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Gardening tips for citrus season

Brightly coloured Washington Navel oranges are dripping from trees during winter. They’re sweet, juicy, easy to peel and seedless and make a fantastic citrus to grow at home. Dwarf varieties of navels grow to around 1.5 m tall, so they’re easy to maintain (and you don’t need a ladder to harvest!) as well as being perfect for growing in a container.

To get the best out of home grown navel oranges, find a sunny spot that receives at least six hours of sunshine a day with well-drained soil. If you’re growing in a container, use a pot that’s at least 40 cm in diameter, filled with good quality potting mix like Yates® Premium Potting Mix.

Feeding citrus regularly is the key to promoting the best possible harvest. Citrus are very hungry plants! Yates Thrive® Citrus Liquid Plant Food is a complete plant food that has been specially formulated to provide citrus with the nutrients they need. Apply Yates Thrive Citrus Liquid Plant Food every week while oranges are still on the tree and then start feeding again in early spring when new foliage and flower buds start to emerge.


A tree congested with dead branches and stems can lead to poor plant health and a reduced harvest.

Skeletonising citrus

Most citrus trees, particularly compact varieties, thankfully don’t require much pruning. However sometimes a large, older tree can start to become congested with dead branches and stems, leading to poor plant health and a reduced harvest. If this sounds like a tree at your place, it might be time to take a deep breath and do some serious pruning.

‘Skeletonising’ trees is a process where much of the canopy and main branches are removed. It sounds (and will look) quite drastic however it can encourage a fresh flush of new, healthy growth and rejuvenate a tree that might otherwise remain unhealthy and unproductive. It can take around two years for the tree to recover and start producing fruit again, so it’s a process that requires some patience.

Skeletonising is best done in late winter or early spring. In cold areas, wait until the chance of frost has passed.

Here’s the citrus revival process:

  • Using sharp tools (loppers, secateurs or a pruning saw) cut off any dead branches near the main trunk. Don’t cut flush with the trunk, instead pruning just outside the branch ‘collar’, which is a bump that grows on the trunk around the base of the branch.
  • Check for any stems growing from below the graft (they may have significant spines, so be careful!) and cut these off as well.
  • Cut all remaining healthy branches back to where they are around 3 cm in diameter. Warning – the tree will look awful (hence the term ‘skeletonising’).
  • Now time for some serious TLC. Apply some Yates Dynamic Lifter Soil Improver and Plant Fertiliser around the root zone. It contains a rich source of organic matter to promote improved soil health and structure. Thoroughly and deeply water (and re-water each week) and in a fortnight start feeding with Yates Thrive® Citrus Liquid Plant Food every week until autumn. This will encourage fresh new growth, help grow a lush, healthy canopy and give your old tired citrus tree a new lease on life.

Growing dwarf citrus in pots

If you’re short on space but love the idea of growing and juicing your own OJ in the morning, then consider planting dwarf citrus in pots. You’ll still grow full size lemons, limes, mandarins, grapefruit and oranges as it is the tree that is dwarfed and not the fruit.


Excerpt reproduced with permission from Yates.

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Angie Thomas

Angie Thomas is a horticulturalist from Yates. She writes a monthly column on the company’s website about what what you should be doing in the garden during every month of the year. Visit their website,, to know more about Angie.

The opinions expressed in this article are the opinions of the author(s) and not necessarily those of Homeloans Ltd.