Tuesday’s Tips — Time to Think Citrus

Gardens in coastal Southern California are really starting to come to life. Night-time temperatures are warming up and so is the soil which encourages bioactivity to start up again after its winter dormancy. March is primetime for attending to your citrus trees. Truth be told, I should have started feeding mine last month, but it’s still not too late.


In our climate you can plant citrus just about any time of year. However, March is a particularly good month because the trees will have a chance to settle in and take advantage of the warmer months (which citrus love) to really grow.


Citrus are heavy feeders. You should feed them now and every couple of months during the growing season. You can make your own mix or use a commercially prepared mix that specifically says it’s a citrus or fruit tree blend. I use Citrus-tone and have found it to be very good. Another good one is produced by Dr. Earth.

Water the soil before application. Using the amount recommended on the package (ALWAYS read the package directions), spread it on the ground in the area that is 2 – 3 feet away from the trunk out to twice as far as the drip line (the line where rain drips to the ground from the outermost leaves). Water it deeply into the soil. Don’t work it in. You don’t want to disturb the feeder roots which are in the top 2 – 3 feet.


If you have pests like aphids, mealybugs, or whiteflies you can control them by spraying them off the leaves with a mixture of water and an insecticidal soap like Safers (10 tbs. per gallon of water). Spraying will also wash off dust which hides the bad bugs from their predators. For more tenacious pest like mealybugs, you may have to actually wipe them off. Repeat this as needed.

One of the most problematic pests is ants. They actually “farm” sucking insects. They protect them, carry them from plant to plant, and “milk” them for their honeydew. To prevent ants from climbing onto your trees cut any branches that are touching the ground so they are a few inches away from the soil or mulch. Don’t cut too high as low hanging branches will protect the trunk from sunburn. Then apply some Tanglefoot, a very sticky barrier, to prevent ants from climbing up the trunk. A key point in the application of Tanglefoot is not to apply it directly to the tree, but to a protective covering that you’ve put on the trunk. See this great video at the San Diego Master Gardeners’ website for a demonstration on exactly how that should be done.

I’ve heard that a 1″ layer of worm castings under your trees will repel ants and a number of other pests in your garden. Another plus is the castings are a good soil amendment. I’ll be trying it for the first time this year, so I’ll let you know how that goes. You can also buy and release natural predators like ladybugs and lacewings.

These simple steps can restore the balance to the point where natural predators can keep pests in check. And that’s pretty much where we want to be in organic gardening — it’s not about eliminating every last pest, because in doing so you kill off the good bugs who are your allies. You actually need a few bad bugs to provide food for beneficial predators that you want in your garden. It’s all about balance.

Whatever you do, don’t spray pesticide, even Spinosad, if you can possibly help it. These products will kill the bees that your plants, and everyone else’s, depend on for pollination to produce fruit. You could end up with bug-free trees, but no fruit.

Exotic and Invasive Pest Warning: Please be aware that we have two very destructive exotic pets that have become a big threat in our area — Diaprepes Root Weevil and Asian Citrus Psyllid.

Home gardeners play an important role in helping to identify the range of infestations by reporting sightings. Gardeners should be careful that they don’t spread the insects too. If you live in a quarantine area be sure that you don’t move any plants, soil or related garden or landscape materials out of that area. See SaveOurCitrus.org and the links above for more information.

Finally, if you garden in colder climates most of what is recommended here holds true for a few weeks from now when the weather warms up and the soil is ready to work. For Mary Beth in Durango that will likely be in April.

We’ll be talking about the all-important issue of being sure to wait until the soil is ready before doing any real gardening. If you work your soil too soon you will ruin its structure and risk compacting it which makes for a very difficult growing environment.

On Thursday in Garden Journal we’ll be giving you a list of things to do this month in your garden in coastal SoCal and in the Durango area in our Garden Journal.

Happy gardening!

4 thoughts on “Tuesday’s Tips — Time to Think Citrus

Add yours

  1. Hi Barbara. I can’t remember the name of it, but at OC Farm Supply they have a fertilizer that sweetens citrus. You apply it in the spring and the fall. If you are interested, I could find out the name, or else if you went in they could help you. Debo

  2. Hi Barbara, Do you have any advice to control leaf miner on citrus. Most of the new leaves have been damaged by this pest.
    Thank you.

    1. Hi Pilar,
      Citrus leafminers are attracted to new growth on citrus trees. Older leaves that have hardened off are resistant to the pest. Curling leaves (which can be caused by other pests) AND wiggly lines indicating tunnels on leaves are signs that you have an infestation. Unfortunately there is no one-shot cure for this pest.

      Infestations will not hurt your tree if it is older than 4 years, though it can stunt growth on younger trees. A number of tactics can limit the damage.

      The best defense it to make sure your trees are healthy and not stressed. Having an all organic garden with fertile soil and an environment that supports beneficial insects and birds that prey on the pest will help a lot.

      Attract birds to your garden with food and fresh water – a fountain works best. They’ll eat lots of bugs. I have really noticed a reduction in plant pests since the birds have come to live in my garden.

      Prune your trees only once a year to limit the new growth that attracts the pest. Remove water sprouts. Don’t use a nitrogen fertilizer especially in the summer and fall which would encourage a flush of new growth when the pest is active. Earthworm castings applied to the ground below the trees may eventually help.

      What not to do: DO NOT use broad spectrum insecticides. Most aren’t effective against the pest, but will kill natural enemies and bees. Pheromone traps are useful for identifying the moths, but don’t aid much in controlling it. Don’t remove the damaged leaves as they continue to produce food for the plant.

      Spinosad is somewhat effective. It should be applied only if the infestation is severe. Apply when the new leaves are just beginning to curl and the moths are active. Later in the insect’s life cycle, when the larvae have embedded themselves in the leaves, it is not effective. Several applications at 7 – 10 day intervals may be necessary. Be sure to spray the underside of the leaves.

      Please note that Spinosad will kill bees. Be sure to use it only when bees are not active in the early morning or late evening.

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