medium sized mandarin/tangerine hybrid with easy peel fruit which has an exceptional flavour which is both sweet and juicy


These are a cross between grapefruit and oranges and now only grown by the citrus enthusiast.

  • Ugli - Unusually large fruit. Tender and juicy. Late winter
  • Seminole - Extremely sweet and juicy. Thin skinned tender fleshed fruit

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