How To Care For A Grapefruit Tree?

Growing a healthy grapefruit tree should be easy, right? You stick it in the ground, give it some water now and then, and it’s job done. Well, not quite. To increase your chances of success, you’ll need to show it a little more love than that. With just a touch of extra effort, you can ensure your grapefruit tree grows big and strong and provides abundant juicy fruits for many years to come. Learn more about how to care for a grapefruit tree and discover everything you need to know in our grapefruit blog series.

How To Take Care Of A Grapefruit Tree?

How To Take Care Of A Grapefruit Tree

Taking care of your grapefruit tree isn’t difficult, and the older it gets, the easier the task becomes.

Suitable Location

The first consideration when you get a young grapefruit tree is where to put it. There are various things to consider so you find that perfect spot.

  • Sunlight
  • Wind
  • Space
  • Soil
  • Water

Let’s take a closer look at these individually.

Sunlight

Grapefruit trees require a semi-tropical to tropical environment to thrive. In short – plenty of sunshine. They don’t tolerate cold well and need to be placed somewhere where they get the maximum amount of sun exposure every day.

This means avoiding any frost pockets such as valleys where cold air could get trapped. Instead, choose higher ground that gets day-long exposure to the sun.

Wind

Again, cold is the enemy of grapefruit. A cold wind blowing can damage the tree, so if possible try to place it somewhere that’s sheltered from the prevailing wind.

Space

If you have a standard tree that will grow to its maximum size, then you’re going to need quite a bit of space as they tend to grow as wide as they do tall.

Because these trees require as much sunlight as possible, they want to be put where they won’t become overshadowed by buildings or other trees as they grow. 

Soil

Luckily, grapefruit trees are fairly tolerant of different types of soil, other than very heavy clay. They don’t want to be standing with their roots underwater for days on end. 

The best type of soil is a rich, slightly sandy loam that contains lots of natural nutrients, drains well and can hold moisture within the soil structure, but doesn’t get waterlogged.

Soils containing a fair amount of sand are also tolerated well, but care must be taken to provide sufficient water and nutrients. Just add plenty of compost and mulch to the soil to help improve its structure, richness, and water holding ability.

Water

There is no denying that weather conditions around the world are changing and are far more unpredictable than they once were. Extreme events such as droughts and floods are becoming a lot more commonplace, so it’s necessary to consider this when choosing a location for your trees.

If the spot you choose is too far from a water source, how will you be able to keep the tree well hydrated in hot weather? 

Equally, you also don’t want to choose a location that is liable to flood.

Planting

It can be quite exciting to get a new tree in springtime, and you may want to get it planted right away. However, because grapefruits don’t tolerate the cold well, it’s best to wait until the weather warms up a little and all possibility of early morning frosts have passed.

You can learn more about how to plant a grapefruit tree in another article.

Mulching

Adding a good layer of organic matter mulch around the tree is beneficial at all times of year. This can be bark, wood chippings, even a thick layer of grass clippings. 

By adding mulch, you help to keep the moisture in the ground, and as the mulch slowly breaks down, it will help feed the tree and improve the soil texture.

In winter the mulch helps insulate the tree’s roots from the cold.

Be sure to leave a gap between the mulch and the trunk of your tree of at least 3 inches. 

Feeding

Don’t feed the tree until early spring each year and only do so lightly with a good organic fertilizer or well-rotted compost. 

With newly planted trees it’s best not to feed them any fertilizer and simply mulch them when you first put them in the ground. You want the roots to grow first and the branches second. Feeding too much or in early spring will promote a lot of leaves to grow, which takes energy from the roots. 

Some leaves are, of course, necessary for photosynthesis. If any flowers appear, pinch them off, as you don’t want any fruit to set for the first couple of years, again to grow strong roots and branches. 

As the tree matures, you can feed it in the spring and early to mid-summer. Avoid feeding in late summer as this can produce new soft growth that can be damaged in winter.

Pruning

Your young tree may need to be pruned to ensure that it has a good starting shape that will be beneficial throughout its life. You want to establish an open shape with branches growing outwards away from the trunk. You can learn more about this in our article on how to prune a grapefruit tree.

Pests

One of the biggest pests to cause problems for citrus trees are leaf miners. These insects can be avoided by spraying your tree with a solution of neem oil in spring and summer. I’ll be honest, neem smells pretty bad, but is an effective, natural way to stop this problem.

Harvesting

There are a variety of things that affect how soon you can expect to have fruit on your tree. Trees that don’t receive sufficient warmth won’t bear fruit and may not even flower. It normally takes around 3 years before you will see your first fruits, but this can vary.

Don’t be tempted to harvest your grapefruits too soon. They can stay on the tree until the following growing season, and this is advantageous for two reasons. First, it keeps them fresh, and second, it makes them sweeter. 

There are a few grapefruit varieties that are more cold tolerant. Check with your local nursery and read the information label.

Where To Plant A Grapefruit Tree?

As we discovered earlier, grapefruit trees are a semi-tropical to tropical plant depending on the variety. They require plenty of sun and prefer warm temperatures throughout the year. For this reason, it is really only worth growing them in USDA hardiness zone 9 and above, although some varieties will tolerate zone 8.

Select a sunny, open site that preferably is sheltered from the direction of cold winds. 

Trees need a minimum of 15 feet from other trees or buildings to allow them room to grow.

How To Care For A Potted Grapefruit Tree?

How To Care For A Potted Grapefruit Tree

If you don’t have the space or climate to grow a grapefruit tree in your yard, you may prefer to have one in a pot. 

There are dwarf grapefruit varieties that are grafted onto a dwarfing rootstock that prevents them from getting very big.

Potted grapefruit trees can be grown indoors, and placed in a south-facing window. They will do just fine in places with a cooler climate, providing the room temperature never gets too low.

Due to their evergreen leaves, they make an attractive large houseplant and can be moved outside in the summer months if preferred.

When buying a dwarf tree, look for one that is three years old, as it will already be producing fruit. 

Surprisingly, dwarf trees often fruit more abundantly than full-size trees, and the fruits are the same size.

Pots

Although you may think planting your new dwarf tree into a really big pot is a great idea, as it will prevent you from having to re-pot it later on, it can cause problems, particularly with moisture control. 

It is far wiser to re-pot your tree every so often into a larger pot as it grows, so that the roots can fill the pot perfectly and reach the moisture even when it drains to the bottom. 

The main thing to check is that your tree doesn’t get too top-heavy for your pot, which can lead it to tip over. It is also advisable to choose a heavier material for the pot, such as terracotta or pottery, as plastic containers degrade and are very lightweight.

Ensure the pot contains plenty of drainage holes in the bottom, as the roots will rot if they are left standing in water. 

You will need a deep dish that the pot sits in to capture any water that drains out. Attractive sets can often be found, which makes this easier.

Cool Roots

Although your grapefruit tree wants plenty of heat and sun for its leaves and fruit, it won’t appreciate having hot roots. These prefer to be cool. For this reason, avoid choosing dark-colored pots and go for lighter colors that won’t absorb so much heat instead. 

Moving Around

Despite being a dwarf, your tree will still grow quite large when it is mature. It can be worth investing in a special dolly that has wheels and fits neatly under your pot so you can move it around easily whenever you want. 

You’ll probably need to relocate your grapefruit from time to time, depending on the season. As light levels change, it will be necessary to ensure it is receiving enough – 6 to 8 hours every day. If all else fails, you can use grow lights to make up any shortfall.

Re-Potting

When you get your new tree, you’ll probably want to pop it into a larger, more decorative pot. Pick a soil mix specially made for citrus plants or at least one that is sterile and contains water-holding fiber or crystals to keep it moist for longer, without letting the roots be drowning in too much water. Air circulation is important to citrus tree roots.

Ensure you buy sufficient potting soil to fill the pot you have and tamp it well down around the roots being careful there are no air gaps left. 

Soil Level

Just as when planting a standard-size tree, don’t let the level of the soil be too high or too low in the trunk. It should be kept at the same level as it was before you repotted it.

Mulch

Rather than placing an organic mulch around the top of your pot, you could choose decorative pebbles instead. These are a better idea if you have cats that may otherwise use it as a handy litter tray.

Moisture

Keep the soil slightly moist but not wet. When the top couple of inches are dry, water again, and make sure you give it a thorough soaking. You can also use a soil moisture tester, available online or from most garden stores.

In active growing months, when temperatures are also higher, your plant will need more water than when in its dormant phase over winter.  

Feeding

You can buy citrus-specific fertilizer from garden stores or online that will meet the specific needs of your grapefruit tree. Slow-release fertilizers such as sticks that you place in the soil can be a safer bet than liquid fertilizers, which can overfeed your tree and cause problems.

Fertilizer should be given in spring and mid-summer. The tree won’t need any fertilizer in fall or winter as it isn’t actively growing. 

Pruning

Pruning your potted tree will help to keep it small and contained and also promotes the production of larger fruits. The best time to prune is late winter and after the fruit has set so you don’t accidentally cut off productive branches. 

Pruning should be kept as light as possible just to remove dead or diseased branches and any suckers.

The idea is to keep the outside canopy covering the entire tree without gaps.

Grapefruit trees have thorns, so be careful when pruning them. You can also cut the thorns off.

Pests

When your tree is kept indoors, it is less likely to be affected by pests. If you do place it outside in the summer months, then pests which love citrus fruits can invade. These include spider mites, thrips, and others. 

Pests can be controlled by spraying a solution of water mixed with neem oil or sulfur dust. 

Just as with standard-size trees, you don’t need to pick the fruits as soon as they become ripe. They can stay on the tree until you are ready to eat them, providing they are all gone by the following spring.

In this video, you can see that it is possible to grow potted grapefruit trees in colder climates. As far north at Toronto in Canada!

What Is The Lifespan Of A Grapefruit Tree?

In the right conditions and if not affected by pests and disease, a grapefruit tree can potentially live to be 150 years old. Unfortunately, they often die quite young due to common diseases, and care mistakes. 

Grapefruits grafted onto other citrus tree rootstocks can be more disease resistant than those which are not.

When Is The Best Time To Fertilize A Grapefruit Tree?

In the first year of planting, your grapefruit tree should be lightly fertilized in early to mid-summer. In the following years they will require a good quality slow release or organic fertilizer applying in early spring, before blooming, and in early summer when the fruit is set.

You can buy fertilizer that is specifically formulated for citrus trees and contains all of the nutrients and micronutrients required for healthy development and growth.

Generally, an equal balance of 6:6:6 works well. For pot-grown trees, 12:6:5 may be required as the soil is stripped of nutrients more quickly and the tree’s nitrogen requirement is high. 

For the first dose of fertilizer each year choose one that is lower in nitrogen as this promotes a lot of leaf growth rather than flower production.

My preference is always natural, organic mixes rather than synthetic chemicals. They can be purchased in granules and spikes, which release their nutrients more slowly, or in sprays and liquids that are faster acting, but less long lasting.

Always follow the directions given on the packet.

How Much Water Does A Grapefruit Tree Need?

The exact amount of water required by a grapefruit tree depends on its size, the type of soil you have, and the time of year. The older and therefore larger the tree, the greater its overall water requirement will be. 

A good loamy soil that holds water while also letting the roots breathe needs less water than sandy soil where the water drains away quickly.

When the tree is producing leaves and fruits and is actively growing, it requires more water than when it is dormant in the winter.

Always water deeply. This means giving water at a slow rate over a prolonged period. Shallow watering, where you give a lot of water very quickly, is far less effective.

Young trees require watering more often than established ones, as they don’t have a large root system. 

How Often Should You Water Grapefruit Trees?

Here is a guide as to how often you should water after planting:

  • 0 to 1 month = Every two to three days
  • 2 to 3 months = Every three to five days
  • 4 months to a year = Early spring (March/April) every seven to ten days. Spring to early summer (May/June) every five to seven days. Summer (July to September) every two to five days. Fall (October/November) every five to ten days. Winter (December to February) once every two weeks.
  • 1 to 2 years = Early spring every ten to fourteen days. Spring to early summer every seven to ten days. Summer every seven to ten days. Fall every ten to fourteen days. Winter every fourteen to twenty-one days
  • 3 years and older = Early spring every fourteen to twenty-one days. Spring to early summer every fourteen days. Summer every ten to fourteen days. Fall every fourteen to twenty-one days. Winter once a month.

Water stress can be identified by leaves that start to curl from the edges and turn a duller green color. They eventually become crispy before finally falling off of the tree. 

Conclusion

Growing your own grapefruit trees can be fun and rewarding. Getting fresh citrus fruits through the winter is a great bonus, as it provides you with lots of vitamin C and other healthful nutrients. 

The care of a grapefruit tree isn’t difficult, especially if you make it a seasonal routine. 

The most important elements are to water regularly without drowning the tree. To feed through the spring and early summer to keep the tree growing strongly and fruiting abundantly.

Some light pruning of older trees keeps them looking good and healthy. 

For more informative articles about growing grapefruits, we have a great selection on our website along with a host of other topics for the passionate farmstedder or home grow enthusiast.

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