Grow Citrus

It’s the Citrus Time of Year!

Blood Orange in late summer bloom. Photo courtesy of Joshua Burman Thayer.

Citrus fruits are the classic California winter bounty. By including a variety of citrus in your diet, you can improve nutrition and build immunity during the winter flu season and spring allergy season. The fruits are well known for their high vitamin C content, and they are also good sources of vitamin A, iron, and calcium. For centuries, seafarers took citrus to sea to stave
off scurvy.

Grapefruit, orange, kumquat, mandarin, tangerine, tangelo, lime, lemon, and pomelo all do well in our Bay Area growing regions. By planting several varieties, you and your family can have healthful, easy-to-grow fruit right off the branch.

Citruses are a delight to grow. The trees tolerate both full sun and partial shade, and they don’t require a lot of work or much water to produce great fruit.

If you only have a small growing space in your yard, or even just a deck or patio for pots, you can find success with dwarf varieties, which do just fine in wine barrels or other large planters. The dwarf stock will stay under five feet tall while still providing plenty of fruit.

Berkeley lemon tree taken Jan. 6, 2005 by Allen Timothy Chang, shared on Wikimedia Commons.

How to Plant

Dwarf citrus trees can grow on rooftops too. Photo courtesy of Joshua Burman Thayer.

Citruses like a well-drained growing area, so if you have a lot of clay content in your soil, as many yards in the East Bay do, you should take some extra steps when planting.

Plant the tree in a mound that rises three inches higher than ground level. This will help the tree’s root crown stay above the soggy winter-wet soil.

Dig a hole that’s larger than the root ball of your tree and pour in a thin layer of gravel to help with drainage and to keep oxygen in the root-zone.

Fill around the roots with a soil mixture that includes some sand and gravel, with no more than 10{94d79dd6af1e87a94e700e4c297236468333f22e27ed5757b44711974a9a4b91} compost. Do not over-fertilize. Note that citrus likes calcium, so crush up your eggshells and scatter them around the tree’s base.

If you live in the eastern or southern parts of the East Bay (Concord, Walnut Creek, Danville, Livermore, Pleasanton, or Fremont), you might do well growing orange, pomelo, or grapefruit. In the western parts (Berkeley, Oakland, Alameda, Richmond, or El Sobrante), try kumquat, mandarin, tangerine, lime, or lemon.

Learn more at Joshua’s design site, and be sure to check out his past Gardener’s Notebook
article on pruning citrus.

Permaculture designer and educator Joshua Burman Thayer is a regular contributor to Edible East Bay. In his monthly Gardener’s Notebook feature in Edible East Bay’s free e-newsletter, he offers lots more advice on how to implement gardening ideas like this one. Sign up for the newsletter here. Josh has also written for Mother Earth News and Edible Silicon Valley. Find him and his work at, and follow him on Twitter at @nativesungarden.